Tag Archives: CT scan

The Storm

There is a big storm here today – a blizzard.  The snow keeps coming down and piling up, traffic slides and crawls, and on the sidewalks people bend forward and stumble into the horizontal blast of a Canadian winter reminding everyone who’s boss.

I’m feeling a little like the cancer is showing me who’s boss today.  Not physically, but by virtue of it kicking the ass of my optimism.  The fear that the cancer might have spread to my bones or further colonized my lungs is coming down and piling up.  I’m trying to navigate it but I keep sliding and stumbling. I dread the CT scan tomorrow because I dread the results.  

I’ve had a stormy day – torrents of tears, bolts of anger, clouds of despair.  A darkness of helplessness and a heaviness of frustration and a hail-storm of anxieties. You name it, it came crashing down. Luckily I had a session with my cancer shrink scheduled for today, but the best I could do was plow through a box of Kleenex asking, “Why can’t anyone stop it? Why can’t anyone fix it?” The pathetic futility of my questions only set me further adrift, and he had his work cut out for him just to bring me back to a basic acceptance of the anger and fear.

Of course, I know that the CT scan could possibly tell me that the cancer has stabilized, or even started to shrink.  After all, my neck lumps have disappeared.  (Is that a glimmer of sunlight I see?)

But like a Pavlovian dog, I’ve been conditioned to expect bad news each and every time they scan my body. Last time, even though my lymph nodes had stabilized, my lungs showed evidence of progression. (Nope, just more storm clouds.)

The coughing and the pain in my ribs make me even more fearful; maybe these are symptoms that the cancer has further spread.  Like walking out into a blizzard with nothing but a light jacket and city boots, my trusty tools Denial and Distraction aren’t offering me much protection in these conditions.

There are many hours in the day when I am functioning and managing as though everything is okay – or going to be.  But underneath is always a growing sense of foreboding. And also no small amount of anger that I have to feel this way – this afraid – again.

Yes, I know what this is: classic fear of the unknown. Thank-you Dr. Freud. But let’s not go so far as to say it’s “just” fear.  I am aware it’s not bad news yet and it may never be bad news, but that’s only my reason trying to wrestle with my emotion. Sometimes emotion wins.  This is one of those times.

I’m writing this while I’m still in the darkness.  I could have waited until I was in a brighter place, feeling less fragile, but what would be the point of that?  In a way, the act of sharing this fear does shrink it, if only a little. If I think about how many people might be out there reading this – how many different portions my fear might be divided into – it somehow feels a little better, a bit more manageable.  When I read the comments it’s like they take little chips out of the icy wall of fear, like they help take the cancer down a notch. Like I get a little bit bigger, just a little less vulnerable. 

I don’t know what the name is for that unscientific phenomenon, I only know it’s true.  It’s a small shelter from the storm, but it’s a shelter nonetheless.

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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.

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Cancer Spots and Parking Spots

On the way to the hospital this morning, as we navigated the morning rush hour / rainy day traffic, my husband and I were saying that we would just for once like to leave one of these meetings with some really good news. Just a little luck, that’s all we wanted.  Sometimes it feels like we’ve been so beaten down with bad news and raw deals that just a tiny bit of good luck would send us into paroxysms of glee and gratitude.  We’d be so giddy that people would cross the street when they saw us coming.  

So, because the universe has a sick sense of humour (and has obviously bugged our car) when we arrived at the normally chaotic, totally un-parkable hospital, we found the world’s most perfect parking spot waiting for us right in front of the entrance to the breast clinic elevators.  Imagine – in the pouring rain, armed with a broken umbrella (I pulled it out of the stand in two pieces this morning) we beheld this beautiful, glorious parking spot – I swear it almost glowed. It almost made that chorus-of-angels sound. We had to laugh: just our luck that the answer to our prayers for good luck would come in the form of a great parking spot.  

Well, I’m very happy to say that the good luck didn’t end there today.  Ladies and Gentlemen: I have great news, good news and no news!!

First, the great news: The CT scan showed no spots in my brain! My notoriously low blood pressure is the cause of my dizziness and I can take a break from worrying about nasty things growing in my brain. I know some of you won’t be able to resist the airhead jokes (you know who you are… Shawn Coppen) so I’ll beat you to it: Finally, we have proof that there is nothing in my brain! And that’s fine with me.

