Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Scan Results

I find blogging slips my mind a lot these days. Aria and the boys consume every minute of every day and I wouldn't have it any other way. Of course, I did have to leave the world of Mommyhood for a few hours to get to the doctor for a mammography, CT scan of my pelvis and chest, and an internal exam of my…well, you know.

Jimmi and I met my mom at the cancer center, which we do every three months, and I shivered as I walked through the door as soon as the familiar smell hit my nose.

It never gets easier.

The combination of latex gloves and hand sanitizer made my stomach churn as I ascended the stairs to the radiology department, where I checked in for my CT scan, filled out the annoying form asking if I'm pregnant (Why, oh, why do I have to fill it out EVERY time when the answer will NEVER change?), and waited for my oral fruit punch contrast to be served in all its strawberry, pink nastiness. As soon as the nurse placed the large, plastic bottle in my hands I left my mom and Jimmi in the waiting room and scooted back downstairs to sneak in the mammography during the hour I had to wait while I drank my sickeningly sweet beverage. "Nah, you can stay up here," I said when my mom asked if I wanted her to join me. "This is the easy one." Then I smiled and bounced down to the land of breast checks.

I was escorted into a locker room to undress from the waist up, then I sat in the chair and sipped my cocktail. "Suzanne?" called the technician and I hopped up and followed her into a small room with a machine designed to crush my boobs until I winced in pain, in order to check for lumps and bumps that don't belong. It's funny to me that, when I asked my oncologist for a prescription for the tit test, he replied, "How old are you? You really don't need to start this until you're forty."

Seriously? By the time I was 36 I'd already been diagnosed with thyroid cancer and one of the rarest types of cervical cancers out there. Why would my age be an issue here?

The tech told me to pull my left arm out of the robe and place my body against the machine. "It's cold!" I jumped back then moved in to try again. I started to sweat with nervous energy and became increasingly aware of the fact that I was not allowed to wear deodorant before this exam. She grabbed my left tata and squeezed it like it was a stress ball. As soon as she was protected behind the glass the machine pressed down, a picture was taken, and I was released. Four different painful positions on each side left my chest red and swollen enough for a dance on the pole. I was escorted back into the locker room to wait for results, which were given immediately after the radiologist perused my films.

I went back to drinking my sugar water while I waited…and waited…and waited. "This is taking too long," I texted my mom in the waiting area upstairs. My palms began to sweat and I could feel my heart beating a little too heavily in my chest. One by one, the other women in the locker room were taken for their tests, sent back in to wait, then handed a clean bill of health and sent on their way.

But I was still there.

Finally the door opened and the familiar tech greeted me with a very solemn expression. She said nothing, but pointed and me and motioned with her index finger to follow her. This can't be good, I thought to myself as I stood up from my seat. And, of course, I was alone. "Is something wrong?" I asked. She didn't answer directly. Instead, she skirted the question by saying, "The doctor needs a few more pictures of your right side. I need to use a different attachment that will spread out the tissue more evenly so she can see it clearly." I had to have more information. "Did she see something in there?" My throat was dry and I wanted to run out of the room and back up to my familiar CT scan, for which I was now late. "She just wants a few more pictures," was all she would tell me.

The small room with the boob-squeezing machine seemed much scarier when I entered it for the second time that morning. My entire body was shaking and, when the technician noticed, I shrugged it off and blamed it on a chill from the air conditioning blasting down upon my naked chest.  I had about a minute to text my mom while an extra attachment that would "spread the breast tissue more evenly" was attached. "They need more pictures. I'm scared." I typed. Her response was calm and reassuring, as always, "That's happened to me, too. It's very common." But, for some reason, it didn't help.

"Ok, you can come over here and remove your right sleeve," instructed the technician. I obeyed her command then she grabbed hold of my milk jug and warned, "This is gonna be a bit more uncomfortable than last time. Hold still." I saw stars flashing before my eyes as this woman squeezed and flattened me into a vice that crushed my right mammary like it was juicing an orange. Then, finally, the torture was over. I was sent back to the locker room to await my fate. Seconds turned to minutes but it felt like days before she finally appeared again. This time, she was holding a paper, which she handed to me and said, "Enjoy the rest of your day. See you next year." A quick glance at the X next to, "Normal breast tissue" confirmed that the technician had just given me good news and I allowed myself to enjoy the relief for a few minutes until I redressed my upper half and headed back upstairs for my CT scan, for which I was now very late.

