Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The PET scan

Hello fellow beauty lovers, am popping my head up again to update you on my cervical cancer journey.

For those who just prefer beauty posts, just pop back tomorrow when there is great post coming from Laura which is much more in keeping with the usual theme of my blog!

If you're new to my blog then let me explain what this post is all about-I'm a 34 year old British girl living in Dubai who was diagnosed with stage 1B2 cervical cancer on the 14th July this year.  On the 31st July, I had a radical hysterectomy and 30 lymph nodes removed, spent 5 days in hospital and have had a relatively rough few weeks recovering.

I have been very honest and open on my blog and said I hadn't had a smear test/cervical screening for 9 years and it was pure fluke that I actually had the smear test I did back in June.  Pure fluke or fate?  I am not sure but it probably saved my life.  Sometimes I think 'what if my doctor hadn't literally forced me to go for that test?'.

You can read back about this whole journey in these posts:  Life lately...and other news, The Curveball, The Recovery and An update and 'time to test'.  And now you're up to date.

I have literally been banging on to everyone who will listen about the importance of regular smear tests and so many girls have tweeted me, emailed me or commented on my blog to say they have booked or had their test.  And then this week I received an email out of the blue from a lady who has just been diagnosed with cervical cancer and she said my blog had been emailed to her and that my posts had helped her and given her an idea of what to expect.  I almost cried reading it.

It has been really hard getting 'personal' information and accounts of other ladies experiences with cervical cancer and that's why I am writing this update post today.

Today was an important milestone in this journey-my PET scan.  Having had both an MRI and CT scan with contrast solution I was dreading this scan.  Not the results even, just the actual scan itself.  Another hospital, another cannula in my hand, more injections, more waiting.  If I had been able to read something like this post beforehand I would have known that actually this is the easiest scan of the lot and I wouldn't have felt that I was actually going to vomit this morning.

The PET scan is a whole body scan using a radioactive sugar which identifies any remaining tumours, cancers or abnormalities.  The results of this scan will be pivotal.  Either the surgery I have had has been successful and I am free to get back to my normal life (albeit with regular check ups every 3 months) or my oncologist will confirm what extra treatment I need to cure me-chemo, radiotherapy or more surgery. 

My surgeon has always been very positive that he was successful in removing all the cancer, even cutting extra lymph nodes out to be sure and so I have never worried about the results of the scan as I am sure they will be positive but it was just the scan itself that was making me anxious having been through a 2 hour MRI with its beeping and whirring machinery and a very uncomfortable CT scan with a horribly rude doctor post surgery.

In both of those scans I have had 'contrast solution'.  Contrast solution is used to improve the visibility of internal organs on a scan.  I haven't talked about it in posts before but it's important people know what happens when you have contrast solution injected.  I am sure most people will be warned of the effects when the injection is given, but I wasn't.  When the contrast solution was injected through my cannula I felt like there was liquid being forced into my veins and within seconds went really really hot and faint and then felt like I had wet myself (I hadn't because you have to fast for 6 hours beforehand).  It was a horrible horrible feeling and I thought I was having an allergic reaction but I was too scared to say anything having been given strict instructions not to move.  So I just lay there, tears streaming from my eyes until the effects started to subside which was probably after only a couple of minutes.

I was therefore petrified today was going to involve more contrast solution.

Today was my first time in an actual oncology department-my previous surgery was done at a normal hospital.  It was genuinely one of the most depressing experiences of my life sitting in the waiting room.  We all knew what we were there for.  No one spoke.  No one smiled.  The air was literally heavy with the burden of cancer.  I found myself welling up several times at the enormity of what everyone was going through.  Most people far far worse than me.  One gentleman had had four cycles of chemo.  Four cycles.  All unsuccessful.  I heard him recounting his story to the radiologist whilst I was in the holding area.

So back to the scan.  First of all I was taken to an 'injection room'.  I was given a litre of water to drink and my blood sugar levels were taken.  Yesterday I had to follow a special diet-you can only drink water and eat meat (steak, chicken, lamb, pork), fish, tofu, mushrooms and some green veg like asparagus and broccoli.  I couldn't eat potatoes, pasta, rice, bread, tomatoes, peas, corn, fruit, nuts, dates, cakes, biscuits, sweets, fizzy drinks, milk, yoghurt, cheese and any caffeine.  Yesterday I was really nauseous all day so I ate 4 mini sausages and then some lamb and asparagus for dinner.  I also received a parcel from home with Cadburys Wispas in it, it was literally torture!

Prior to the scan you can't eat for 6 hours but you can drink water normally.  Only water though, no caffeine, alcohol or fruit juices.

