Cat Scan Got Your Tongue?
I just got back from my 5-year CT scan.
For those who have been diagnosed with cancer – pretty much any kind – once you got through the "main" treatments like chemo or surgery, you need to constantly check to see if the cancer has taken up residence in another part of your body. For all the treatment options and outcomes cancer is never really cured. Even if it is cured in your body. It never is in your mind.
Cancer is always on your mind
You will hear cancer survivors tell you (at least this one) that cancer is always on your mind. Every ache is a tumor. Every pound lost without trying is cancer. Cramp – cancer. Headache – brain tumor. Sneeze – well that will probably always be a cold but you get the idea. The mere fact that CT scans and follow up x-rays are required is a constant reminder that you are not out of the woods. In fact, cancer is a lifetime trek through a forest of "just to be sure."
CT scan process
My own CT scan process (everyone's is different) consisted of a CT scan with and without "dye". Funny thing about the dye they use. The dye is injected through an IV and it makes you flush with a very warm sensation in very specific areas of your body… neck, throat, naughty parts. I was told one 90-year-old man asked to have the dye repeated a few times as it was a fond reminder of days gone by. In my case I had scans every 3 months for two years. Then I went to every six months for 2 years. Now I'm on an annual schedule. I asked my doctor when I would be "out of the woods" and he said after 10 years.
Five more years of CT scans and x-rays. I know, right, what did the winner's get?
The whole CT scan process is an experience in and of itself outside the issue of having cancer. I'll try to explain it.
After your chemo or surgery (or both) and your doctor tells you that "we got it" you have a HUGE rush of relief. All the effort, nausea, tiredness, worry and stress is behind you and you're happy because while it was a tough row to hoe, hearing those words make it all worthwhile. You leave the hospital or the doctor's office and you are on cloud 9.
What if it has come back?
Until about a week before your scan appointment. Then your brain goes into worry mode. "What if it has come back? I was feeling a bit tired the other day." It starts small. Just a whisper on day one of the week of your appointment. Nothing you can't brush off and get on with your day. But the next day it is a bit louder. And the day after that not only louder but more insistent. "Is it back? Is my will up to date? Do I want to go through chemo again if it is back?" You can't stop it.
The day of the appointment it gets calmer in your head. Eerily calm. You're really not thinking about it anymore because you're in "action" mode. You're going to get a scan and that will answer the question that has been pounding against your skull for the last week. You can tamp down the voice knowing you will have an answer soon.
Modesty after bladder cancer
Because I had bladder cancer, my scan is lower abdomen and chest which means I need to drop my pants to my ankles for the scan (undies are okay). I always smile when they hand me a sheet to hold up to give me "privacy". I laugh and tell them I've had more people's hands and faces in my crotch than well... almost anyone. Having bladder cancer is probably a lot like giving birth. After you've been through it there is no such thing as modesty. I don't even bother taking the sheet from them, I just drop "trow" and hop up (sort of) on table for the scan.
Then you get the scan.
And to quote the late, great Tom Petty... "the waiting is the hardest part."
And it is. Very hard. I've heard it called "scanxiety". That is an apt description. You are on pins and needles until you hear. Normally, the appointment to review scan results comes pretty soon on the heels of the scan. In my case, sometimes two or three days which isn't too bad for waiting. But I've had others where the wait was three and four weeks. That is an eternity when you're waiting on a Caesar-esque thumbs up or thumbs down.
If you think about it, during the time between the scan and the appointment with your doctor to review your results you are both cured and not cured.
You are the Schrodinger's cat of cancer.
And in my case, that will happen for 5 more times. Yeah me!'