It is apparent from the title, this is a cancer story
My family has not been plagued by cancer. There has been cancer on both sides of my parent’s side, and my sister beat thyroid cancer, but we haven’t watched member after member suffer. My husband’s side—different story.
No—my family has been plagued with other crappy diseases, such as Type 1 Diabetes, Parkinson’s with Dementia, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Multiple Sclerosis, and a whole pack of mental illnesses.
So, cancer isn’t something that was always on our minds. Seriously, who thinks about cancer all the time–with the exception of cancer patients, and their families. Most of us only hope that it’ll never happen to us. I don’t have to bet that every one of us knows someone who has dealt with cancer, because we all probably know someone.
When we reach a certain age, and are compliant patients, we have the pleasures of the personally invasive tests which accompany aging. The mammogram, prostate exams, and the highly popular colonoscopy.
But what really happens when something doesn’t look right?
From a different angle than a breast cancer story, this is part of my experience.
First of all, I thought the huge letters on the Cancer Center building were printed in red. Yesterday, I noticed that they are actually blue. So, either they recently painted them, or they have always been blue, but because I have been so petrified each time I go, I saw red letters.
They actually make cancer patients pay to park there. ouch, and grr.
Due to the parking payment system, yesterday I had to scrounge for money. I didn’t want to dip into my laundry tip savings, so I raided my husband’s savings jar–he must have caught onto my going through his pockets for laundry tips, and now has his own stash. I scraped enough change together to pay for the parking.
Luckily, I found quarters and didn’t have to pay with nickels, dimes, and pennies–which pennies would have served them right for charging us to park.
This is the place where a person is sent, who has had an x-ray, or some other test with some abnormality inside their bodies. There is a process, or protocol, that either the insurance companies place upon doctors, or the doctors do to keep from performing unnecessary procedures. Probably a little of both.
For my lung nodule, a CT scan with contrast dye was the first step–after the original scan where the nodule was detected. It had been 3 months. However, I had to advocate for myself to have it done at 3 months, because they wanted to wait 9 months, and see. I wasn’t sitting on my thumbs waiting for them, and believing they know all.
I know what would happen if we told them—let’s wait and see if we think your bill is worthy of paying.
Yup, just like the first one, the nodule was still there with only a slight change. But, that could have been the way the test was performed, blah, blah–that was the explanation. Maybe it was too small to be cancer, so again, they wanted to wait and see.
I had already waited, and wasn’t having any more waiting periods. I wanted a full explanation, not a guess. It could have been benign, because only 10% of lung nodules are cancerous. Some lung cancers grow slowly, others are very aggressive. Anyway, it isn’t known, until the thing is biopsied. What chance would you take? Aggressive cancer, or a biopsy? Or bank on being one of the 90%. Any chance, for me, was a chance worth checking.
Depending upon the results of this scan, if it still looks suspicious, a PET scan is usually the next test. It’s the same as the CT scan, except the patient has to drink a cocktail of some sort of radioactive poison that lights up any cancerous areas. There is a long scientific description of what the cocktail does, if you would like more specific details, there is plenty of information out there. The PET scan is supposed to be the tell-all of a cancerous growth–so, a biopsy would be next.
My nodule didn’t shine on the PET scan, but the nodule had all the abnormalities of a cancerous nodule. Needless to say, I don’t have a ton of faith in the PET scan procedure.
For lung nodules, they have about 4 biopsy procedures. A lot of people have heard of needle biopsies, but for lung cancer they have three other, depending where the nodule lies. I just so happened to have video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery, or VATS. Thus began my personal journey.
Luckily, when I was out, they performed a primary reading of the cells, and it was cancer. The surgeon removed a segment of my lung containing the nodule and the surrounding tissue. While I have questioned whether it was wise to not have a lobectomy, the surgeon kind of talked me into the segmentectomy. It was one of those speeches, that if I had a recurrence, he had more lung to work with. Wut? Recurrence? On the other hand, it would give me more lung capacity. Being an asthmatic, the more lung capacity I have, the better.
I’m pretty sure the particular imaging place I have been going to, is mainly for people with suspected cancer, or to check how they are managing with their cancer treatments. It definitely isn’t the place for mammograms, and I’ve never seen anybody on crutches, so it must not cater to orthopedics. Plus, it is located in the Cancer Center.
Even though I knew yesterday was going to be another contrast dye CT scan, I didn’t realize they wanted to actually light me up with the special kool-aid. Thankfully, it didn’t taste like that liquid with glucose one has to drink to test for diabetes, but it made a poor substitute for coffee. It wasn’t exactly a PET scan, but it was what they call a thin slice scan–or something along that line–which pinpoints irregularities with more precision. All I know, I don’t really want more radiation – doesn’t that cause cancer?
When the technician tried to put an IV in my left arm, she said she could feel the vein, but was unable to get the line in. After digging around, looking for the vein for a while, I convinced her to try my right arm. Apparently, she didn’t get an A in the class teaching how to place an IV line without torturing the patient. She had to dig around in my right arm as well. So, today I have track marks in both arms. Actually, the left looks worse than the right. Oh, and for the record, I don’t have elusive veins–I have good veins, just perfect for poking.
Most of us have probably seen a television show or two, where someone has to have a scan. Most of the scans they show on TV, are MRI machines. The machine I receive my tests from, looks like a huge doughnut, not a long tube. The table moves me through the doughnut hole while taking pictures. Usually takes about 5 minutes.
No big deal.
But, then the waiting begins.
While I am a bit anxious, the one thing I did learn from therapy—there is absolutely nothing I can do, until I know there is something to do. Maybe I spent more time working on this aspect of the anxiety that plagues me, than I did with the travelling anxieties–like driving to the city, and flying in a plane. I have to expose myself to those things until I realize that there isn’t a reason to fear something will happen, that the likelihood of happening, is minuscule.
Even so—I must keep myself busy, and my mind occupied.
….but, I’m prepared. I have a list of questions for my oncologist in my mind that have to be answered. If I don’t receive valid answers, I will park my butt until I’m satisfied with her answers. Yes, I’m one of those pain in the ass patients.
I wore my happy shoes, and threw on a pair of happy cat socks, to keep my mind focused on something other than fear. Of course, my sick cat was already pushing my worry capacity to the brink—I didn’t have much room for any more worry.
…and I will wait, but I think I will be okay until the day of the big reveal of the results.
However, this time I will have my babysitter with me.