The Diagnosis – Part V – The Scans

When you’re diagnosed with cancer, the doctors need a certain number and type of scans to determine if and how much the cancer has spread. So after you’ve had a mammogram with ultrasound and a biopsy, the next step is to get a contrast MRI. I’ve had 4 knee and 1 shoulder surgery. I’m at the point where I’ve had enough of them that the sound an MRI is relaxing enough that I fall asleep in them. Not necessarily a good thing when you’re supposed to be lying still, and then all of the sudden you doze off and your body jumps 5 feet, but it is what it is. The only ‘bad’ thing about the breast MRI is that you’re lying face down with your arms over your head. As it turns out, lying in this machine was more comfortable than some of the others even though my shoulders were not thrilled with me afterward.

After the MRI, they ordered a CAT scan of my chest because they saw a shadow of something in the MRI. Again, this is like a “normal” MRI to me. It’s not long, it makes some rhythmic noises and so I doze. I had to lie on my back with my arms over my head, but it wasn’t for long enough for anything to gripe much. I probably crossed over a Stargate while in there, but it wasn’t too bad. The CT results weren’t particularly definitive, either. The nodules they saw were really tiny and it’s hard to tell what they are, or even IF they’re cancer. Still a tad bit worrying.

Next we march on to the PET scan. This is the one that *should* tell you if the cancer’s spread and where, if it has. We already know mine’s spread to my lymph nodes, so we’re looking to see how many and if it’s moved elsewhere. For this scan, you go to a special radiology unit where they keep the glow in the dark sugar that they inject into you. You get your own special room to hang out in while the sugar makes its way through your system before they have you go lie on the table to get the scan done. I dozed a little in the recliner in that room.  This sucker was the most painful of all. Not because of the dye, and not because the machine did anything, but because I had to lie on my back with my arms over my head for over 40 minutes. Oddly enough, the ‘bad’ shoulder didn’t mind it as much as the ‘good’ one. That side knotted up pretty good. I store my stress in my shoulders, so of course, the PET scan showed something “not good” on my shoulder blade. It took me a few minutes afterward to get the feeling back when I got up. I can’t wait until I can get a massage again. That knot needs to go.

After the PET scan was done, I was able to ask to see it before I was finished. It was kind of cool – my right side lights up like a Christmas tree, pretty much as I expected. I have a handful of very active cancerous lymph nodes near the main tumor in my breast. They had me drink some barium (I have to say this stuff’s much improved since the last time I remember drinking it 10+ years ago) so that my digestive and urinary system would show up a different color on the scan from everything else. So my kidneys were this kind green color. They looked bigger on the scan than I expected.

It’s kind of cool to see yourself in these scans sometimes. I know the basic anatomy of where things are having not taken advanced anatomy in college, but I’ve always been a science nerd, so even things that are scary to other people are still fascinating to me.

NOTE: Any of you who know engineers, or have budding engineers in your homes – we need better diagnostic tools. Seriously. PET scans, CT scans, bone scans… all those are cool, but they don’t get deep enough. The smallest thing a PET scan can pick up is 1 cm in diameter. That’s the size of a dime. Knowing that I currently have a kiwi in my chest, I am seeing the importance of finding these things when they’re the size of quinoa seeds, and before they have a chance to breed. Freaking alien bodies.

About Pink Ribbon Road

This blog is about receiving and living with a breast cancer diagnosis.
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