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Wednesday, November 2nd, 2005

Cancer Survivor

While I was gone in Illinois, a cd showed up at home for me. It contained the results of the PET scan I took on October 21st. PET, which stands for Positron Emission Tomography, is this very cool (and very expensive) procedure where you are injected with a sugar, fluorodeoxyglucose, that has a radioactive tag, in this case fluorine 18. You sit in a quiet spot for 45 minutes while the sugar is dispersed through your blood stream, and you don’t want to move at all. The first time I did this, the technician also told me to try not to think?!

The sugar is taken up by cells that need it, and they don’t notice the fluorine atoms releasing positrons as part of their decay. The positrons – yes, antimatter, don’t get to travel very far until they meet an electron and the two particles mutually self destruct, releasing energy in the form of gamma rays and in accordance with E=mc2. Since the mass of the two particles is about 1.82 x 10-30 kg, the energy released by one reaction is about 1.6 x 10-13 kg-m2/sec2 or joules – about one 40-quadrillionth of the energy in a single Tic-Tac. I got to lie on a sliding platform that slowly moved my body through the 3D gamma ray detector, and since there’s a lot of me, it took more than two hours. The gamma rays are paired, so the detector can figure out their point of origin.

Cells take up sugar at varying rates depending on how active they are – the brain, heart and kidneys are hard workers, but nothin’ loves the taste of sugar like a malignant cancer cell! So while tumor cells are noshing, the PET scan is looking for them. And here’s a sample of what it found:

The Metabolic Greg Perry

Of course, my heart damned near stopped when I saw the big dark splotches, but it was easy to figure out heart, bladder, and brain. Finally, conclusive proof of the existence of a brain, despite the speculations of my wife, teenage daughter, parents, several high school teachers and a couple of drill sergeants.

Well, get to it, Greg! Drumroll please…

“No evidence for hypermetabolism to suggest metastatic melanoma, period”

Well, maybe the period was for his voice recognition software, but I don’t care. I have reached the fifth anniversary of my malignant melanoma diagnosis, a significant milestone, and I only had a 60% chance of getting this far. Melanoma is pernicious in that a single cell can apparently hide out or reproduce at a very low rate, and when you thought it was gone, it can decide to pick a nice spot in another organ and start making tumors. I have a lifetime ban on giving blood, and I can’t be an organ donor. But the most dangerous time for reemergence has now passed, and with continuing improvements in detection and treatment, my prospects of dying from something else, and hopefully a lot later, are just getting better.

So I’m feeling really good about this. At least until the nuclear medicine people get the payment from my insurance company and turn around to hit me up for the rest.

I’m also dying to find a 3D reader for the files on the cd. The software that the medical office sent barely meets the HIPAA requirements for providing patients with copies of their records, but the raw data files appear to be stashed away on the disk. They stripped the file extensions off, but a little peeking has already identified the file types, and there seems to be several freeware applications that can open them. The technician noticed me examining the equipment and asked if I was an engineer, but I already know how the thing basically worked – I was looking for manufacturer and model numbers so I could pull spec sheets, hopefully down to the level of file output. I won’t be happy until I get the full 3D information – maybe I can plug it in to some animation software. I hope the bones and joints are discernible – I’ll need that to accurately replicate movement. The resolution of the full scan results (I was able to get the tech to show it to me after my first scan), ought to be just incredible – way more than the image above suggests. The major limiting factor in accuracy should be how still I was able to stay.

Posted by Greg in General Science, Melanoma, Posts About Me


This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 2nd, 2005 at 10:11 PST and is filed under General Science, Melanoma, Posts About Me. You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

2 Responses to “Cancer Survivor”

  1. Web says:

    Congratulations, that’s good news!

    How were you able to sit so still for so long? Were you trying to use your mental powers and radioactive bladder to conjure up an antimatter Cowboys jersey to send to me?

  2. Uncle Dave (Australia) says:

    G’day Greg,

    Crikey mate, what great news.
    5 years clear of this bloody awfull disease.
    Good on ya,

    Dave Downunder.