Prior to starting chemotherapy, several additional tests were required. I allude to this in my last blog, which could be found here. Apart from all the bloods drawn, X-rays and scans, a positron emission tomography (PET) scan is to done. Unlike other imaging tests, such as CT or MRI, PET scans show problems like cancer spread, at the cellular level. The scan uses a special dye that has radioactive tracers. These tracers are injected into a vein in one’s arm. Organs and tissues then absorb the tracer over about an hour. When I had the a PET done I was comfortable in a lazy-boy chair with minimal movement so as to not attract muscle activity as this would result in a glucose rush to that muscle and a possible incorrect result.
When highlighted under a PET scanner, the tracers help doctors to see how well one’s organs and tissues are working. The PET scan can measure blood flow, oxygen use, glucose metabolism (how your body uses sugar), and much more.
When PET is used to detect cancer, it allows a doctor to see how the cancer metabolizes (processes), and whether it has metastasized (spread) to new areas. PET scans also shows how the tumor is responding to chemotherapy. credit: healthline.com
So here I am after an overnight fast.
Diagnosed with breast cancer.
Dressed in a green hospital gown and comfortably awaiting an injection of dye in order to have a PET scans done.
As the radioactive dye gets into my bloodstream, I feel nothing. The dye continues to fizzle to every part of the body and takes about an hour to do so. After an hour, I’m ready to have the PET done. This means lying still on my back. Doing nothing but breathe for another hour whilst this table slowly maneuvers through the donut-looking tunnel.
For someone with an active mind like me, this takes serious switching off and fortunately I did.
One has to exercise patience with all these processes; it’s extremely time consuming, demands your everything, to go-slow and affords a lot of ‘thinking time’. I have great respect and admiration for anyone undergoing these tests and treatment in our current, South African public healthcare system. (I hope to talk to the need for the National Health Insurance (NHI) in future.)
The PET scan results would be available in about three days or so but since I’m only seeing my oncologist in about a weeks time, I’ll actually only have feedback then.
Fortunately, I’m offered colour, printed copies of the scans, which with the help of Dr Google, I’m able to fairly accurately interpret by myself. After studying the scans and comparing it to my Internet findings pertaining the matter, I realised there’s trouble.
Since the start of this journey and up until now, I have not feared a thing but by grace I have had an irrevocable conviction – God’s got this; He has my best interest at heart and He will accelerate my life-victories – even through and with cancer.
Now, PET Scans are interesting, nuclear medicine and works as follows:
Before the scan, one receives an intravenous injection of radioactive glucose. Many cancer cells are highly metabolic and rapidly synthesize the radioactive glucose.
In a nutshell, glucose shows up as bright white areas on the scan results. This bright whiteness should only show up in one’s brain, lungs and other areas where glucose normally exist. Any other area indicates cancer because cancer cells feed on glucose and would have “attracted”/ rapidly synthesized the radioactive glucose, thereby exposing itself.
When I looked at my scan results, I noticed bright white areas in places where it should not be.
For a moment my heart raced.
Like fear knocking on my heart.
I refused to let it in.
I reminded myself of my initial conviction and peaceful state as detailed in a previous blog.
Within seconds I felt normal and thought: If this scan were true, I’m sure God’s got even this. Let’s not be naïve – nothing under the sun surprises God. He’s neither caught off-guard by our conditions, our future and concerns. Like a GPS, He’s intentions for us are only good and therefore for our benefit and finite minds, He’s “recalculating the route”.
Given that I’m empowered with knowledge about my condition, I was eager to test my findings against my wife’s knowledge on the matter. Ronwyn however refused to look at the scan print-outs. Little did I know she wasn’t ready for more bad news and probably knew something was wrong given my eagerness.
The day finally arrives when we meet the oncologist to face the music.
Her feedback is short.
“The cancer has spread to the lining, top and bottom sections of your lung”.
She draws a basic image to indicate the locations. She further explains the spread, discuss root causes, treatment plans and the way forward.
Since I had dealt with this feedback before with help from the Internet, this news was a bit shocking but I was somewhat prepared for it.
Critical to the treatment plan was taking a more radical approach in chemotherapy and probably over a slightly longer period. In my mind I’m thinking ‘just cut it out like with the breast’. I therefore engaged the oncologist on the possibility of surgery.
She agrees to discuss this with her colleagues, as surgery would mean opening my chest to access the lung and cutting away parts of it.
This is hectic stuff!
The oncologist further explains that their decision to do surgery would be based on improved longevity of life verses the expected results of chemotherapy.
We leave it at that for the day.
The sun sets over our balcony like any other late Autumn day.
The cancer has spread to my lung.
It’s rated stage four (IV) because it’s advanced (in staging) and metastatic (spreading).
I’m still UNSHAKEABLE.
I’m propelled by desire to represent. Create awareness. Contribute to life and society.
My HOPE is sure.
GOD’S GOT THIS. He’s faithful and can be trusted.
In memory of my late mom, Catherine Isobel Venturini (nee Deschamps) who trusted God for total restoration of her body until the day she closed her eyes. These lines accurately describes her attitude:
17 Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Saviour.
19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
He enables me to tread on the heights.
For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.
extract from Habakkuk 3:17-19 – New International Version (NIV)