Monday, December 12, 2005

November 16, 2005 - Telling Robin - and Getting a PET Scan

Today I broaden the small circle of those who know of my condition. I tell Robin. She’s recently come back to work, part-time. I haven’t wanted to tell her while she’s still in the thick of things with physical therapy, pain medications, etc., but now that she’s well enough to ease back into her ministry at the church, it seems that now is the time.

She is, of course, shocked. I find her empathy reassuring. After speaking with me, she walks across the street to the Manse, leaning on her cane, and shares a few supportive words for Claire as well.

I’m uncomfortable with all the secrets, and am looking forward to the day when – whatever the outcome of all these diagnostic procedures – we can be public about my health situation. One of the hardest things about a cancer diagnosis, I’ve always been told, is the lengthy waiting period while initial clinical intuitions are being confirmed. I’m certainly finding that to be true.

I’m reflecting back, now, on my PET scan – conducted on November 14th at Jersey Shore University Medical Center...

The PET Scan is much like a CT Scan. I must go to Jersey Shore University Medical Center for this test, because the machine is not available at Ocean Medical Center. As it turns out, it’s not even located at Jersey Shore (at least not on a permanent basis). To reach the unit, I walk down a corridor that takes me to the very edge of the building. I feel a slight draft as I walk through an odd sort of door, draped with cloth around the edges, and I realize I’ve stepped out of the building and onto a tractor-trailer truck. The PET Scanner evidently moves, on a regular schedule, among several different hospitals – so expensive is this piece of equipment, that the hospitals must share it. Once through the connecting gateway, I feels like I'm in any other windowless room in a medical facility. Soft, new-age music is playing through speakers in the ceiling.

The technician is friendly and efficient. He sits me down in a chair and administers a dose of something into my arm, intravenously. This is radioactive glucose, he tells me. I will sit there for a half-hour and wait while it makes its way through my body. The radioactive glucose will head directly to the cells in my body that have a high metabolic rate – these are the malignancies. Then, the PET scanner will be able to identify the "hot spots" that are likely to be cancer.

When the patient ahead of me is finished, the technician asks me to lie down on a sort of plastic stretcher, on my back. I am supposed to lie absolutely still. An electric motor kicks into life, sliding me smoothly, feet first, into the large, donut-shaped device that is the PET scanner. Starting near my waist, the machine moves me slowly, in intervals of five minutes or so, deeper into the scanner.

Some patients report difficulties with claustrophobia in machines like this, and I can see why. By the time I’m reaching the end of the process, my face is just inches away from the machine, which makes whirring and clicking noises. I find that closing my eyes is easier than keeping them open. The hardest part of the half-hour scan, for me, is lying face-up on the narrow plastic stretcher: in the last ten minutes or so, with my arms extended over my head. I go home, curious about the results, but knowing I will not hear for some time.

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