Sightings in the Solar System

When we got my fantastic CT scan results, I think I mentioned that we were still waiting for my doctor to get the results of my chest scan.  Well, yesterday she called to confirm that all of the affected (cancerous) lymph nodes between my lungs have indeed either stabilized or shrunk!

 <Insert sound of cheering here>

Yes, yes! Wonderful, thrilling, spectacular news, and I’m obviously happy as can be. But before we go high-fiving and popping the champers, there is a bit of a “However,” and it goes like this:

However, there are other little spots on my lungs that appear to have increased in size and number.

 <Insert deflated sigh here>

My oncologist explained that it would be unusual for some metastasized cancer spots to shrink or stabilize while some grow, so just what these spots are is a bit of a mystery.  Also, the dry, squeaky pet toy cough has returned, and she wants to find out if there is some kind of infection that should be treated before we completely steamroll my immune system with chemo.

So, off I went this morning to see a respiratory specialist at Toronto General, my friend Angelique at my side, acting as my emotional buttress and auxiliary brain. Child of two highly accomplished doctors, she knows her way around a hospital, and we sometimes call her Spawn of Doctors, or more affectionately, Spawny.

The respiratory doctor – let’s call him Dr. Lungs – was personable and professional and Angelique and I both give him full marks for bedside manner and professionalism.  He’s the kind of doctor that makes you feel safe – he knows what he’s doing and he treats you like a human being.  He should probably be on a speaking tour, instructing other doctors on how to interact with patients, but unfortunately I need him here right now.  He asked questions, and I gave him my cancer history, rattling off dates, clinical terms and names of drugs like a keener med student.  (This is what you learn to do after living with cancer for a while; you learn your medical terms.  It makes things go faster and more smoothly.)

In order to try to find out what those mystery spots are, Dr. Lungs wants to do a procedure which sounds rather nasty and involves sticking a probe down my throat and checking out the little flecks and then washing my lungs with salt water.  The probe is called a “bronchoscopy” and the water part is called “lavage” which is French for “washing” and English for “simulated-drowning-at-sea.”  Not the most festive event on my holiday calendar, to be sure.

On the upside, Dr. Lungs showed us the supercool CT scan imagery of my chest cavity and not only did it look like the solar system in a bucket, but when he was pointing out the flecks that have grown and multiplied we actually couldn’t tell them from the other “normal” flecks – and this was effectively a comfort to me. 

He moved his cursor around a galaxy in the right lung and said: “Here you see the abnormal spots from the August scan…”

“Mmm-hmmm…” We murmured appreciatively, thinking “Um, no, actually we don’t see them. They look just like all those other things you said are normal spots.”

Then he moved his cursor to the other side of the screen, where my most recent CT scan was, and said: “And here you can see that the spots have grown a bit, and that there are more of them.”

“Ahhh. Mmmm.” We said, thinking, “Dude, that looks like the planetarium.  Seriously, we can’t tell good spots from bad spots.”

So, thanks to our inability to interpret CT scans, it wasn’t as scary as it was fascinating.  It practically made us want to listen to Pink Floyd and spark up a joint, which probably (being a respiratory doctor) he wouldn’t have permitted. The important thing is that the technology was amazing, and his explanations were reassuring.  It made me feel like we can see what sneaky little cancer is up to.

Anyway, the “procedure” is scheduled for Monday morning.  I am hoping it reveals an infection, because if it doesn’t, we still have a mystery on our hands. As for the cough, Dr. Lungs thinks it could be caused by this constantly dripping faucet that I used to call my nose.  There is some kind of treatment for that but my auxiliary brain will have to remind me what it was.  Between the glorious “99.9 percent certainty” that the flecks aren’t lung cancer, the dazzling digital apparition of the solar system within my chest cavity, and the freaky details about my “procedure” –  I was pretty much at capacity.  My disc is full.  Thank god for emotional buttresses & auxiliary brains.  

Armour up, everybody, looks like we’re hunting dragons again.


Filed under Living with Breast Cancer

8 responses to “Sightings in the Solar System

  1. mhalushak

    Oh Leanne, I love your blog but have never commented before. What a roller coaster ride you are on! Everyone here at Chatelaine is rooting for you to kick cancer’s @ss.

  2. gwen

    Leanne, I am so glad you lucked out with Dr. Lungs. And to have him unveil a solar system in your chest cavity – wow! We all knew you were a star, but an entire solar system? Well, who’d’a thunk it? Seriously, though, you’ll get through the bronchoscopy as others of us have got through colonoscopies and other yucky procedures. When it’s over, you’ll be incredibly relieved, and you can add it to all the rest of your experiences that you’ll include in the book you’re going to write when all this cancer stuff is a thing of the past!

  3. Catherine

    Leanne – wonderful news for you. I know that the positive news will just keep rolling your way :). My prayers and positive thoughts are going your way.

  4. Sleepless in San Francisco

    OK, I’ve shipped my scuba gear so you can survive the ‘drowning at sea’ procedure… (I trust this isn’t some kind of medieval trial where, if you drown, that proves your innocence and there was nothing to worry about in your lungs.)
    Happy Birthday, Leanne, and many, many more!

  5. lcoppen

    Thanks Mhalushak — I don’t know you but I already like you + whoever else is rooting for me over there!

    Thanks for all the well-wishes about shrinking lumps and solar systems. I confess to feeling some nervousness about this procedure monday… came down with a cold today and caught myself hoping that would mean they have to delay it! But we have to know what’s going on in there, so on with the show.


  6. kdupuis

    EVERYONE is rooting for you over here at Chatelaine, Leanne! I’ve also never commented, like Maureen, but I read your blog religiously. Tough cookie doesn’t even begin to describe you. You’re like a cookie of steel with indestructible chocolate chips.

  7. lcoppen

    Thank-you for rooting for me, Chatelainers! It’s so nice to know you’re out there. Especially when I’m feeling so daunted… Hopefully my next blog post will be a “it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be” update!

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