I’ll Just Pretend the PET Scan Was Clear
Then I saw him. The doctor was coming through the waiting room with lunch in his hands. He spotted me and said “Oh, Hi.” And smiled a little.
I wished so much I had the Terminator-like computerized vision that would immediately reveal to me in a neat print of red digitized writing what the doctor’s thoughts were. Or his emotions, his body temperature. Did his pulse speed up with pity when he saw me? I needed something. ANYTHING! Any sign of whether my PET scan was good or not!
I stared as his back disappeared in the belly of the office. I lowered my eyes back to my tablet. Then the nurse called me in.
After all the weight and blood pressure checks, I sat, waiting, yet again. I pulled out my tablet and started playing Jeopardy. I had to do something. My hands were shaky, I started sweating and my heart was beating fast. I alternatively got consumed by the game or lifted my eyes from it, barely fighting the tears of anticipation of bad news.
Dr. L. came into the room. I put the game away. He asked me how I was and I stuttered something stupid about being fine so far and about how the weather was finally nice. WHO CARES! My brain screamed! Who cares about the fucking weather! Just get to the results!
The doctor opened up my PET scan results and started clicking and scrolling through images. He frowned and clicked some more. Then he impatiently pressed the up and down arrow keys in a multitude of taps like a woodpecker. Up and down. Up, up, up, down, down, down, down. I saw the picture of my head get wider and narrower as the image got to the neck. And back up again. What was he looking for?
“Which eye was the bad one again?”
“The left one.” I said, trying to swallow despite my dry throat.
‘Hmm.” He said and kept scrolling, now through my torso. He used his mouse wheel to take a quick ride up and down the ever changing images of my heart, lungs, liver, stomach, you name it.
“Oh, I see what they are saying.” He murmured to himself.
That was it. The telltale sign. This was not going to be a two minute, ‘everything is clear’ type of a discussion. I fought back tears. I felt heavy. I didn’t want to be there. I wanted to die but yet live at the same time.
“OK,” He exclaimed and straightened up in his chair. He tilted the monitor towards me. “So, here is your head, the brain is always lit up like that, it uptakes the stuff they gave you in the injection, that’s normal.” He scrolled with the mouse and got to my upper torso. He switched to the up and down keys and tapped a few times until we both saw two orange glowing spots, evenly on each side of my body.
“So this is what looks like what is called brown fat. People sometimes have it show up on scans.”
“How is that different from cancer? How can you tell?” I questioned him. I didn’t care if he thought I was rude.
‘Well, cancer usually doesn’t grow symmetrically like that.”
All I heard was the word ‘usually’. What if I am not ‘usual’? Everything about my cancers was ‘unusual’. I looked back at the monitor. Now he was all the way down in my lower abdomen.
“OK, so here you see that the kidneys and the bladder took up some of the tracer too, that’s normal. But see here, the area behind where the uterus is, that is showing some physiological uptake too.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“Did you have sex in the last 72 hours?”
“Do you have your period?”
“No. Haven’t had one since chemotherapy.”
“Hmm…well, the radiologist says it is a physiological uptake, so I don’t think there is any need to do any further testing and imaging.
“How would it look if it was cancer?” I asked masochistically.
“Well, usually, cancer you can point to with one finger, like here it is”, and he pointed with his point finger to the monitor, “while yours is more of an area”, and he waved his palm towards the monitor. “So, I’ll see you again in four months and that’s when we will do some blood tests too again. Oh, and I will get a CD made of this PET scan so you can take it to your eye doctor in NY.”
“Why, do you think something is wrong?” I remembered how he asked me at the beginning of the visit which eye was the bad one.
“Professional courtesy.” He answered. I stared at his face for any signs of other thoughts. Nothing. Perfect poker face. Was he not wanting to be professionally courteous in January when I had my last PET scan?
I didn’t have the strength to ask anything else. I could feel the pressure in my throat squeezing my vocal cords and pushing tears in my eyes. But I had to muster one more question.
“What about the lung nodule? Is it still there? Did they say anything about it?”
He looked at the report again and said:
“I’ll have to call the radiologist, I can’t see that much detail on this monitor. I will email you in your MyChart later today.”
“Well, it was nice to see you again.” He extended his hand towards me. I shook it. It was blurry.
I pressed my lips together and looking down on the floor escaped to the restroom. I let it out there. Tears, big, hot, cascading down my cheeks, onto the perfectly waxed linoleum.
Later on that day at home, I tried to rationalize all I heard earlier in the day. I managed to go to bed around midnight and sleep for a few hours.
Today I got a call from my other oncologist that she wanted me to schedule an ultrasound to check my uterus. I hung up the phone and stared blankly in front of me. There were no more tears left.
All I know is that I can’t go through all this again for the third time.