My Second Radioactive Iodine Scan

Like everything else this round, my second scan was less dramatic than the first. I think this is mostly circumstance, since at the time of my first scan I had just lost a close grandparent and that plus my recent diagnosis and surgery caused mortality to weigh heavily on my mind. Also, this time my dad came with me and napped in the waiting room and I think his presence made me feel far less alone. He is one of the few people in this world who shares my morbid sense of humor and probably the only one who can get me to laugh no matter what the situation.

So I didn't talk to any of my recently deceased relatives. The first half-hour picture went smoothly and I almost fell asleep myself, praying and trying to think of plot elements for my novel. I find that clear thinking in a rumbling coffin-like machine is rather difficult though, so I mostly let my mind wander and prayed. If you aren't religious, I suggest you memorize a favorite poem or two, because the repetition of familiar words and thoughts is comforting under stress. There was a painting on the wall next to me and I kept thinking how much more sense it would make to put it on the ceiling, but it might be considered too much of a hazard and most of the scan requires you to close your eyes, because otherwise you go cross-eyed from looking at a screen a half-inch from your face.

This story will likely make more sense if I try to adhere to some sort of chronology, so here goes:
Dad and I arrived at the nuclear medicine department at 10:02 (my dad made a joke about us being two minutes late and having to leave). I will brag that we did not get lost at all, but I guess this feat is somewhat tempered by the fact that I had to find my way there the day before and did get lost that time. Still. We found our way there and were sent to the waiting room where I waited all of two minutes before they came to get me. I really am impressed with the efficiency of this second round of testing. I hope all my future appointments will be as smooth.

The woman who ran my scan is named Antoinette (a beautiful name) but she goes by Toni. She was very nice and even laughed at my pathetic jokes. I joke a lot when I am nervous. Anyway, I bring this up because I actually asked her about the ridiculous name & birth date bracelets. And they do have a purpose! Apparently, checking a patient's sanity is secondary to checking identity, in case somewhere in the hospital labyrinth, the wrong patient showed up for the right procedure.

I asked why anyone would try to steal a free RAI scan, and she seemed to think identity theft was more likely to occur with those really fun hospital procedures like gall bladder removal and appendectomies. I pointed out to her that it is actually really easy to cheat this ID test, what with the answers being printed on your wrist and all, and she seemed quite grateful and, I'm sure, placed a note in the suggestion box. So all you future hospital procedure thieves beware.

Anyway, Toni offered me a blanket, and even though I didn't start out being cold and do not think I was experiencing hypo symptoms, I was very grateful for it half-way through the procedure. I laid down on the table and Toni wrapped my arms in a giant velcro “stabilizer” which basically pinned my arms to my sides so they wouldn't fall out off the machine. A comfy contraption, but I wish it gave some kind of support to your hands.

For the first picture my hands just kind of dangled in the air, which is not exactly painful, but certainly a strange sensation. I was smart enough to cross them over my stomach for the rest of the pictures. I also recommend you accept the proffered pillow for under the knees. Though the first picture is the longest in duration, it is also the most comfortable position and so seems deceptively quick.

After thirty minutes, Toni returned and adjusted me, placing a pillow under my neck so it extended. Fine at first, this eventually proved to be an uncomfortable position and I spent the last ten minutes of my scan totally absorbed in the crick in my left shoulder. During the second picture, Toni marked my nose, chin and two places on my neck with a smelly red marker. The smell was like those unscented dry-erase markers. It did not actually leave any marks on my skin (so don't worry that you are walking out of the hospital with a big red nose). She would press the marker to the part they wanted to focus on while her assistant took pictures using a computer monitor.

The last part of the scan was the hardest because of the strange position I was in (maybe doing neck stretches beforehand would help?). It was a lengthy ten minutes and having laid still for so long, my mind kind of started panicking. I guess it was some mild form of claustrophobia surfacing. Basically, I would become convinced that I was paralyzed and would have to wiggle my toes or fingers to make sure they could still move. I'm sure those parts of the scan are quite blurry, but I guess that was okay since I didn't have to do any retakes. Also, I started feeling like I wasn't really fully breathing through my nose, so I opened my mouth two or three times to breath until I could convince myself I was breathing fine. I don't know. Maybe this was just my own particular brand of crazy.

Finally Toni returned, reviewed my pictures and gave me a thank you note with a number I could call if I had questions. I thought this was a particularly nice touch. Hopefully it won't cost me a million. I am sadly suspicious of good customer service in such a context. I woke my dad and we headed upstairs for my bloodwork.

Unfortunately, this is where efficiency dissipated. The receptionist whom I had seen three other times this week got confused and told me to have a seat, assuming that I was there for more injections. After an hour and a half of waiting and spotting several nurses with lunches, I got suspicious and asked if lunch break had started. She said yes, that my nurse would not be back until after lunch (another hour from then). This is when I explained that I was there for lab work and the nurse said “Oh! They just left for lunch.”

At which point my dad and I also departed for lunch. After my morning fast and month-long no-iodine diet I was eager to the point of drooling at the prospect of eating real, salty, processed goodness. So dad and I went to IHOP and I wolfed down a burger, but it wasn't as good as I remembered. That seems to be what healthy eating does to you-- ruins all the junk food (ultimately a plus, but can make for snobby dining). 

An hour later I got my blood taken. A rather uneventful conclusion to my testing. And now I wait. My results will be in next Wednesday, and after a proper period of weeping (in joy or sorrow) I will let you know. I don't know who is more anxious, my husband or I. I'm sure I could get through two or three more rounds of this without a complete breakdown, but I certainly do not want to.

I recently read the blog of another Thyca patient who has had three recurrences in the four years since her diagnosis. Three surgeries, three major doses of radiation. Terrible to contemplate. She also mentioned the possibility of metastasis to the lungs and bones, a horrifying fate that my morbid and melodramatic imagination immediately clung to. She was certainly writing at a low point, having just gotten through a third operation, but I'm a bit afraid to read any more of her blogs. I hope none of what I have posted has scared anyone. My goal is to make the whole process less scary, telling you what to expect and ways you are not alone, but I am not going to warmfuzzy any of it either. I guess it is a precarious balance.

Here is something that I have not found in any forum discussion or thyca blog yet: the inevitable thought of mortality that accompanies cancer has also influenced my thinking when it comes to children. Namely, when to have them. It is an extremely personal topic, but I think I am probably not alone in suddenly feeling pressured to cross those life-changing steps off the list a bit sooner than planned.

I have been married for almost two years and during that time have faced tremendous pressure from my family, my in-laws, my husband and my friends, all pushing for me to have kids. I don't know what it is that determines your readiness to become a parent, but I have felt quite resistant to it. I want kids, but I don't want them now. Except, thinking about my cancer, and how even if I am cancer-free this time, I only get a year of that status before I am tested again, I can't help feeling like I could be missing my chance. I am only 28, but is 28 with cancer still 28? Should cancer override my timeline? Is anyone else facing this?

When I was diagnosed last year, I wrote a lot about how I wanted to change my life, make it meaningful somehow. Since then I have taken on a volunteer position, spent more time with my family, and essentially spent a year doing the things I love: art, writing, biking. This is probably as carpe diem as I get. But maybe it is time to live a little less selfishly. No matter what my diagnosis on Wednesday, I feel certain there are major changes coming.

If the question is not 'Will I be ready?' it is “Will I be able?'

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