Well, here we are at last–the grand finale of “Matt Takes Tests” Week! From last Friday to today, I managed to complete a pulmonary fitness test, a PET scan, a bone marrow aspiration and today’s main event, the MUGA heart scan.
I’ve learned that knowing too much about the details of a test isn’t always good for my mental health in the days leading up to the test, so I knew very little about what this scan would entail and didn’t even know what MUGA stood for until I Googled it just now. The MUlti-Gated Acquisition scan was used to determine the strength of my heart in preparation for the administration of chemotherapy drugs that could do damage to my heart. Basically they want to make sure that my heart is strong enough for a certain kind of chemo and also have a baseline so they can monitor my heart for damage during and after chemo.
Yes, that was the somewhat sad realization I made today: I will be doing three out of four of these tests repeatedly. Fortunately the bone marrow aspiration just gets one moment in the sun, which has now come and gone. [If someone is reading this and knows that I actually will need to do that one again, please don’t tell me yet. Thanks.] But it sounds like I will just have to get used to gagging on a tube while I take deep breaths, sitting in the dark for 70 minutes before a PET scan, and having a heart scanner pressed up against my nose for the foreseeable future. The initial readings garnered from this first round of tests will be used to ensure that the chemo is kicking Lumpy’s butt, but leaving my lungs and heart alone.
I arrived at the radiology department for the third time in three days (I’m beginning to expect people to yell my name when I walk in) and sat in the waiting room for an extra long time today. As I bring the average age of the room down significantly, it’s always heartwarming for me to see elderly couples there together–many of them both struggling with their individual health problems–but still trying to take care of each other, too. It was time for one woman to go in for a test and her husband wanted to accompany her. She was in a wheelchair and a neck brace, while he was on a walker. The radiology nurses returned with a second wheelchair so he could more easily join her and they were both pushed into the backroom testing area together. It makes me so grateful for the fact that I am dealing with this when I’m young enough that I don’t have to worry about passing basic lung and heart function tests. It also makes me incredibly grateful to have Theresa. The fact that I found her and fell in love with her and married her in the nick of time before all of this began is just another sign of God at work in my life.
After waiting for about a half hour, I got up to use the facilities, and when I returned, I heard a familiar voice calling for “Mr. Matt-chew” in an undecipherable European accent. It was my old friend Andy, the same radiologist who had conducted my PET scan two days earlier! I briefly filled him in on my bone marrow adventures and he laughed at the fact that my IV was so troublesome yesterday. I told him that it was making me dread today’s IV insertion all the more, but he scoffed at that.
We entered yet another radiology room with yet another large scanning machine. I’ve tried the ultrasound machine, the CT scanner, the PET scanner and now the MUGA scanner. I’m not sure they have any toys left that haven’t examined my innards. The MUGA scanner had a sliding bench that led to a doughnut hole like the other devices, but this one had a large square camera outside of the doughnut that would come down over my chest to take the pictures. I laid down on the bench and Andy continued some distracting chatter while he inserted the IV without a problem. “Maybe you like needles after all and you just don’t know it,” he said. Can this guy please follow me around for the rest of my treatment, painlessly inserting needles into my arms while needling me about my fears? My love for Andy has reached Woody the Cowboy levels.
Andy inserted a radioactive “tracer” into my IV that would attach itself to my red blood cells so that the camera could capture the movement of blood through my heart and see the muscles working. This would take effect after 20 minutes, so I had to sit and wait a little more. When time was up, I returned to the bench and got strapped in. Andy put some EKG electrodes all over my chest and gave me one more injection of “isotopes” that would make everything show up on the camera. I’m badly butchering the science behind this, but the point is to see how much blood my heart is pumping. Despite the fact that I took AP Biology, my current knowledge of blood cells doesn’t go much deeper than this Bill Nye the Science Guy song parody of “Love Shack.”
The camera lowered to within centimeters of my face and we were ready to scan. Andy left me for another 20 minutes while the machine snapped its paparazzi pics of my heart’s innermost functions. Andy returned to move the camera a bit and it was all finished 10 minutes after that. I waited another 20 minutes to take home a disc with the resulting images, but this time they were completely indecipherable to my untrained eye. I’m a little disappointed that it isn’t the “moving picture of my heart” that the oncologist had first promised, but I guess you can’t win ’em all. The point is, the tests are done!
So now what? Well, tomorrow Theresa and I are off to the University of Chicago to meet with another oncologist for a second opinion. I’m hoping she will be able to give me a proper diagnosis with the results of the tests that we do have, even though there’s a chance the results of the bone marrow won’t be ready yet. If that test is ready by the end of the week, we will also meet with my original oncologist again on Friday. This means that by the end of the week, I could realistically know the stage of my lymphoma and what type of treatment I will be pursuing.
I think these tests loomed so large in my mind that I kind of forgot that they were leading up to such an important moment that will determine my life for the next few months. Prayers appreciated for a positive diagnosis that the cancer is just in my neck and that the chemo won’t be terrible or terribly long-term. Gracias!
Thanks to everyone who has complimented this blog and my writing. It means a lot to me that people are following along and reading what I post. I love the feeling that people are accompanying me on the journey and I like that the blog allows people to keep up with how things are progressing. It’s also been a great way for people to find out about my diagnosis without my having to tell them in person. “I have lymphoma” can be a real conversation killer. Trust me. I’m glad that I can at least make the subject somewhat entertaining to read about!