Doing the cancer two step
This is a day that I’d rather not have to endure and hope that no one else has to either. About three weeks ago I presented at Dr Havyrk’s rooms – he is a prominent bronchial physician – because earlier CAT scans had shown two calcified nodules – growths or tumours to you and me. Could be nothing; a result of infection or exposure to asbestos on the farm or two much dust or mouldy hay or animal manure on the farm. They even have a name for it – Farmer’s Lung. Farms are dangerous places apparently. If I’d told him how much 2-4-D and 2-4-5-T (Agent Orange which contains Dioxin and came to fame in the Vietnam War) I’d been exposed to as a kid he probably would have thrown me out of his office.
Anyway Dr Havryk says that because I’ve survived three melanoma the things in my lungs might be malignant and I need a Positron Emission Tomography scan (love that medical verbosity). It’s a specialised type of whole-body scan called a PET scan for short. They are trying to find if little bits of melanoma have broken off and gone wandering about in places where they shouldn’t such as brain, liver or lungs. Women who have endured breast cancer have the same problem. Both types of cancer survivors are particularly prone to cells wandering around in no go zones, many years after an apparently clear diagnosis, and getting way too comfortable there.
Anyway a PET scan involves injecting the patient full of radioactive juice and watching the results as it travels around the body. I won’t bore you with the details but essentially a bunch of radioactive isotopes are attached to glucose molecules and then shot into your blood stream. The active parts of your body – brain liver etc need a lot of glucose and glow luminosity as they use it up and leave the isotopes behind. Really, really active parts of your body like growing cancer cells, suck up an enormous amount of glucose and attached isotopes and glow like a Dresden searchlight during a bombing raid. The scan picks up the glow of the malignant little buggers.
Anyway I had a very stimulating discussion with a nuclear medicine specialist after I was injected with the glucose solution. He told me all about how the isotopes are generated (not from uranium) and how it is safe to inject such a deadly substance into a human being (short half-life of the isotope.) This was reassuring until he told me that under no circumstances should I approach a pregnant woman or a newborn baby within ten hours of the scan. Reason: you are highly radioactive. I asked him if I would glow in the dark. Probably, he replied. At least he had a sense of humour.
Anyway, as I was being driven home by the ever-reliable Margaret Carney, I received a call on my mobile from the nuclear medicine specialist. The bad news is I have 4 nodules in my lungs, not 2. I’ve got a regular little herbarium going on inside me. The good news is none of them are glowing which means they are benign. I will probably have to get this procedure repeated annually for the next few years. That’s all good I suppose. I’m really glad I’m retiring. I can’t deal with all this stuff and look for a house and work too. Way beyond that.