Saturday, March 10, 2012

Have you ever seen a PET?

Okay, maybe not that kind of pet.  But nobody online can resist a cute kitten photo so I expect my hits to jump exponentially.

It had been a nerve-wracking week, so to ease my anxiety I tried to get a glimpse of my future the best way I knew how - a Chinese meal with a fortune cookie dessert.  Take-out Chinese is a two-fer: I get out of cooking, and I get a hint at what the future holds.   After I finished my Szechuan Chicken, I cracked open the cookie.  The fortune inside read, "Stay close to your inner self. You will benefit in many ways."

Why, it's like that cookie was made for me! I am not only close to my inner self, I get to see it on a regular basis. And, it is your lucky day - I will share the benefits of that inner view with you!

A quick recap: in preparation for my four month follow-up visit with Dr. SuperSurgeon, who did my liver resection, I had to have a CT scan. The CT scan came back showing something suspicious on my liver, so my oncologist recommended a PET scan to see if it's cancer.  They moved the paperwork through the system quickly so I could bring all the information to Dr. SuperSurgeon. The CT was already on a CD, collecting dust and crumbs in my purse, ready to take to San Francisco.  On Monday, I added the PET.

I hadn't looked at the CT because I know I can't interpret it - they kind of look like a film noir murder scene; one gray organ gently blurring into the other.  Besides, I'd read the radiology report which had already scared the crap out of me. But, I was curious to see the PET scan, both to see if I could find cancer and just to see my insides in color.  I loaded it on my computer.

Because I know that every single time you peeps sit down to your computer and load But Doctor, I Hate Pink, you say to yourself, "I sure hope Ann posts a picture of her liver today," I am finally going to grant your wish (you will need to click to see it all):

Interesting, yes?

There is cancer terminology you may not be aware of, and that is the phrase "light up" when referring to something on your PET scan. We all say our scans "lit up like a Christmas tree" when they show a lot of cancer.  Where the correlation between Christmas and cancer comes in, I can't say.  Personally, if I'd invented the simile, I would have said "lit up like a suicide bomber" or "lit up like cigarette lighters at a meth house" or something a little less festive than Christmas trees.  But, I don't make the rules, I just follow them.

So, I am happily sitting down, snacking on pretzels, when I open my PET scan.  The above is a still image but when you see the PET in real life, it is interactive.  The gross little skeleton on the right rotates around like a Russian dancer,  and you can move the green bulls-eye thing to focus in on specific areas - if you can catch it, that is,  the rotation is fast.  There is also a magnifying glass that highlights any interesting spot you desire for close-up view. As I bit into my pretzel, I was horrified to see that in the area of my liver, right where that growth had been seen, was a very bright light.  As you can see, circled above,  it definitely looks like a Christmas bulb or cigarette lighter that somehow got stuck in my liver.

Well, shoot. Cancer really is back, and only a few months after surgery.

I spent the next few days trying not to be disappointed, yet mentally planning my last ever birthday party, telling myself I really should finish at least one scrapbook (but not actually doing it), and eating extra coconut popsicles and Sees candy because - well, why not?  I also felt bad that I could not provide a good statistic for any future women with limited mets who might want surgery.  It's a big burden to know you let down the surgical future of breast cancer treatment.  I was also really upset at the thought that I wouldn't be around to see my son graduate from high school. That kid is a hard worker and I wanted to see him off to college.  I also just know that without me, my husband is going to pick out some hideous dorm decorations for the boy, and will probably forget meaningless stuff, like sheets.

I forgot one teeny little thing:  I am not a radiologist.

CDs in hand, my husband and I drove to San Francisco.  Once in the exam room, I spoke to Dr. SuperSurgeon's doctor-trainees-assistants about my medical history since the surgery, which consisted of my horrifying c-diff tale. That generated a lot of questions, but I also managed to mention that I expected that my cancer had returned.  I handed them the CDs, they left the room,  and my husband and I awaited the confirmation of bad news.

