The bone scan machine. You lay on the table and it moves you under the scanner. Not scary at all.
Back in September of 2010, when I was first diagnosed with prostate cancer, my doc told me I had to get some scans done.
“Scans?” I asked naively. “Why?”
“To see if your cancer has spread.”
I wasn’t thrilled with that answer. Surely there must be some mistake. I was just diagnosed with prostate cancer and we were discussing the various treatments, which all sounded sort of horrible but at least it sounded like I could manage the damage and get on with my life. But spread? What the hell? I thought I had “just” prostate cancer. It never occurred to me at the time that it could be somewhere else in my body.
Well, kids, I’m here to tell you, it can. And when it does, things get nasty. But back in 2010, I just thought, well, let’s get this over with so I can get the surgery, get this cancer out of my body so I can get back to living my life.
So, on the day after I was diagnosed, Holly and I found our way down to the nuclear medicine department of the local hospital. First came the CT scan, which totally sucked. CT scans involve drinking lots of contrast, which they try to dress up with flavors like mocha latte, which is the worst tasting mocha latte you will ever have in your life. If they served that abomination at Starbucks, someone would get fired and possibly sued for mental anguish.
Tech- What flavor would you like?
Me- Uh, I dunno, got anything that doesn’t taste like a chalk rail?
Tech- How about cherry?
Me- Does it taste like a cherry chalk rail?
Tech- People tell me the cherry isn’t so bad.
So I try the cherry. It’s awful.
Me- People are lying to you.
Tech- Yeah, probably. Sorry.
And the contrast is nothing compared to the stuff they put in your IV right before you go in the tube.
Tech- Ok, Dan, I’m starting the IV. It will give you a warm sensation that will start at the top of your head and go all the way through your body. It will also make you feel like you are peeing your pants.
Me, trying to be funny- Hey, sounds like a party-what the hell? AM I PEEING MY PANTS?!
She is safely out of the room by now, behind some incredibly thick glass that protects her from whatever is scanning my junk. Which always gives me a warm feeling of dread.
“Sure glad you’re safely behind that glass.”
I was pretty sure this procedure was going to give me radioactive balls. Or something. This was my first time in the tube. I was a little freaked out.
And then, just as I am sliding into the tube, I hear a voice, coming from…somewhere.
Disembodied Voice-Please hold your breath in 3, 2, 1, hold.
Which I totally get. No breathing while the very dangerous and expensive machine takes pictures of my torso. Wouldn’t want the pics to be blurry. That would be bad. Except, as the voice tells me to hold my breath, a huge wave of nausea rushes over me. Ever try to hold your breath when your going to get sick? It’s not very effective in preventing you from getting sick. But, somehow, after holding my breath a number of times for multiple scans, I manage not to spew cherry chalk rail flavored contrast all over their expensive machine.
The ceiling of the bone scan room. You can look at Miner’s Castle from Pictured Rocks. My personal favorite ceiling of all the bone scan rooms I’ve been in.
With the CT scan complete, it’s off to the bone scan area. The bone scan, compared to the CT scan, is easy peezy. I just lay on a table, no contrast, no IV, (because they gave me a shot of something radioactive that morning so my bones would be visible for the scan) no problems. Laying on the table as the machine moves over me is easy, and I almost fall asleep. Except, there’s a problem. The tech is fretting over the scan. Something isn’t right.
What she is fretting about is a lit up spot on my spine. She’s not sure if it’s a mistake on the scan or if it’s really there. So we get to do the whole thing all over again. Great. And this time with a heaping helping of anxiety. After the second scan she goes off to talk to somebody. Even better! When she comes back she tells Holly and I that she had spotted something, but the doc has to look at it to be sure what it is. Super!
Now, going into this whole “You have cancer, we need to do some scans” thing, I was never really sick. I dislocated my shoulder skiing, and had surgery, and in college I had knee surgery, but other than that, pretty healthy. This scan thing was new to me. So, something showing up on the scan scared me shitless. The next day my doc called and confirmed that, indeed, there was something on the scan, and he scheduled an MRI for me the next week to look at it closer. My doc tells me,”Could be cancer, or it could just be arthritis.”
Let’s just cut to the part where I tell you that it was nothing, probably arthritis, and that my cancer had not spread. That’s not really what I wanted to tell you about. The part I wanted to tell you about was about the week in between my bone scan and my MRI. Because during that week I was very sure my cancer had spread to my bones. Very sure.
The human brain has a lot to do with not only your mental health, but your physical health as well. It can make you feel sick. And during that week, my brain was telling me that I had cancer in my bones. Every movement, for some reason, hurt. I remember sitting at my desk at work, sitting amongst panel saws and CNCs and edge banders and dust collectors, all very noisy pieces of equipment, and being able to “hear” my neck every time I turned my head. It made a sort of a small crunching sound. I’ve hadn’t heard that sound before, and I haven’t heard it since, but that week, wow, did I hear it. It was weird. After getting the all clear, I’ve never heard it again. Hearing that crunching sound convinced me, albeit falsely, that my prostate cancer had spread to my bones.
That was in 2010. Back here in 2019, I’m sitting in a little coffee shop in downtown Grand Rapids. I just had my latest CT scan, and managed once again not to get sick, and I’m waiting while the radioactive isotopes move through my system so I can get my latest bone scan this afternoon. And I hurt. I’ve been having back spasms for the past week, so bad that they radiate around to my ribs. And they are wicked. They make me stop breathing and I make a noise that isn’t pleasant. When it happens in public, people ask if I’m all right. They are genuinely concerned.
So here’s the $64,000 question. Are my back spasms real, or is my brain playing tricks on me because my latest PSA went up and I’m a little freaked out again? And, the thing is, I’m a veteran of all this. I’ve had a bunch of scans over the years, and I usually just sort of go with the flow. I figure it is in God’s hands. But, for some reason, this one feels different. And because this one feels different, I think my brain is busy telling my body that something is wrong. Hence the back spasms.
Next week, I meet with my oncologist to discuss my latest scans and come up with a plan for the future. As a cancer survivor, I’m never really sure what that future is going to entail. But, by then, at least I’ll know if I really have something serious we need to take on, or, if I am really out of my psychosomatic mind.
Thanks for reading.