After giving the radiologist a run down of my previous scans and surgeries she then inserted a cannula into a vein close to my elbow crease.  I am not scared of needles but I have rubbish veins, nurses are always telling me that!  But it was relatively painless to be honest.  At this hospital the radiologist was brilliant, giving me all the information I asked for (I basically know by now what questions to ask having had the MRI and CT) but she confirmed there is NO contrast solution in this scan and the injection of the radioactive solution shouldn't make me feel any different at all.

She injected a small amount (small syringe full) into my cannula and I was told to lie down and relax and keep warm for 1 hour whilst the solution dissipates through your body.  I was told not to play with my phone or make calls as the muscle movement in your jaw from talking or fingers from messaging can affect the scan.  She was right, the solution made me feel no different.

After an hour I had to empty my bladder and then was taken into the PET scanning room.   The PET scanner is much smaller than the MRI so you don't have that claustrophobic feeling when you're in there.  Also, a nice touch in this hospital was that the ceiling had a massive photograph of a sunny sky and palm trees so I could imagine I was actually lying on a nice beach rather than in an oncology unit.

During this scan you don't need to go though a series of exercises where you have to breathe in, hold your breath whilst the scan is taken then exhale.  You can breathe normally throughout the scan.  The scanning machine isn't noisy at all like an MRI and the scan takes between 15 and 60 minutes.  Mine took 30 minutes and I literally just had to lie flat and still on my back with my arms over my head whilst the machine moved back and forth into various positions.  After that I was done.

The results will be with my surgeon Thursday afternoon but then have to go to my oncologist so I envisage getting the results early next week.

I really didn't need to be as anxious as I was about the PET scan so I hope anyone facing something similar takes comfort from this.

You wee out the radioactive solution naturally over the next 24 hours but they do advise that you shouldn't hold babies or go near pregnant ladies for 8 hours following the scan.  I haven't had any other side effects apart from I am tired and hot!  Since we got home I have literally felt like a little oven and I have been making Vanessa (The Other VW) touch me all over to see if I am hot!!!  She says I am like a little microwave and my thighs and back are the hottest!!

But it really was fine and I am not too anxious about the results.  I was so so anxious about my MRI scan results, the wait for me was only 2 days but it was horrific.  Don't get me wrong, I will probably be anxious the day of the results but I am sure it will be positive given what my surgeon has said.

One of my Egyptian clients who is a surgeon called me yesterday to see how I was getting on.  I confided in him that it had been a bit more painful than I had expected and I felt recovery was relatively slow.  He reminded me this is classified as major surgery and it would take time but I am a bit restless and anxious to get back to work.

I have an appointment with my surgeon tomorrow-this is my 6 week post surgery check up.  I still do have some post surgery side effects-I still have absolutely no bladder sensation at all and the other day I went 10 hours without having a wee even though I had drunk 2-3 litres of cordial.  I just totally forgot and felt nothing.  My mum keeps messaging me now saying 'remember to go for a wee!'.  I have some abdominal and lower back pain and am still really swollen.  I am still suffering badly from nausea and constipation.  I can't bear some smells now and I wonder if it's hormone related.  Anything vanilla scented really makes me feel terribly sick.  Perfumes I loved I now can't stand.  Some of my lipsticks make me feel queasy.  Eeek I hope it's temporary or there is going to be the worlds biggest blogsale.  But I am definitely definitely on the mend.  Having Vanessa around this week has definitely lifted my spirits immensely as well. 

Without my phone glued to my hand today I had some time to reflect that actually I am quite proud of myself for the way I have dealt with this.  I have kept my spirits high (with the help of many of you!!!), have never fell into depression and I have barely shed a tear.  I think I have helped people by raising awareness and sharing my story and I will continue to do so.  I am 100% sure that IF I had gone for regular smears I would not have cancer.  I would have caught and treated it at CIN1/2 or 3 stage and not when it was cancer.

I seem to finish all these posts saying two things 1) A huge thank you for the continuous support I have received since my diagnosis, both support for me personally and my blog (especially to Gemma and Latasha for co-ordinating all the guest posts) 2) If you're of the age where you can have a smear test (25 or over in the UK) and are overdue for yours PLEASE go.  It's gynaecological cancer awareness month and lots in the press at the moment.  Have a look at the #timetotest and #NoFearGoSmear hashtags on twitter for loads of information.   It's definitely worth five short minutes of embarrassment for peace of mind.  I just kept thinking during mine that my doctor had seen thousands of these!!  Now, having had 3 operations and several internal examinations (and my surgeon is male) it doesn't bother me at all, I just spread my legs and think of my latest make up lusts!


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