Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Week in the Life of a Cancer Survivor

This is the newly remodeled cancer center in St. Louis Park, MN

Time to go for my follow-up cat scan

The life of a cancer survivor can be very difficult and challenging. There have been many ups and downs in my journey since I was diagnosed in February of 2004. Before being diagnosed with lung cancer, I hated going to the doctor. I was scared of needles and couldn't even stand the smell of a doctor's office or hospital. I never thought I would ever get a disease, especially cancer. When I would hear stories about people that were very sick, I always felt confident that this would never happen to me. Little did I know what lay ahead.

My last catscan in December of 2010 revealed a spot on my right lung. This is the same lung that had a tumour back in 2004. I have had two such scares in the past which ended up disappearing by the next scan. I thought I would write about this past week of my follow-up scan and appointment with my oncologist. Here is a glimpse into a week in the life of a cancer survivor.
Beautiful Anita
Checking in for the cat scan

This is beautiful Anita. She always welcomes me with a lovely cheerful smile and bubbly personality. I think she is the perfect type of person to greet patients that are undoubtedly nervous. Time for me to fill out some necessary paper work. They want to make sure they have information that will keep me safe during the scan. They ask questions like: Are you pregnant, do you have diabetes, have you ever had a reaction to the dye they put in the I.V. and other health related questions. I will now hang out in the lounge and watch a little t.v.

They called my name and the xray technician walks me back to a small room where I sit on a recliner chair. The first thing I tell the nurse is that I am a tough poke because of all the needles that have gone in my arms and hands these last seven years. Some time she'll lay a warm towel on the arm or hand that she's going to put the needle in. This helps get the blood flowing better and gives us a better chance of getting a good vein right away. On this day she tries putting the needle in my arm. It stings as she is pushing the needle further up the vein. Eventually she apologizes and says that she just can't get it in far enough. I told her the hand is usually the place that works the best. She see's a good plump vein, puts the needle in and thankfully this time it works. She connects a I.V. line to the needle so they can deliver a dye into it during the scan. She walks me across the hall and has me lay on the catscan bed. The machine tells me when to hold my breath and when to let out my breath. This is so they can get a good picture of the lung area. The xray technician comes back in the room after this first xray and shoots dye into my I.V. She reminds me that it is going to feel warm all over my body when the dye reaches my blood stream. She also tells me it will feel as if I am urinating when the dye has gone throughout my body. She always monitors things to make sure I am not having a bad reaction to the dye or that the needle isn't stinging me. When she finishes injecting me with dye, she walks back into the xray room where the machine tells me when to inhale and when to exhale. In all, the scan itself only takes about five minutes.
Yae, scan over

Oncologist appointment to get the results

Thursday morning I woke up with butterfly's in my stomach, knowing I will soon get the results of my catscan. I probably only got about three hours of sleep. Some days I have to take medication to help reduce my anxiety, but today I decide against it. On my drive to St. Louis Park, I play my favorite jazz station to help me relax. I pull up to the valet parking lane and I'm off to check in at the Frauenshuh Cancer Center. This new cancer center is state of the art and was newly constructed to keep the patients as comfortable as possible. Walking in the front door, I hear the sounds of a pianist playing relaxing music for those sitting in the lounge. After checking in, I go into the cancer lounge and wait. I grab a blueberry muffin and a can of orange juice from the mini kitchen. The food and beverages are free to patients and family and friends of patients. I sat in front of the healing garden movie screen. This screen shows differen't pictures of a real garden that sits outside of the lounge. It is meant to help calm nervous patients as they wait for their appointment. I sat in front of the screen and did some deep breathing and meditating. My name is called and a wonderful volunteer who is another cancer survivor, walks me to my room. On the way to the room, I see Joan, one of my favorite nurses. We give eachother a big hug and I proceed to go in the room to wait for my oncologist. As I'm sitting in the room, I hear a familiar voice. It's another favorite nurse of mine who has become a good friend to me. Melissa is a one of a kind person and has a huge heart. Her and I hug and she tells me that she will switch with the nurse that was scheduled to take my vitals. She and Joan discuss how they need to go get the rolling blood pressure machine, because the one in the office makes me panic. They all understand that I struggle with anxiety and I can't stand getting my blood pressure taken. Once they used the electronic blood pressure machine and I screamed and threw the cuff off my arm. I reminded Melissa to keep my blood pressure a secret and just write it on a piece of paper which I'll look at when I leave. She is very respectful of my ideosynchrosies and anxieties. After getting my blood pressure, she takes my pulse, temperature, weighs me, and checks to see if I am on any new medications. She finishes her duties and we go into our normal routine of catching up on our lives.

There is a knock on the door and I tell Brenda, my oncologist, to come in. Melissa slips out and it's time to hear the results. Brenda asks me if I have a cold as she heard me hacking. I told her I didn't think so. She starts going into the normal cancer assessment questions and I stopped her mid sentence. I told her I needed to know how the scan turned out and she could do the assessment later. She had a serious look on her face and I held my head in my hands and said, "Oh my God, what?" She said that the good news was that the spot was gone but now I had three more spots. Two on the lower lobe of my right lung and one in the middle.  She hesitantly mentioned that one of the spots was 6 centimeters. I found myself blurting out the "F" bomb and "This can't happen, I have never been so happy." She was very patient and let me cry. I have never cried at an appointment but I couldn't hold it in this time. She reminded me that the chances of the cancer coming back after almost seven years, would be rare and to try to hold onto that. She also suggested I make an appointment with the cancer therapist to help me through the three month wait until the next scan. Knowing how upset I was, she repeated that I sounded congested and that can affect a cat scan. When the appointment was over and I was walking out of the cancer center, I saw my friend, Melissa. She asked me how it went and I broke down. She held me in her arms and let me cry. She pulled me into a room and told me in no uncertain terms to listen closely. She said that the fact the other spot disappeared and now I have three new ones, says a lot. She said, "Linda, the reason the oncologist asked if you had a cold is because you sound congested. You get respiratory infections frequently and I can tell you that you have some kind of respiratory thing going on." She was so compassionate and reassuring and I thank her so much for that. On the way out, the valet parker, who is a gal I went to school with, asked me how it went. I again broke down and she too held me and tried to reassure me. I feel very blessed to have such a wonderful support system at my clinic. Since that appointment, I have noticed that I am hacking a lot, sneezing and sound very congested. Hopefully it's just allergies that gave me the three new spots. Please say a prayer that all will be ok. I hope I can get through the next three months with positivity and peace.
My nurse friends and I


  1. Linda, my thoughts and prayers are with you! Hard to imagine how tough this three month wait is going to be, but you are right when you say you are very fortunate to have such a great support system! People around you who care (even those of us who don't see you nearly often enough!), and will reassure you. From what you said, and what the experts told you, it sounds likely that the congestion (or allergies) you had, probably did affect what they were seeing on the scan. So try to put it out of your mind as best you can. Keep visualizing yourself at our 50th high school reunion (ok, you can visualize the 30th this year, but then project another 20 or 30 years as well and see how much fun we will have!)

    Bless you, Linda! You are strong and will get through this!

    Love, Janet

  2. Hi Buddy-Goodness, it is so timely to see my dear friend. I am scared Janet but not just for me. I know you understand the connection Laura and I have and loss of parents so young. I can't imagine not being here to raise her kids. I hope and pray you, Laura and I will be toasting at many class reunions. Thank you Janet for always loving me and my sis. We love you so.