Dr. SuperSurgeon came in, and I prepared myself.   He looked at me and said something disappointing: he was not able to open the CD the PET came on.  Apparently, all that skeleton rotation and magnifying glass stuff is caused by a proprietary program that conflicted with other programs on their computer system, so they couldn't see it.

But then, he said something wonderful. Based on the CT (which he could open) he would never have even ordered the PET.  He saw normal surgical changes and nothing concerning at all.  He also said that sometimes a PET scan can show uptake (doctor-lingo for "Christmas tree lights") after resection and sometimes radiologists didn't recognize normal ablation changes on CTs and PETs.

Of course, to be sure, he, along with a radiologist, will go over the PET, (presumably after they get tech services in there to open it). They will call me when they know for sure.  But for now, they believe I am fine.

I have one concern:  if radiologists are always going to interpret my surgical changes as suspicious growth, then how am I ever going to get accurate news?  I can't run to San Francisco every time I have a scan, and I don't want a PET scan every time I have a CT scan either.   Somebody is going to have to figure out how to read my scans.

Maybe it's time I go to radiology school.

I might even have time.


  1. Awesome news! You give me strength. :)

  2. Eeee!!! I'm jumping up and down with happiness, Ann!!

    Here's to you embarrassing your son with motherly decorations for his dorm!

    :) so happy for you <3

  3. Great news!! Request that every CT scan is sent to Dr. SuperSurgeon for a second review.

    Judi in Reno

  4. Oh, Ann, I did laugh when I read this!! I am so sorry you are even going through this, but I remember going through a similar experience when I had to get a chest CT scan after the chest X-rays I'd gotten, to see what may or may not have happened to my right lung because of radiation therapy. Still have the CD!!

    It was, indeed, comical to compare the two reports, not to mention the images. The radiologist who read the X-rays thought I might have had a rather dreadful lung issue due some some scattered white blurs, but the one who read the CT scan brushed those aside as merely evidence of a few previous bouts with long-ago bronchitis, but then noted that I had scar tissue on the outside of the lung in the radiation field for my breast cancer treatment. The really laughably infuriating part was the waffling the pulmonologist did to avoid directly blaming radiation for my problems, but not entirely avoiding blame either. Good grief...

    There are, BTW, websites out there which can actually teach you how to read diagnostic images. They didn't help me much -- I guess you still need the lecture time. Maybe we can both sign up for an online course. LOL.

    Hugs. Hope Dr. SuperSurgeon is right. xoxo

  5. Ann,
    I read that with my heart in my mouth....
    I got to the end and am thrilled for you, I have followed your journey from afar and your news is awesome!
    It's good to know your son will go to college with sheets, although if he's anything like my 17 year old he probably wouldn't notice!
    Love & hugs to you.
    Lisa (Sydney, Australia) xxxx

  6. Super-duper news served with a heap of humor! Love it! So happy that the news was good. Now on to radiology school! ;-)

  7. Good news Ann! Thanks for sharing the images--how interesting! I never get to see any of my CT scans (never had a PET), I just get the written report. Maybe you'll have time to do a few scrapbooks :) Hope work is still going well for you!

  8. Whew! What a relief! And where do you find coconut popsicles - they sound delicious! Happy for you & your family!

  9. I don't think anybody not in the medical world understands just how inaccurate/open to interpretation/conflicting these scans can be. People not in this world think they are definitive but we end up finding out just how untrue that is! Your health is only as good as the last interpretation by the last guy who looked at it! For now, I'm going with SuperSurgeon since he has people from all over the country fly in for his expertise.

    Thanks for all your comments. And, work is well, I came in an hour early twice this week to see how I could manage. Did okay!

  10. Another mets girl is happy for you!!! Thankfully I'm in remission at the moment! I hope we can change the stats for all the people that follow us!