Next, the good news: The lymph node tumours have either shrunk or stabilized!  Those one or two lumps in my neck are indeed getting smaller (okay, so maybe this counts as great news!) and the others haven’t managed to get any bigger.  Stabilization is almost as good as shrinkage, because, as my oncologist explained, Tykerb/lapatinib gradually stabilizes tumours over time and then begins to shrink them, hopefully all the way to oblivion.  So for now, stable is just fantastic in my books.

And finally, in the no news department: Well, it seems there was an error. The analysis of the chest CT scan was compared to an old scan from last year, rather than my most recent scan in August, so it’s no good. My oncologist has ordered a re-analysis against my most recent chest scan, so we can see what’s going on with the spots between my lungs. Reassuringly, my doc says her initial reading is good, but she will call me tomorrow when she has the complete analysis.  No news – while not as thrilling as “no new spots,” “shrinkage,” or “stable” – is still good news.

So, I’m massively, tearfully, hugely relieved.  And, oddly, also deeply thankful, though I’m not precisely sure to what or whom. But the gratitude I feel is strangely palpable; I can literally feel it emanating from me.  Also, I find I’m physically exhausted. Like, knackered.  I guess all the tension that I have been carrying has finally been released and my body wants me to let it rest now.  Which I will gladly do, as soon as I post this.

Tomorrow is another day – for chest scan results and parking spots – and let’s just hope the luck continues!

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Losing My Marbles in The Hope-Fear Continuum

On Friday I had CT scans of pretty much everything but my arms and legs to check the stage of my lumps and bumps as compared to three treatment cycles ago (that’s  just over two months ago.)  We’ll get the results Thursday morning, when I go in for my regular clinic appointment. 

Normally a head scan wouldn’t be included but I’ve been having some dizzy spells and frankly they’re freaking me out a bit.  Despite my best efforts, the words “brain tumour” crept into my mind like sneaky little spiders leaving clingy cobwebs of fear behind.   Reassuringly, my oncologist said that the problem is more likely related to circulation (it mostly happens when I stand up or get out of bed) but since I have a pretty good record of reporting symptoms that turn out to be indicators of disease progression, she’s not messing around. She tagged an “urgent” head scan onto my scheduled CT so we can get all the results at the same time. 

And so here I am again, trapped in the hope-fear continuum, as I always am whenever I wait for the results of tests like these.  No matter what I’m doing – working or buying groceries, talking or typing, listening or laughing – I can feel the almost magnetic tension between the poles of hope and fear.  It feels like walking a tightrope, where any slip can hurl me either into terror or wild optimism.

And this time in particular there’s a lot going on, pulling me in both directions.  There is the fear that the scans will reveal tumour growth or new spots, possibly in my (gulp) brain.  I’ve also noticed pain at the site of my original tumour, the one long-ago removed, and …is that a little lump under my arm?? 

But before I spiral down into the murky depths of Fearsville, let’s just shake off the slime of terror and foreboding for a moment and give the other end of the spectrum a chance.  Because there is also the lure of hope: pure and shiny and just as powerful a pull as the gravity of fear. And this time, offsetting the whirlpool suck of fear, I have to say hope’s got a pretty good leg-up. This time, I actually believe I have reason to be hopeful – dizzy spells and phantom tumour pain notwithstanding. 

Even though I’m superstitious enough to hesitate to blog it out to the universe for fear of jinxing myself, I’ve decided that I will share why I’m leaning toward hope because I also have a cockamamie theory that other people wishing for it too might help to make it come true.  So, here goes: I can feel that the lumps in my neck are getting smaller!  Its not just my imagination – my oncologist has on two occasions made a happy/surprised face and a little “Hm!” sound when examining me in the past few weeks.  (She is not the overly effusive type, so for her, I like to think “hm!” is the equivalent of jumping up and down and high-fiving me.) 

Anyway, I’ll know on Thursday. In the meantime I’ll walk the tightrope and try not to go completely mad.  Although I confess I’m rubbing my shrunken neck lumps like lucky pennies, and giving my brain and under arm lump 800-pound-gorilla status just by dint of the concentration it requires to not think about them.  

Luckily, I had a visit with my amazing cancer shrink yesterday, and he says “What-ifs” are strictly off limits.  No matter how positively you spin a What-if, reasons my amazing cancer shrink, it invites its opposite, thereby opening the door to anxiety.  And nobody wants to live in that house, located, as it is, in the reeking swamp of Fearsville.  So I just have to stay with what I know, which, right now, is …nothing.  Nothing is pretty hard to hold onto – but even if it’s not as great as good news, it’s still better than bad news.

