From the category archives:



First, a technician draws a vial of my blood, then he injects me with a sugar solution mixed with a mildly radioactive material. “Nothing dangerous,” he tells me. The PET scan works differently than the CRT or the MRI in that it looks at the mitotic activity (cell division) rather than at a particular organ. Cancer cells grow and divide more rapidly than normal cells and therefore need more energy – glucose (sugar) – than non-cancer cells. Somehow any cancer cells feasting in one of my organs will, with the help of the radioactive sugar solution, produce a sharper image than my regular cells.

After the injection, I have to sit in a lazy boy in a dark, quiet room for 45 minutes. I cannot even listen to music or read. The only activity allowed is relaxation and this is something I am bad at, especially in the middle of a regular work day.

Fidgety and a bit restless, but not anxious, I pull out my Blackberry. I check earlier phone messages and emails, then with no cell phone reception in the room, I am left with nothing else to do. I start to play Break the Brick Wall. I suck at it. Every game is over before I can get to the second screen. Try again! my Blackberry urges me. I read the instructions and start getting better when I realize my heart is pounding, my adrenaline pumping. I am hardly in the relaxed stage prescribed. What if I screw up the whole test? Reluctantly, I stuff the Blackberry back into my purse and close my eyes and try to force myself to relax.

The scan itself takes about half an hour. It is surprisingly easy to lie completely still as the bed slides back and forth through the Do-nut hole creating 3D images of possible cancer in the granuloma in my lung or in the lymph node under my heart. “We will send this to your doctor,” I am told, “but it takes 24 hours before he gets it. “Would you also please give it to Dr. Alpha I tell the tech. “Well, all our doctors have access to these. Does he expect it? Yes. Then he will have it an hour after it is done. That is how long it takes to transfer it via the net.”

So an hour after my scan is done, Dr. Alpha will know if I have metastatic cancer or not. If I do, how will he manage to tell me?



Something in Dr. R’s message does not add up. First I have an old pneumonia scar. Then it is radiation damage on the left lung lobe. But I had my right side radiated.  If anyone could solve this mystery, it would be my radiation oncologist, Dr. Alpha.

I call Dr. Alpha’s number, fully expecting to get his voice mail, but he picks up on the first ring.

No, he never took any x-rays of me, but I had a CAT scan before I started radiation. (How could I possibly have forgotten that?) He will look at it and call me back.

In less than an hour, Dr. Alpha is back on the phone. He has compared my  CAT scan from five months ago with the new one. The 8 mm granuloma on my lower left lobe does not worry him. It was there before I started radiation and has not changed at all.

“More worrisome,” Dr. Alpha tells me, “is the growth on the lymph node just below your heart.”

I try to steady my voice so it will not quiver. All my bluster and bravado from my days of radiation have  evaporated. I hear how meek and scared I sound. He must have heard it too.

“They never told me anything about a growth under my heart.”

“No, they wouldn’t. They try not to give you all the information. You want to come down and see?” offers Dr. Alpha. “I will show it to you and explain.”

I want to take him up on the offer and drive down and see for myself. But I also do not want to crash into his busy schedule. What do I know about x-ray images anyway? I did not even know you had lymph nodes under your heart. I will have to take Dr. Alpha on his word.

“You definitely need a PET scan,” Dr. Alpha says. “This needs to be fully investigated. I will schedule one for you.”

“But I have one scheduled for tomorrow at 1 PM. I guess I have to go ahead then?”

“Yes, you do. I will read it and get back to you as soon as it is done,” said Dr. Alpha.

I feel doomed. Dr. Alpha’s words – this definitely needs to be investigated – throb in my ears. “Investigated,” has a serious ring to it, like a grand jury inquiry or Senate investigation. And, yet, the idea that Dr. Alpha will get to read my PET scan calms me and reassures me. I know he will level with me no matter what the outcome.


Breast Cancer Tends to Sneak Up on You

December 2, 2009

Dr. Weary piles on the good news about his chemo regimen: “You will not suffer for five months straight. Only for six week-ends. You may have your treatments on Fridays so you can recover over the week-end and be at work by Monday. Maybe by Tuesday.” “Great.” “We give you medication to control nausea. You […]

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Chemo After All?

November 24, 2009

Dr. Weary’s office is crowded and a bit shabby. His nurse weighs me, takes my blood pressure and draws several vials of blood. The work area is cramped and cluttered. Staff bumps into each other as they reach for needles, gauze, and other paraphernalia. I walk towards my meeting with Dr. Weary himself  through a […]

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OncoDX Test Results

November 1, 2009

Although no cancer cells may have been found in a patient’s lymph nodes during surgery, 20 percent of these “node negative” patients still have cancer cells somewhere outside the breast area. Not surprising perhaps, since once a tumor reaches  1 cm, you have one billion cancer cells, like this one below, in your body. In […]

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