It’s been more than three months since the glorious PET scan declaring my remission, so it’s high time I provided a Lumpdate on recent developments.
Like every good newly minted cancer survivor, I returned to the hospital last month for my three-month PET scan checkup. That’s lifetime PET scan number four for those of you scoring at home.
The procedure is old hat to me by now, but never fails to include a little adventure as the PET staff struggle to find a vein in which to insert the radioactive glucose IV. I told them to just use the vein on top of my hand this time instead of messing around with my finicky arm veins, so it went off relatively smoothly. I sat in the dark for 90 minutes to get fully radioactive, slid through the PET machine and I was on my merry way.
Unfortunately, my veins were not ready to celebrate this homecoming, and the usually painless blood test administered by the expert nurses in the oncology office proved most difficult. They couldn’t find a vein in my left arm, then they couldn’t find a vein in my right arm. If you’ve read enough about my experience with needles, you can probably guess that these two failed attempts left me woozy and sweaty and ready to receive my Last Rites. I put a cold pack on my forehead and downed some sort of chocolatey blood sugar-boosting drink and went to an examination room to lie down and return to normal. They then tried to take my temperature and blood pressure (another standard part of the visit), but the cold pack had left my forehead a balmy 85 degrees and the near-fainting spell had lowered my blood pressure to a ridiculous level. Oops.
When the blood-sucking nurses returned (that adjective describes their job, not their demeanor!), they were at last able to coax a vein in my left arm to cooperate and we could finally move on to the actual checkup.
Unfortunately this checkup was about to follow in the footsteps of many previous checkups, in which questionable news is delivered in infuriatingly unclear ways.
After exchanging it’s-been-a-while pleasantries, my oncologist looked at my PET report for what seemed to be the first time, and pored over the results in silence for what seemed like several minutes. This was taking longer than it should have. WHY?!
Doc: “You have a sore throat?”
Doc: “Post-nasal drip?”
[insert panic here]
He eventually revealed that my lymph nodes thankfully had not grown in size and showed no abnormal activity. Yay! He also mentioned that I still have an above average-sized spleen (which makes me special, not cancerous). Yay! The only negative aspect of the scan was that it showed some activity in my tonsils–meaning that sugar was doing something inside them. This could just be my immune system battling a sore throat or cold (which I have been flirting with for months) or it could be a sign of something more serious.
Still reeling from the less than ideal way in which this news was delivered to me, I must have been wearing my annoyance on my face, because the doc told me that I shouldn’t be frustrated. As a cancer survivor in the first year of remission, even the slightest abnormality is taken very seriously and tested to death to ensure that the cancer has not returned in any form. He assured us that it was probably nothing, but that I would have to return to an ear, nose and throat specialist and have another scope put down my throat to ensure that everything looked clear.
I have frequently joked that the past year of my life has been the Down With Lumpy TV show, which features recurring characters (like my oncologist or the PET scan staff) as well as guest stars who appear in several episode-arcs on the show.
Season two of Down With Lumpy began when I hit remission and now it was clear that the ENT doctor who appeared in the pilot episode to diagnose me with cancer and perform the surgery on my lump was a fan favorite. He would be making a guest appearance in season two.
It was quite a while before we could get on his calendar, however, which meant that I didn’t actually get to see him until today. I had to carry around that uneasy feeling of “What’s going on inside my tonsils?” for a couple weeks before the question would be definitively answered.
My fears and emotions ebbed and flowed on this point. Some days, when it felt more like a sore throat was imminent or I was frequently sneezing, it was easy to dismiss the tonsil activity as a blip on the radar and my immune system doing its job. Other days, I would finish shaving my face and spend some time rubbing the side of my neck, wondering if Lumpy was preparing to rear his ugly, protruding face again–just in time for the holidays.
I finally opened up and talked to Theresa about this last week, declaring my frustration at myself for getting worked up over what was probably nothing, as well as my fears that this was actually something more than nothing. With it being almost exactly one year since running through my initial diagnosis gauntlet and having now scheduled a return trip to see the same doctor who gave that diagnosis, I was experiencing some cancer scare deja vu.
Thankfully, Theresa was able to talk some sense into me, by reminding me of perspectives that I know to be true, but sometimes easily forget in the moment. The fact is that I am a cancer survivor and I am alive. I am still here for a purpose that God alone knows and that I can only pray to fulfill. Nobody likes a rerun, but if the cancer ever returns, there will be a purpose in that as well, and He will grant me the strength I need to overcome it, or otherwise fulfill my purpose through that experience.
It’s in moments like these–when Theresa knows exactly what to say to me–that I am reminded anew of the perfect plan that brought her into my life and made her my wife. Who am I to question that the plans for any other part of my life (no matter how seemingly troublesome) are not equally perfect? Be still.
And so today, nervousness intact but with a renewed sense of divine trust, I ventured back to the ENT doc so he could scope out my throat again. This doc is one of the best ones I have experienced throughout my cancer treatment, as he does great work (exhibit a: the barely visible surgery scar on my neck) while also maintaining a friendly sense of humor. He immediately joked that I should have waited a couple weeks so that it could truly have been our one-year anniversary.
I reminded him about that first fateful meeting, when his scoping of my throat provoked a vasovagal response, and he said he remembered, so we proceeded with caution. The process involves first squirting some nasty liquid up my nose to work as an anesthetic on the passage he will be scoping. He told me that he would put the scope in–basically a long flexible wire with a light at the end of it–and I would stick my tongue out and say “aah.” The whole thing would last about 30 seconds. I couldn’t quite remember how the actual scoping worked, so I opened my mouth.
“I’m going through your nose. You can’t trick me by opening up your mouth.”
The scope went in, I felt a little pressure as it wound its way through my nasal passage and down my actual throat, I said “aah” and it was over. He pulled the scope out and asked how I was feeling. For whatever reason, my body behaved and it wasn’t so bad this time. The doc pulled the monitor over so Theresa and I could watch the video that the scope’s camera had just collected of my inner workings. Isn’t that incredible?!
He pointed out my nasal hairs, the misshapen interior of my broken nose (from a baseball accident many years ago…nothing he did) and then down into my throat where the questionable tonsil activity was occurring. He pointed out the two tonsils and said that everything looked normal. He told us that we were able to leave.
It’s been more than three months. I’m still in remission. I’ll never complain about a sore throat again.