Always have something to look forward to!
Living my life by “scan time” is my tether. Most of the time, my scans are 6 months apart which to me basically means that each time I get the "all clear, no cancer, no biopsies" it equates to "6 more months of life." Being a “scanxious” person, I have developed and implemented a routine that makes me feel just a little more comfortable when I go for scans… it’s a bit ridiculous, but it works for me and I plan to keep it that way. I travel to Houston for my scans because I believe that my doctor is THE best doctor on the planet and if I could put a big protective bubble around him, I would. I arrive the prior day, always with my mom because no matter at what age, mom knows best and will always be there to comfort me or slap some sense into me… whatever is needed- or rather, whatever she thinks I need at the moment. We stay in a nice hotel and eat a hearty meal for dinner. No food or drink when the clock strikes midnight, Cinderella. We always pick a movie prior to bedtime- it keeps my mind occupied partially at least.
I love traveling, so having a vacation booked also helps me keep my mind off scans and the possibility of having cancer. It gives me something big to look forward to rather than something big to scare the caca out of me. It genuinely makes a noticeable difference in my mood and I highly recommend scheduling something for yourself to look forward to at all times, even if you’re not a cancer fighter/_________ (change that word: read my first post if you don’t know what I’m referring to.). If you can't afford a vacation, planning a special night with family or friends that is out of the ordinary has a similar effect. I usually attempt visualization of my future escapade while lying in bed wide awake not wanting to sleep for fear the night will inevitably fly by too fast and scan day will come sooner rather than later.
Lights out, alarm bright and early. I head to the doctor’s office for check in… and here’s where my psyche starts playing a game with me. I've developed quite an elaborate routine that the nurses in clinic and outpatient imaging both agree to which results in much less anxiety for me. I cannot go into detail here but I will say that I'm likely the only one that manages to do this at the grace and mercy of all my nurses. Bless their souls! Of course, the veins in my arms are pretty much non-existent and I’ve come to terms with believing they each have a personality of their own- I should just name them. How do they know they will have a little hole in them soon? Seriously!? They move! (Rolling Veins) So, having gone through this routine too many times already, I quickly learned that my hand is a much better option for a needle than my arm. Not only can you see the vein in my hand, but it’s much more of a FLAT surface which helps me psychologically because I absolutely cringe at the thought of bending my arm with a needle or IV in it. Just make sure the alcohol is 100% dry before inserting that needle please or it stings horribly! (Nurses must dread my appointments with all my needs.) Fortunately for me, the people who are caring for me truly do actually “care” for me. For my blood draw, I am distracted with pleasant conversation as the nurse struggles to suction out about 17 tubes of blood, depending on the day and the order. Just like my veins, my blood seems to have a mind of its own too. I know that keeping my body warm allows the blood to flow better. I also know that pumping my fist and getting my body moving sometimes helps too. In addition to these techniques, the amount of water I consume the days prior to this extravaganza has an effect. Yet, sometimes, no matter how great I think I’ve done preparing for this draw, the blood simply retreats and I wonder if my vein is going to just be sucked out into that little tube one of these days… poor vein. It’s a great vein though, I love that vein. It’s definitely one of my favorites because without its presence, I’d have more pain and agony every 6 months.
Once my labs are complete, I am ready for the CT scan. It’s here that my brain goes into panic mode because these are the images that are going to show whether or not there’s something to biopsy… the scan machine… the God proving machine… the medical version of a crystal ball. Oh, the power that machine has over a mind is quite amazing. The standard chalky, milky substance they usually give to patients dehydrates me so quickly and badly that I cannot lay on the scan table for more than a minute at a time without having to rush to the restroom and they cannot inject the contrast, so this princess receives the alternative cocktail which is like a metallic, sweetened water. I’m not complaining about this at all as I much prefer water over liquid chalk. I'm just surprised they haven't served it to me on a silver platter while wearing white gloves. Now, I wait... in my hospital gown and pants.
For those of you who have had scans, you know the wait. For those of you who have not, you have to wait an hour for your cocktail to get around your body before they can scan you. So the WAIT is one of the hardest parts and this is wait number one of two, the second being the wait for results, which is far more challenging. I sit there and think a million thoughts. The TV is on, but I can’t watch it because I’m preoccupied with praying, trying my hardest to believe that I have been cured by Jesus, but still questioning it. Why? Why do I do that? It does no good. I am sometimes able to calm myself, but I sometimes (ok, "usually") just spiral down and end up in tears. (Watch for the future post on the story of the cure from Jesus.)
Maintenance after cancer still feels like having cancer- at least for me it does. I know it's not as bad, but when you could potentially go right back to having it... well... it feels the same. I recently read about studies on this subject with regards to after care as often being the hardest part of cancer and wow did that ring true to me.
On any given scan day, my life can change in a single moment. It is the day that I get to live for another 6 months until the next scan or it is the day that I begin scheduling more procedures which could ultimately lead to fighting cancer again. So, this awareness NEVER GOES AWAY. How does any cancer fighter/___________ NOT live their lives around cancer. I'm still working on figuring this one out. I just scheduled a cruise for March right before scans. In the back of my mind, the thought that I may have to cancel this vacation if I don't receive an "all clear" lingers and haunts me.
