Friday was the PET scan. I was going to write about it on that day, but to be completely honest, I was still in the freaked out stage and needed a little distraction from it all. So instead, I took a nap, watched a movie, and enjoyed time with my boy friend. As my friend Amy wrote me, the waiting is the worst part.
What is a PET scan?
A PET (positron emission tomography) scan uses dye that contains radioactive tracers. These tracers collect in places of higher chemical activities, such as the organs. Guess what else has higher chemical activities…cancer cells. So all of that cutting sugar out of my diet is because cancer cells LOVE to feed on fast-growing cells. Fat is a fast-growing cell. Sugar simply feeds the fat and therefore feeds the cancer. Before a PET scan, you cannot consume sugars, milk products, or alcohol. And then you have to fast for six hours. You are also not allowed to do heavy exercise for two days. The whole process is to prepare the body to be as hypoglycemic as possible so that when they inject the dye, the scanner can find the cancer, which will have the highest metabolic rate in the body.
What is the process?
After making sure to stick to the check-list of what not to do, the process for a PET is pretty straight forward. First, they take weight and height. Then they pricked my finger to test my sugar level. For the intermediate PET, (the one after the second round of chemo treatment) they ask about last chemo and next, reactions, and symptoms. [SIDE NOTE: This time we had a little tussle because my doctor wanted the specific date of the 18th to make sure the results were back in time before the next chemo, which is schedule for the 24th. If it isn’t working, we need to have a plan to keep my treatments on schedule. But the technicians were concerned that the scan was too close to my last chemo treatment and wanted to postpone. Apparently, you want the scan as far away from chemo to prevent a false reading. Doctor won.] Then they took me into this little room where they injected me with a sugar substance, the dye, and a saline solution to clean my vein. As much as I hate injections, this process takes less than 2 minutes. Then I get to take a short 50 minute nap. It is imperative that you stay extremely still for the dye to take effect. So, the little room has a lazy-boy recliner, a super soft blanket, and light dimmers. Each PET scan has given me some of my best naps! This one specifically was nice, since I didn’t sleep much the night before. Too many things to think about.
Once the dye is settled, I have to immediately relieve my bladder, drink a whole cup of water, and then hop into the machine area. The machine is a large doughnut thing. It is freezing cold, so they put a cute little polkadot blanket over me, lift my arms over my head, ask me to close my eyes so the laser doesn’t damage anything, and away we go. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back…stop…forth. And the only sound is the conveyer belt moving. The machine itself is pretty silent. After about 20 minutes, we are done. The technician checks the images to make sure they are clear and I am good to go. Easy!
What does cancer look like?
At first, the images are simply scans that look like weird screen savers. These mean nothing to me. Every once-in-a-while I can make out a body part, but it really is a guessing game. These scans are available almost immediately. Then the images are analyzed by a specialist who freezes the images and notes the problem areas. Here are my scans from my original PET in November.
Can you see the weird black dots in my neck and spleen area? This is my cancer and the reason why I am a stage 3. I also think it is funny that the other places of high metabolic rates in the body are the brain and groin. It explains a lot about humans. hehe
The Waiting Period
It takes about five days for the images to be analyzed. And the waiting really is the worst part. The test for me is a piece-of-cake. I don’t have problems with small spaces. But I check the stupid website every day to see if the analysis is up. There is only one PET scanner in all of Uruguay, so the information is mine not my doctors. I get to see everything before he does. And thanks to the myriad of articles I have sifted through in this process, I semi-know what a “negative” scan means and looks like. So this is what we are hoping for:
- A 3 or less on the analysis, which will indicate the chemo is working and the cell areas have dropped significantly
- A comparable image with less black dots in the problem areas
In other words, we are hoping that my scans look a little like this:
Fingers and toes crossed!