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Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006

The PET Scan Experience

I’m a technophile, so for me, taking a PET scan was an interesting exposure to a piece of highly sophisticated medical imaging equipment. I even had to be prompted to write about the experience from the perspective of a patient, not a huge construct of subatomic particles.

And, although I am familiar with that special fear felt by those recently diagnosed with cancer, it is apparently not on par with the terror that can be felt by people who are unfamiliar with and afraid of the testing equipment and procedures they must go through to be properly staged, so that the level and extent of their cancer can be determined, and thus their prospects for various unpleasant treatments and their chances for survival.

I get a bit of traffic coming through my site from people looking for information about PET scans, and I’m guessing that a significant portion of this traffic is from people who have been told that they need to undergo this procedure. Still, I wasn’t quite prepared when I got an email from someone who was afraid of going through the scan.

I tried to give what comfort I could, and we corresponded regularly over the last week or so, so I am very, very happy to report that her PET scan came back negative for metastasis. Another cancer survivor!

At my request, she wrote about her experience:

Greg:

Thank you so much for the opportunity for letting me write this. I really enjoy helping others.

My name is Andrea and I would like you to know I just recently went through a PET scan. Praying helped me get through and keeping my eyes closed all the time. That might sound strange but true. It is similar to a CT scan, it really was fine. Take a cd that you like and you will do fine. I hope this helps whoever is going to have this scan. Just keep positive and pray.

I want to join Andrea and emphasize to anyone that is about to go through a PET scan – this is not a difficult experience to get through. It’s not noisy, and not particularly confining. You will go through a short tube, but the open ends are very close by. You will have to get an injection of a radioactive tracer – despite the clunky metal container that the tracer comes in, it’s going to feel just like a regular shot – no burning or anything. You will have to lie still for quite a while – I like Andrea’s suggestion to take some calming music. There’s really nothing to be afraid of except what the results might tell you – and the PET scan itself is just a tool to see what is already there. This sort of scan is one of the best ways to give your doctors the information they need to give you the best possible treatment for your disease, so you need to think of the PET scan as something that is helping you. And for those of you who get bad news, I urge you to read Stephen Jay Gould’s The Median Isn’t The Message – even the bleakest circumstances might have some hope.

Comments are welcome, and again I’ll invite anybody who wants to know more to contact me. (You can disregard the encryption stuff, nobody ever uses it.) I’d also be glad to pass on anything to Andrea.

Earlier today I scheduled my first MRI ever, to confirm my doctor’s diagnosis of the lump in my chest as lymphedema. Now an MRI, I’ve heard, is akin to being shoved head-first into a small metal barrel while someone is pounding away on the outside with a big stick. I’ll try to be a little less phlegmatic when describing it after Saturday.

Posted by Greg as Melanoma, Posts About Me at 12:13 PST

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