“Matt Takes Tests” Week, Part 2

I had the weekend off from medical tests, as I geared up for the most grueling sequence of “Matt Takes Tests” Week–three tests in the next three days. On today’s menu: the PET scan with a side of blood work.

PET scanAs you may recall, the purpose of the PET scan is to determine the current stage of my Hodgkin’s lymphoma by injecting my bloodstream with radioactive glucose, which the cancer cells in my body will swiftly gobble up, tricking them into lighting up like radioactive fireflies in the PET scan’s photos. The oncologist will use this info to determine all the places where the cancer lives in my body (hopefully still just the lymph nodes in my neck!) and how aggressive the treatment will need to be to kick Lumpy’s rump (hopefully aggressive enough to kill Lumpy while I don’t break a sweat).

Preparation for today’s test actually began yesterday, as I needed to eat a special diet to ensure that my glucose levels would be low enough for the scan to be effective. You’d be surprised how difficult it is to not eat sugar…It’s in everything! We settled on lunch at Panera, which is a great place to eat a meal when you want to pay a lot of money and not really fill up. After consulting Panera’s massive binder of nutrition facts, it appeared that the Caesar salad and broccoli cheddar soup would fit within the confines of the sample menu the hospital had given us. For dinner, we had my family and a couple friends over for a taco night, featuring just-as-tasty low carbohydrate soft taco shells. I abstained from the fruit medley dessert.

This morning we reported to the radiology department of the hospital, which is becoming a familiar second home for us, as I have already had an ultrasound and a CT scan there. I also had to have more blood drawn today to make sure I’m OK for tomorrow’s test–the dreaded bone marrow aspiration–but we were hoping that the good folks in radiation would just be able to draw the blood before my PET scan. Unfortunately this was not the case, so we were sent back to outpatient testing, a wretched hive of scum and villainy that is crammed with anyone in the hospital complex who needs any kind of routine testing done. As you can imagine, the waiting room is packed with sad elderly people, numerous wheelchairs, sniffling children and exhausted parents. The place is run like a grocery store deli: I got number 13 and they were currently serving number 5.

When they got to number 11, the nurse from radiology showed up and insisted that I would have to give blood after my PET scan because they needed me immediately. I returned my number and headed back to radiology. We were greeted by a bald, middle-aged man with a thick European accent. He brought me into a little room with a recliner and asked me if I had used the bathroom, because I would be put in that room for 70 minutes.

Wait…WHAT?!

I wish there were a way to find out all the aspects of the tests I’m taking without Googling them myself and getting nightmarish search results that I can’t un-see. If there were, I would have previously known that a PET scan actually involves a period of 70 minutes after the injection of glucose during which time I need to sit by myself in a recliner in a darkened room. You can’t read, you can’t talk to anyone and you can’t use your phone. I guess this gives the glucose time to fan out across my various bloodstreams and do its sensual dance for the cancer cells.

I told Theresa to go home, since the scan itself would be another 20 minutes after that. The tech turned to the task of inserting my IV to administer the glucose. “Is it done?” I asked, feeling the pinch of the needle and not really enjoying it. “I just have to put in the bigger needle now,” he said. I later found out that this was a joke. Hilarious.

After ensuring that my current blood-glucose levels were satisfactory (“85!”…as if that means something to me), he inserted the glucose into my IV, covered me in pre-warmed blankets, shut off the lights and shut the door. I wasn’t sure I would be able to fall asleep, since the recliner ended roughly at my knees, but eventually I did.

When the door reopened, it was finally time for the main event. Fortunately, the test itself basically involved me being flat on my back with my arms above my head and sliding back and forth through a doughnut while a camera snapped photos of my innards for 20 minutes. Easy-peasy.

I then headed back to the now thankfully empty outpatient testing waiting room, filled out the usual papers and gave away another vial of my blood without incident. Meanwhile, Theresa went to radiology to get a disc with the images from the PET scan so we have something to give our second opinion University of Chicago oncologist on Thursday. Best of all, this fulfilled my dream of actually being able to SEE the results of one of these tests! Yes, this is actually my skeleton. Science rules!

My actual skeleton!

Also, if you’re a medical professional and you can tell that there is something horribly wrong with this image, please don’t tell me. I’d rather just marvel at the wonders of science for a moment. Thank you.

So I’ve completed two out of four tests. I’d appreciate your specific prayers for the calming of my nerves over tomorrow’s test. I will be consciously sedated and then a giant needle will extract some bone marrow from my hip. I just hate the thought of it and am praying that I can sleep (or be high as a kite and fully unaware) during the entire proceeding. Thanks, as always, for your prayers and support. We continue to get notes of support every day or even just people checking in on me and Theresa, and we really appreciate it.

Meet Saint Peregrine – The Most Interesting Saint in the World

Relic of St. PeregrineToday marks the beginning of the nine-day novena for cancer patients to St. Peregrine that I’ve been advertising for a while now. For those who have joined, I thought it might be nice to give a little info on who St. Peregrine actually is, since I consider myself pretty Catholic and had not heard of him before this mess started.

Peregrine Laziosi (1260-1345) of Forli, Italy was basically the Most Interesting Saint in the World. At age 18, he was a leader of the “anti-papal” party and hated the Catholic Church. When a visiting priest came to his town, Peregrine punched him in the face. When the priest’s only response was that he would pray for Peregrine, he experienced an immediate conversion and begged forgiveness. He changed his life dramatically and prayed frequently to the Virgin Mary. After seeing a vision of Mary surrounded by angels, he became a priest of the Order of the Servants of Mary (the same order of the priest he had punched). Man, everything happens to this guy!

As a priest, he served the sick and dying in his hometown and spent long hours on his feet, which allowed a sore on his foot to become cancerous. The night before his leg was supposed to be amputated (I guess they didn’t have PET scans back then…), Peregrine prayed that he would be able to continue his work if it was God’s will. He prayed in front of an image of the crucifix all night and the image of Jesus reached down to heal his foot. The next morning, there was no trace of the disease. Peregrine lived to be 80. Stay saintly, my friends.

Now he’s the patron saint of cancer patients and it turns out that the national shrine to St. Peregrine–Our Lady of Sorrows basilica–is on the west side of Chicago. This past Saturday, Theresa and I were able to attend their monthly healing Mass and received a blessing with the relic of St. Peregrine. Take that, Lumpy! The basilica is amazing and has 10 side chapels devoted to various saints. If you live in Chicago, it’s well worth a visit.

My Mom also somehow found this cool St. Peregrine action figure, which is now watching over us in our kitchen.

Thank you to all those of you who have signed up for the novena. Prayer is powerful! Now I should probably go pray it myself…

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