Holding onto nothing… Oh my, my, my.  That’s the thing about cancer: you might beat the disease, but you’ll probably go crazy doing it.

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CT Scan: Waiting For Results

We’re still waiting for results of the CT scans.  We made it through the weekend — the rainy, stressful, anxiety-sodden weekend.  Friday was Complete Meltdown Day, as if there’s anything productive about sobbing on my bed and asking my husband (and the universe) “Why does it have to be this hard??”  Neither of them gave me a satisfactory answer. 

Saturday was Exhausted and Depressed Day, but by Sunday we had kind of found our groove of Denial and Distraction.  

Now we’re mostly in the Numb and Calm stage, with a little glimmer of Hopeful and Determined: today I woke up to a sunny day and found that I actually believe that whatever the CT scans show, we will just take it in stride as best we can and get on with the business of beating this horrible thing. 

Which is not to say that I’m done with crying and asking impossible questions of the universe and my husband, but for the moment, no news is simply no news.  For the moment, as far as I’m concerned the cancer hasn’t colonized any new bodily territories and the neck lumps haven’t pushed their evil lebensraum campaign too terribly far.  And that’s good enough to get me through one more night.

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Getting Through A Bad Day

I must admit, I’m having a pretty rough day.  I’m completely preoccupied about the CT scan results (please let there be no more dragons!) I’m totally knocked out with low blood counts across the board, and the general effect is one of weakness and blubberingness. Pretty much whoever calls today is going to get a tearful earful from me, except my mom because she called while driving (hands-free, but still, as Bob Marley says, we don’t need no more trouble.)

But then, sometimes when I start feeling sorry for myself, I just have to look around and open my eyes to all the suffering that other people are forced to endure, and it gives me a little perspective. For example, I direct you to this link to a tale of incredible suffering and dignity in the face of outrageous circumstances. 

Wow, talk about a “perfect storm.”  I mean, that is just too overwhelming to contemplate.  

Just kidding.  What really does help me is all the encouraging comments and good mojo.  And barfing in the general direction of this Mischa Barton person.

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Hunting Dragons Again

Yesterday was one of those great days: In the afternoon I met my niece, who is perfect and amazing – just a miracle of life wrapped up like the world’s most beautiful burrito in my arms – and in the evening I ate lobster with a friend who always makes me laugh and inspires me, having herself recently kicked cancer’s a**.  Needless to say I slept soundly.  Smugly, even.

Alas, this morning I came screeching back into cold hard reality at full-speed – right back into the routine that somehow never becomes routine:

  • 9 a.m. needle to the port in my chest – check
  • Extraction of 6 colour-coded vials of blood – check
  • ECG – check
  • IV fluids & drugs for about 2 hours – check
  • Review bloodwork results with my nurse: all counts low, especially platelets. Am instructed to rest as much as possible, and to avoid getting any deep cuts or gashes. Cancel my sword-fighting plans this weekend – uh, check

This evening I’m scheduled for my first CT scan since beginning the clinical trial. They’ll scan everything from head to pelvis, looking for any sign of further metastasis (please, no more) and of course, measuring the growth of the ol’ neck lumps (please, no more than 20%). 

I’ve already choked back half the gigantic bucket of nasty chalk-juice, which, by the way, some jerk had the audacity to brand “E-Z CAT” – probably a relative of the jerk who came up with branding Fox News “fair and balanced.”  Now I shall proceed to eat everything in sight before fasting begins.  Then I’ll nap, if I can possibly quiet my mind, and later my husband will take me back to the hospital for the freaky sci-fi space capsule scan.

And then? 

Well, then we just wait. Probably until Monday. We wait and try to enjoy our weekend as much as possible, hopefully avoiding “deep cuts and gashes” or any manner of flesh-wound, and also trying not to think too much about the results.  This of course is like trying not to breathe too much.  

I really want to stay positive and only think of good things (my family, my new niece, lobster dinners) but the truth is I’m terrified.  Still, if there is something to know, I’d rather know it.  Can’t fight it if you don’t know it’s there, right?  And maybe there just won’t be any surprises.  Maybe the test drug is working, in spite of seemingly enlarged neck lumps, which yes I have stopped touching all the time.  Mostly. 

Anyway, on with the dragon hunt.  Again.

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