They call me back. I almost always cry slightly on the scan table out of nervousness. I always pray. I like that this particular place has a ceiling that has been transformed into soothing color changing lights. It’s a nice small distraction that makes a big difference. I always freak out a little when they put the contrast in because that’s what anxious people do. I’ve heard that people develop allergies to things… I’ve heard of stories where people were fine with contrast then suddenly became allergic to it and then had to be carted off to the ER because their throat closed… my mom is allergic to it and went to the ER once… did I inherit that from her? We’ll find out one day, or not… meanwhile, I tug at the neckline of the gown so it's not touching my throat so that I can feel it better (that makes absolutely no sense at all, but I do it anyway). Then I feel the warming sensation within my body that the contrast creates... but there’s no use in worrying about it since I can’t change it. Yet, here I am, worrying about it. The thoughts are crippling, but I am unable to revise the scenario so I try to fight them off with prayer, breathing techniques and positive affirmations. At least I’m in good hands and if I die here, I’ll get some pain meds for it surely, right? Either that or I’ll have another vasovagal episode, pass out and not know what happened… even better. So why am I even worrying? Whichever path I end up on, I’m ok anyway: I’ll live through it or I’ll die and end up in heaven. It’s good either way, really, right?
I’ve learned that for every negative thought, I must find 2 positive ones to change the pattern and downward spiral. (That’s just another technique that sometimes works- I’ll tell you, one cannot have too many techniques stashed in the back of the mind because some will work while others will not and it may change next time around.) My vacation. Today will end. Tomorrow will begin. And then... eventually, tomorrow will be vacation day! Just make it through the day, as I always do!
After scans, mom and I have lunch at the appropriately chosen restaurant for a hospital, “Au Bon Pain.” Whoever was in charge of securing that deal needs to be spoken with. I realize the meaning is about good bread, but come on, there are so many other great options without “pain” in the name. In any case, it’s a quick lunch, I grab lots of water to flush out all the contrast, force myself to eat though my nerves always churn my stomach and we go elevate ourselves up to the 29th floor for results: the doctor’s clinic.
Walking in, I’m immediately overtaken by severe guilt. So much so that it creates a large lump in my throat. I’m probably THE most healthiest patient in this large waiting room of around 40 people and yet I’m obviously the one with the most anxiety. I have struggled with this guilt from the beginning. I look around and see the effects of chemotherapy on too many people. Some with walkers, some with canes, some in wheelchairs. Some have hair, some have wraps, some are swaddled in warm blankets hooked up to their fluids… some are sleeping, some are reading, some are chatting. Then there’s me. Most of the time, I’m the youngest one there, though I know I am not the youngest one with cancer (or rather, who has gone through cancer). I get jittery. I feel more upset right now about being nervous for myself while others right in front of me are fighting for their lives. I am not on their path and they are not on mine. I can only imagine and make-up what I think they are going through. Maybe if we all talked to each other more, we could help each other out, but there’s not many who care to talk about it, and rightly so, they have to live it every minute of every day… so I never even attempt conversation. I don’t particularly care to talk about it either most of the time either. I just flash nervous smiles to those I make eye contact with. My mom, on the other hand, has no problem talking… which is probably a good thing for me because it keeps me distracted and helps time go by. I so prefer her mouth moving rather than her eyes in a book. She loves to read. I didn’t get that gene passed to me. I hate reading. Sorry. I like drawing though… that’s an equal alternative, I think. But, I have no creative energy to draw while I’m in that waiting room. It’s pure nerves.
I get called in for a vitals check and immediately go into internal panic mode because surely my BP is elevated and my heart is already racing. I cannot recall exactly when this “white coat” syndrome started, but I do know that I didn’t always have it and it gradually became worse. Now, taking my BP is even nerve-wrecking and for no good reason. Of course, in natural form for Ms. Anxiety, I immediately assume those numbers are going to be so high that the nurse will become alarmed thus plummeting me down into the pit of self-destruction which will end with me in the ER lucky to live after horrifying procedures to assist me in regaining consciousness. OK then! Again, I do breathing techniques and look at my “happy” folder of images on my phone to try to “feel” what I felt at the time each photograph was taken. It works half the time. Now back to waiting.
I usually wait about 4 hours to see the doctor. He’s worth it and all the people he sees before me are worth it too. Now I’m in the room, after they weigh me and remind me that I’m “obese” on their charts, even if I take my 30 pound pair of shoes off! I’m not yet convinced the scale is properly calibrated, but that’s the least of my concerns, most of the patients in the waiting room could be trying to gain weight and here I am trying to lose it. More guilt melts around my body as we enter the exam room. Right now, all I need to do is try not to have a heart attack or vasovagal episode- just breathe and chill out already and try not to end up on the floor. CANCER WILL NOT KILL ME! I’ll end up subconsciously doing it myself if this nervousness continues. Thank God for planned vacations! I can visualize myself on that beach or cruise ship, soaking up all that natural vitamin D from the sun, drinking a tasty beverage in my husband’s protective arms and not worrying about the time at all for an entire week… and when I can visualize it, I can breathe in the feeling I get when I am actually there. Memories can create physical feeling. Good ones or bad ones… depending on what you focus on.
The doctor is in.