On Monday, yesterday, I went in for my first post-treatment PET scan. This scan will tell me if the chemotherapy and radiation did the job on my cancer. Did we get it? Were we successful? Do I still have cancer? Will I have to go through another round of therapy in the immediate future?
As you can imagine, I was anxious about this scan. This scan is the culmination of all the pain, discomfort, and inconvenience I have been forced to endure since I was first diagnosed with Stage 3 squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck with a left tonsorial primary. This scan would tell me if all of this has been in vain or not.
Carey and I woke early; we had to be at the hospital at the hospital at 8:30am. Once there, I was ushered into a small room and asked a few questions. Had I consumed alcohol in the past 12 hours? Had I eaten anything? Was I allergic to anything? Was I claustrophobic? Was I diabetic?
That last question was the tricky one. As you know, I am officially diabetic but since I have lost so much weight I have had no diabetic symptoms. In order to get the PET scan my blood sugar had to be less than 160. I was nervous because I had eaten a LOT of sugary cake the night before for Ashlee’s birthday.
I needn’t have worried. I am not diabetic anymore apparently. My fasting blood sugar, after 12 hours of not eating, was a mere 93. That’s completely normal – what you would expect from anyone.
Once my blood sugar was no longer an issue, the nurse brought in the radioactive sugar that they were to inject in my veins. It was housed in a tungsten container and the nurse very carefully handled it as she injected it into my veins. This radioactive liquid would spread through my body, creating the contrast in my tissues that the PET scan needed to see into my body.
Additionally, I was given a “contrast” liquid to swallow that would perform a similar function on my stomach and intestines. It tasted very mineral-ey.
Then, I was forced to lie in the dark for 90 minutes. I couldn’t speak. Couldn’t move. Any overt muscular activity would force the radioactive liquid to rush to the area being used and would skew the results of the PET scan. It was torture for me; Carey was sitting right next to me and I couldn’t speak or move at all.
Finally, I was led back to the imaging room and strapped down in the machine. The actual scans took about 30 minutes. Once completed, I was warned to stay at least 6 feet away from pregnant women and children for 12 hours as I was radioactive. We got a lot of mileage out of that as a joke all day.
After the scans, my anxiety was higher than ever. I put on a positive face for everyone, but I was worried. This was the moment of truth. I really didn’t think I could handle another round of chemotherapy and radiation – not yet anyway. I still haven’t recovered my strength. I haven’t had a chance to start living my life again – to remember what it is about myself that I love and bring it back again.
I’m not the same man that I was when this ordeal started. In some ways I am a stronger, better, man. In other ways, though, I am less than I was. I need to find my humor, my zest, my love of life again. I need, in essence, to emerge from survival mode and start really living again. I didn’t let this cancer and treatment completely shut me down – I did propose to the love of my life. I did move to a new house. I did write and reflect on myself and my place in the universe. But I lost some of my lightheartedness. Some of my zeal. I need to get some of that back before I can even begin to contemplate doing this again.
So you can imagine how anxious I was.
So this morning I arrived to work as normal. About 11:30am, though, I received a call from my oncologist. His message? My scans had come back, they had been analyzed.
I HAVE NO VISIBLE CANCER!
This is FANTASTIC news. I have emerged reborn. Like the legendary phoenix, I have risen from the ashes of my troubled and diseased past as a new being – full of life and potential.
Carey actually squealed loudly in the office when I told her. Throwing propriety to the wind, she cried and kissed me and held me for minutes. Just held me. No words were said except a tearful, whispered, “I love you, baby.”
I was in shock – I still am. It’s hard to believe. I am realistic – this is just the first of many scans I will have to go through. The cancer could still be there, just too small to show up on the scanner at this time. Still, though, we have reason to hope. I have no reason NOT to start living fully again.
I told myself months ago that should I emerge from this successfully I would get a new tattoo. I am getting, on my left arm, a tattoo of a phoenix. This will symbolize my rebirth – my emergence from the ashes of cancer into a new life filled with hope and potential.
This is the design I am considering. What do you think?
I will get this tattoo, or one similar, in the next 1-2 weeks.
Hopefully this will close this chapter of my life and I can move past. Regardless of how it ultimately turns out, I am a very lucky man. I have a new lease on life, for however long it shall be. I have a wonderful fiance, three amazing children, a loving and caring family, great friends, and a good job filled with people who care for me.
Thank you all for standing by me as I went through this. You truly made a difference. I love you all.