Scan Anxiety Again

CT/PET Pet Scan
A patient ready to begin her CT/PET Pet Scan

Today’s Men With Cancer Writers’ Group began with the prompt: What am I supposed to feel?

This morning I underwent a combination CT – PET scan in the Nuclear Medicine at Providence Cancer Center and this experience influenced my choice of subject matter. This is what I wrote:

Returning from a PET scan at Providence this morning, I am wondering, “How am I supposed to feel?”

The young man, Bill, who operates the PET machine was cheerful and energetic. I liked that he made a special effort to customize the head restraint with a folded pillow case padding because my back tends to hurt if I lie on a flat surface for a few minutes. Then, when the machine detected that my shoes had metal in the last, he offered to remove them saying, “Before this, I worked retail sales, as a shoe salesman at Nike, and I have the shoes thing down.”

These pleasant interactions put me more at ease, and I relaxed during the 40 minutes spent on the scanning table.

While lying in the machine, I felt grateful that the PET is the best diagnostic tool available for detecting metastatic melanoma tumors while they are still small, and the combined CT function helps calibrate the waxing or waning of already existing tumors. I felt smug that insurance is paying the cost of this for me, but sad that many in our country do not have medical insurance that covers this type of testing or only covers a fraction of the cost. I also thought about the outcome of my tests and recognized that Dr. Curti and his helpers at Providence are experienced, capable, and caring and I trust him to give me the straight scoop on my test results. If they don’t go as I had hoped, then he can be trusted to discuss my treatment options and help me arrive at the best plan.

As I was leaving the machine room, I asked Dan how he likes doing nuclear medicine compared to retail shoe sales. He responded, “I could go back to selling shoes if I had to, but I prefer this work. When I sold shoes, it was matter-of-fact. I would fit the shoes and tell the customer, ‘these shoes look great on you’. Here, interactions with people are deeper and I value that.”

How am I supposed to feel? Dr. Curti will tell me on Monday.

In this writing, I meant to convey that I experience layers of feelings that are related to the here-and-now, even when the outcome of the experience is in doubt. I also wanted to convey my gratitude for skillful interaction that health care workers like Bill apply to their jobs to help us through the experience. The ending is meant to signal that the overriding concern is really whether my cancer is receding or not. Anxiety is the normal feeling arising from that concern, but that doesn’t make for an interesting story.