I barely had time to give Jimmi and my mom the results before my name was called again and I was brought to the room of doom. Each time I enter the CT prep room I start to feel sick to my stomach. Waves of nausea rush over me as the memories of being a "cancer patient" flood back into my brain. The situation unfolds the same way each time. I'll give my name, with spelling, and date of birth to the nurse, who will then ask me which arm is best for my IV. I'll expose both to show her that neither would win a prize for easy veins, but request that she not use the only decent one in my right arm because of all the scar tissue it accumulated during my stint as a regular medial pin cushion. She'll look, shake her head and tell me she'll try, but she might not have a choice. A stick or two, if she's having a bad day, and the bitter taste of saline will hit my tongue as the syringe is squeezed into the catheter in my arm before the drip begins. All of that fuss just to prepare me for a quick shot of contrast dye halfway through the scan. The the nurse will ask if I'm cold, bring me a blanket and tell me the tech will be in to get me shortly. I know the drill so well I could probably perform the entire operation myself.

The test itself lasts barely ten minutes, but I get most of my praying for the year done in that short time. "Please, God, let me be ok. Please don't let the cancer come back. Please let me live to watch my kids grow up." Into the machine I go. "Breathe in. Hold your breath," instructs the recorded voice. "Breathe," he commands after the picture is taken. Twice through, then the contrast is injected. Three more pictures and the IV is removed and I'm sent on my way, back downstairs to my gynecological oncologist, Dr. L's office, where I'll hear the results of the CT scan and enjoy the discomfort of an internal examination which, after a month of pelvic radiation, is not the walk in the park is used to be.

My mom, Jimmi and I sat in the third waiting area of the day and my legs bounced nervously. At least I would know soon if I could relax for a few months or not. At the beginning of my post-treatment scan days, I'd have the test on a Monday and have to wait until Friday to hear the results. One time I was having some severe back pain and the doctor sent me for a CT scan and had the report read immediately. Once I knew that was a possibility, there was no going back to the agony of an entire week of waiting.

"Suzanne?" smiled the nurse as she met my gaze. The three of us stood up and followed her through the doors where Nurse L, my favorite one, was sitting. "How's the baby?!" she gushed as I grabbed my phone to display some pictures. "Oh, she's just BEAUTIFUL!" she cooed, and, I had to agree.

We were taken across the hall to the largest and coldest exam room where, after my vitals were recorded, I was told to undress from the waist down. My mom and Jimmi went behind the curtain to give me privacy and I draped a sheet over my lap and told them to come back. Dr. L didn't make us suffer too long before bursting through the door with his mildly cocky, yet likable demeanor. "Scan was normal," he announced without even a "hello." My mom sighed audibly and Jimmi and I smiled with the relief of three more months to enjoy before the next appointment. After some smalltalk about Aria, of course, Dr. L said, "Oh, I gave your name to our public affairs department. They're doing a commercial for the hospital and they asked for interesting and unique cases. I hope you don't mind." Of course, I didn't. I enjoy being different, though, maybe for a less deadly reason. "How many of us do you still have?" I asked cautiously, knowing women with small cell neuroendocrine carcinoma of the cervix are a very rare find. "Well, I've only had five in my entire career. Unfortunately two just passed." I nodded. I knew one of them from my online support group. "But that won't happen to you. You'll be here for a long, long time," he said with positivity I've never heard from him. After all, he's a realist. He deals with cancer every day; he knows the realities of all types, especially an aggressive bastard like mine.

Then it was time to get down to the next moment of dread. I had to warn him that I hadn't done my required snoochie stretching exercises in awhile. I mean, really, who has time to stick a medical dildo into her love canal three times a week with a newborn at home? "Go easy on me with the speculum, please." He shook his head like a disapproving dad and eased the device inside me. I cringed as he slowly opened it up to get a peak at the site of my original cancer, which had been removed three years ago, along with my entire reproductive system. "Looks normal!" he announced and pulled out the vaginal opener. He followed with a quick manual check and closed with, "You NEED to use that dilater. The tightening is only gonna get worse." I nodded with no intent of following orders. I HATE that fucking thing!

As Dr. L wrote in my chart he marveled over the fact that my surgery was performed over three years ago. "Surprised I'm still alive?" I asked, only half-jokingly. "You're doing great," he said. "With most people it comes back within the first year or two. Fewer in years three and four, and, after five years, it'll rarely come back again." He looked at my eyes and knew I was secretly calling him out in my head. "Ok," he said. "You know how aggressive this type of cancer can be, but you're really doing well. I wouldn't worry." So I asked, "When will you change my scans from every three months to every six months?" He looked at my chart again, then at me, then back at my chart and said, "Well, we don't really like to over-scan people because it's not good for you, especially since you'll be with us for the next thirty or forty years." I smiled at his prediction. But then he must've remembered the severity of small cell and added, "I'll see you in three months. We can talk about it again at that point." That was fine with me.

I must say, I never thought I'd live to see 2014, but here I am! And I never ever thought I'd come home to a face like this, but...

1 comment:

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