You will probably never meet me in person. Your name will be on the bill my insurance receives from the hospital. Your signature will be on the line after the end of the report as you mumble report after report into the system. You will never know my story. I am my organs to you; organs will anomalies that you have to squint and sometimes lean back to look for. You look for lesions and growth and progression on my scan. A body riddled with cancer. It can be quite challenging to look through all the cuts of the CT scan, day after day, hour after hour.
In each of those films, is a story hidden beyond a 40 some year old woman with metastatic breast cancer. A story that starts a whole month before the upcoming scan appointment when she starts to wonder what her scan will show this time. She pretends to ignore those thoughts because her cancer is incurable. She secretly wishes that everything disappears this time. She looks at her young kids and hopes that your scans aren’t able to see cancer this time. She hopes that her treatment continues to work. She stays up at night and contemplates various scenarios should things change. She wonders if she will see Thanksgiving next year. She wonders how many more CT scans she has left in her lifetime. She wonders if she can just cancel all her appointments and move to another country where she will pretend she didn’t have cancer. She then shakes her head and gets busy.
Then the day before the scan arrives, she is more nervous than usual. Kids irritate her, and she loses her appetite. All she can think of is the possibility of her life changing after 24 hours. She wonders if she gets another extension for three months on her treatment. She barely sleeps that night. She wonders and thinks.
She gets to radiology and gets a number. She looks at others who look much older and much sicker. She wonders if that would be her in few months. She gets called and is rushed off to the changing room. She wonders if her kids made it to school. She thinks of her husband in the waiting room. She changes into her gown and with her clothes hangs up her control in the locker. She then waits again. Until another rushed technician gives her a vat of barium to drink. She sits and sip the barium listening to Anderson Cooper complain about a mosquito bothering his sleep to Kelly Ripa. She sips some more barium. She tries to cope with the nausea caused by anxiety and barium and wonders when she will get called so she can be done with this ordeal.
She lies down in the scanner. She has an IV in place for which she was poked three times and was called a “hard prick.”
She has a pillow under her knees, and she is slid into a giant machine in a cold room. She holds her breath when instructed, lets it go when told. She hears the machine and the circular gadget spins around. She is being seen by the technician in the other room, both from inside and outside. She lays as still as possible. Nausea and anxious she lays there.
Then the contrast is pushed, and a bolus of heat travels through her body till it hits her lower body and it feels warm as if she just peed in her pants, but this is her umpteenth scan, so she knows that it is the contrast. She knows also to drink 6 to 7 glasses of water that day to keep her kidneys flushed. That’s what the nurse told her who put her IV in. She knows that she will later have diarrhea due to the barium she drank, and the goddamn mocha flavor has ruined the flavor of her favorite latte for her.
But she does all this. Just to live, to survive metastatic breast cancer with scans every three months. The machine stops. The IV comes out, and she is let go. She quietly goes back to the locker and changes tired from this morning of scans. She still has to go to nuclear medicine to get her bones scanned, perhaps another 45 minutes to get scanned. Another machine to make friends with.
Then she goes home, and she waits. The clock ticks slowly. She tries to distract herself. She could never decide if the bone scanner moves slowly or her life.
Now it’s more than 24 hours later, she is barely breathing with anxiety. Those who love her also wait. Her life is on hold. She wants to sign up for another art class but not sure if she would be on same treatment or not. She needs to do Christmas shopping, but she can’t get herself to go out. She needs to sign her kids for classes but isn’t sure how available she will be. She needs to respond to that job offer that came through.
And when she can’t take it anymore, she gets her oncologist paged who is slightly short with her.
It has not been reported by radiology.
She tries to breathe. There is another night ahead of her, while those films sit in your office to be read.
She has cancer, this is her life, and she has to cope.
You must be really busy, you have a life too.
So when you look at those lesions, you will at least know what it would mean to her to get her results. You will know what she went through to hear your impression. It may be just another scan to read, but when you read, she can resume that fragmented thing that she currently calls life.
Please dear doctor, give me my results. My life is on hold.
Uzma Yunus is a psychiatrist who blogs at Left Boob Gone Rogue.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com