  11. Gah!! This is such great news! Thanks for keeping us updated and thanks for the laughs.

  12. This is one time that I wish that I had read the ending of the story first. I thought that I was going to throw up before I got to the end. I am sooooo happy for you!!! I have been praying for you all week. This is wonderful news. And since I am going to have this surgery in just 11 days, I am learning things that could come up. Congratulations!!!

  13. Your story is different than mine, but I understand the sentiments. Sounds like good news after all. I enjoy reading your blog.

  14. Ann -

    So super happy for your wonderful results

  15. Ann, that is wonderful news!! So sorry that you have had this unnecessary anxiety, but so very happy that all looks good. Keep blogging!
    Ann in England.

  16. Now that is absolutely wonderful news! Isn't so amazing how quickly our minds take us down that evil road? But this is a very good example of why we need our doctors to give us the results of tests, not a radiologist. The doctor puts it into the big picture. And a clear example of why second opinions are so important. Please embarrass your son completely at both his high school and college graduations. And at his wedding.

  17. I think we all need to stop diagnosing ourselves, no matter how tempting. Bad news will find us if it needs to and in the meantime, always hope for good news and I'm so glad about yours. Great to hear.

  18. It makes me wonder about technical advances in medicine when doctors cannot even share CDs. They need some kind of iTunes app that lets them share medical records. ha!

    The best news of all though is that you DO NOT have cancer TODAY. Neither do I. This is one club I am happy to join with you!

  19. Ann, I am so happy to hear the news of what your surgeon said. You must have been so wonderfully stunned!

  20. Praise God Ann!! I'm so happy to hear this great news! I am believing and praying that the review of the PET scan is clear as cancer! I'm praying for you! You're such an inspiration and encouragement to me! God has created you for such an amazing purpose...I know it's been so hard for you! You have an amazing outlook and attitude!

  21. Yay, Ann, Yay! Looking forward to the day we get to post those crazy, embarassing "things I bought my kid for college" pictures. Hugs, prayers, healing thoughts & lots of love sent your way. And I'm so glad you're able to get into work awhile. I know those folks missed you as much as you missed them (probably even more!).

  22. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Anxious for this posting all week! So glad to hear it is good! So happy for you! May you have many years ahead. Awesome.

  23. Ann, I get your fears regarding radiologists. Mine read as possible lympangitic metastasis and suspicious (for cancer) hilar/mediastinal nodes. My own onc snorted. Ok, he didn't actually "snort," but you get the picture. It's an artifact of the radiation you've been through, in my opinion, he noted. I still insisted on a 6-week scan, which confirmed (for now) that he was right. I've learned my lesson, and I'm so glad you got good news!!


  24. These are fantastic news, congratulations for the news. I love reading you!

  25. YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    WOOO< FREAKIN HOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  26. Yay! You deserve some good news, finally.

    I think the first scrapbook you should finish is one with all your medical scans and reports. Just imagine sharing THAT with the grandiose.

  27. Grandkids, not grandiose. Stupid autocorrect.

  28. Whoo-hoo!

    I think that you should run right out and start livering it up.


    I wanted to be merry, but I've only had one cup of coffee so far...

  29. Ann, that is FANTASTIC news! So glad to hear it.

    And I'm sorry, but when I read this sentence, I burst out laughing at my desk which was wildly embarrassing because all of my coworkers looked at me strangely: "Because I know that every single time you peeps sit down to your computer and load But Doctor, I Hate Pink, you say to yourself, 'I sure hope Ann posts a picture of her liver today,'

    You might remember me, I'm that little publicist who emailed you about a book not too long ago. Like I said in my email, I love this blog. I wish my cousin who lost her battle with melanoma a few years ago had a resource like you.

  30. I love your blog ! It's interesting, informative, courageous, and......really funny ! You're a great writer. Thanks so much for all you do. Best wishes, and take much care. Sending positive thoughts and positive energy your way. -- D.

  31. How awesome. And your post is, as always, informative,touching and funny. Thanks Ann, and I'm so glad things turned out okay. Mary, Last Call for Margaritas

  32. I'm so glad you got good news!


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