Cancer 9

Scanxiety.

This is where I am right now. Scanxiety.

Each stage of the cancer experience is marked by a particular set of tests, of scans.

I actually managed to get through my first set of scans surprisingly calmly. After getting diagnosed (“there’s some cancer in you”), they send you for “staging”, which is an MRI and CT scan.

These scans both involve large, Star Trek seeming machines, which make amazing noises, and in the case of the CT machine I was put through was decorated with colorful LED lights by the manufacturer (because it didn’t look whizzy enough to start with?).

MRI

I kind of internalized the initial “broad-brush” staging my GI gave me, which was that it was a tumor caught early so I would be early stage, so I didn’t worry. And it turned out, that was a good thing, since the scans didn’t contradict that story, and I didn’t worry.

The CT scan, though, did turn up a spot on my hip bone. “Oh, that might be a bone cancer, but it’s probably not.” Might be a bone cancer?!?!?

How do you figure out if you have “a bone cancer, but it’s probably not”? Another cool scan, a nuclear scan, involving being injected with radioactive dye (frankly, the coolest scan I have had so far) and run through another futuristic machine.

Bone Scan

This time, I really sweated out the week between the scan being done and the radiology coming back. And… not bone cancer, as predicted. But a really tense week.

And now I’m in another of those periods. The result of my major surgery is twofold: the piece of me that hosted my original tumor is now no longer inside of me; and, the lymph nodes surrounding that piece are also outside of me.

They are both in the hands of a pathologist, who is going to tell me if there is cancer in the lymph nodes, and thus if I need even more super unpleasant attention from the medical system in the form of several courses of chemotherapy.

The potential long term side effects of the chemotherapy drugs used for colorectal cancers include permanent “peripheral neuropathy”, AKA numbness in the fingers and toes. Which could put a real crimp in my climbing and piano hobbies.

Climb

So as we get closer to getting that report, I am experiencing more and more scanxiety.

If I escape chemo, I will instead join the cohort of “no evidence of disease” (NED) patients. Not quite cured, but on a regular diet of blood work, scans, and colonoscopy, each one of which will involve another trip to scanxiety town. Because “it has come back” starts as a pretty decent probability, and takes several years to diminish to something safely unlikely.

Yet another way that cancer is a psychological experience as well as a physical one.

Talk to you again soon, inshalla.