Every six months, I drink a vile potion of barium mixed with some sort of artificial flavoring. The berry is the easiest to force down, although I have recently discovered cappuccino, which is a close second. I extend my arm and a nurse searches for a good vein into which to inject the radioactive dye. After several pokes, I suggest that they use my port. They aren’t trained to access it in this department or so I am told. Ah, modern medicine with narrow specialties. The lights are dimmed, and I sit quietly for an hour while the stuff makes its way through my circulatory system. It can’t be good for me to have that kind of poison in my body, I figure, but I am left with little choice. Finally, I am led into the procedure room where I am told to lie on a narrow table which slowly moves through the long tube, taking pictures of every inch of my body. The process seems to take forever, and I make use of the time humming show tunes. I am grateful that I am not claustrophobic. Of course, I talk to God, praying that the film doesn’t light up like the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.
The technician helps me off the table and tells me to drink lots of water over the next twenty-hour hours. Then, he launches into his spiel about the results being forwarded to my oncologist. I mentally calculate when I might be notified, factoring in the number of folks whose hands must touch the report before it is marked official. The waiting is the hardest part. If I had patience, I'd be a doctor. Yes, I know, bad pun. I may have used it before. Sorry.
Most people happily exist without knowing what could happen, what uncertainty awaits them. They don’t think of adverse outcomes or fret about sinister possibilities. They don’t worry about tomorrow and freely live in a place called denial. No, they don’t fear that which has not yet happened. Gee, I envy those folks. I used to be one of them.
When you have cancer, you are robbed of peace, forced to live on the edge. You have walked over a threshold you didn’t know existed into a new place where life is different. Completely different. Your neatly ordered days have been rearranged, and you learn that in the blink of an eye, everything can change because, well, it already has. Certainly, our bodies are hardwired to want to survive, so we listen to the internal rhythm, focus on each labored breath, each random ache or strange symptom. We embrace life as we stay spiritually connected.
(Warning: analogy ahead.) Experience always alters perception, but let me put it this way: it is kind of like being abducted by pirates. Forced to walk the plank, you stand on the end of the board surveying the churning waters of the Cancer Sea below. You try to determine if you will be able to untie the restrains, Houdini-style, and then, wonder how far you can swim. Oh, and did I mention the sharks? Of course, you pray for a reprieve, a last minute dispensation that escorts you back into the boat and hands you a mug of rum. Yup, that’s a pretty accurate description of scan day.
I have lost count of how many of these exams I have endured. I know that I have had seven of the big ones, with the fancy equipment and the huge copays. And there have been the less complicated ones, progress reports, so to speak. To break the ice with the technicians, I always make my standard joke about wondering when I will begin to glow in the dark. Most try not to roll their eyes. I am sure they hear it on a daily basis. Here is my scorecard: twice, I have received the phone call with bad news, and the other times, I have celebrated a good report. Like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get.
I live in a lovely bubble of gratitude. No joke: it is quite the magical place to be. I know that given my diagnosis, each moment is precious, and I try not to take anything for granted. A clear scan gives me permission to exhale, to embrace my days with gusto. Well, at least for the next six months.
Keep me in your prayers, will you?