I am learning that having cancer involves quite a lot of poking and prodding. Blood work, biopsies, scans. Tests, tests and more tests. I am trying to take this in stride and accept that these tests are a fact of life (more on that in a minute).
Having been pretty healthy over the last 37 years, this is the first time I have ever had most of these tests or been poked and prodded so much. So, I thought it might be helpful to describe what this is like. Maybe it will help prepare you in the event you ever have to experience these pleasures in life. I think most of us have had blood tests and maybe even a biopsy, so I will focus on MRIs, CT scans and my personal favorite, the PET scan.
Let's start with my least favorite. The brain MRI. Basically you lay perfectly still (which is hard to do...at least for me, but I am kind of a spaz) while they strap your head down, shoot you up with contrast, and slide you into a tube. The test starts. The machine makes the strangest, and loudest sounds. It's like sitting in a tin can with someone bashing the outside of it with a baseball bat. I am not clausterphobic in the least, but this test definitely had me on edge. On the plus side, they do give you earplugs, a pillow and a blanket...so I guess that makes it kind of like flying business or first class...minus the champagne.
Next up is the easiest and fastest; the CT scan. A CT scan with no contrast is a piece of cake. In and out in minutes and all you have to do is hold your breath for a few seconds. Breathing in yoga class is harder. A CT scan with contrast is still a pretty painless experience. However, the contrast part is...interesting. It literally makes you feel like you are peeing in your pants (not that I know what that is like). This felt so "real" to me I even asked the tech if I could check to make sure that was not happening, which I am happy to report it was not. It's one of the strangest sensations. Ever.
Finally, we have the PET scan. This is a full body scan to look for "hot spots" (i.e., tumors). I call this the nuclear zen test. Before you have the test the shoot you up with what I understood to be a sugar water infused with a little nuclear material, which the tech assured me is perfectly safe. So, it's almost like cucumber infused water, only administered intravenously.
Then the zen part starts. They take away your phone and any other reading material and make you sit still for about 30 minutes to allow time for that sugar water to make you glow from the inside out. After that, they took me to a specific toilet for "nuclear patients." Despite this, they still assured me that the nuclear sugar water is totally safe (I guess I believe them, sorta). They really know how to make a girl feel special! Once you've used the facilities, you basically have to lay still for 45 minutes while the machine does its thing. The machine, unlike the MRI, is pretty quiet. They provided heated blankets (even better than first class service on that score) and a pillow under my knees (just like when you get a facial or a massage). I admit, I almost fell asleep. On the whole, not the worst experience ever.
I can be a little slow sometimes, so it has taken a couple of weeks for it to sink in that the tests I have had over the last couple of weeks are not a one time diagnostic thing. They are will be a part of my life, for as long as I live. This is an aspect of what it means to have cancer, especially a cancer that isn't curable and is known for being an aggressive and tenacious foe.
It strikes me that accepting these tests as part of my life, is kind of a proxy for the larger acceptance process I have been working through over the last couple of weeks. This disease has changed me forever. There is not one thing I can do to change that fact. All I can do is adapt. I must adapt in order to keep my heart and mind centered on God and on what matters most. I must adapt to keep my eyes focused on what's ahead, not what's been left behind or what's on the path I was previously traveling. I may not be that old, but I am old enough to know that looking back tends to breed bitterness and resentment. I don't know how many days I have left on this planet, but I do know that I do not want to live even one of them in that dark place. I refuse to go out that way.
While obviously there are a lot of unpleasant and unwelcome changes (like being poked and prodded, the knowledge that I am living with a currently incurable disease, etc.), I am surprised by how grateful (seriously) I feel about some of the other changes. Simplification. Clarity about what really matters to me. Freedom from some of the trappings of career progression and the accumulation of stuff that's so prevalent in American culture. The freedom to write (thanks for reading) without feeling like I need to simultaneously work 80 hours a week at a "real" job. The closeness (is that a word?) I feel to God. Not small stuff. Good stuff, in fact.
Who knows whether or not this perspective will change as treatments and side effects become part of my new normal. All I know is that for today this is where this detour has taken me and I will rejoice and be glad in it (a little Sunday school throw back for you church types out there).