The on-going, first-hand tale of a journey through medical oncology... and what happens after.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

CT scan results - verbatim

For those of you that have not had the opportunity to undergo a CT scan, it is not the most unpleasant diagnostic examination that you can experience. CT is the abbreviation for "Computed axial Tomography," which is sometimes referred to as "CAT," and it is basically an x-ray machine that spins around your body continuously recording digital data about your insides. It takes about five minutes, once you have ingested two quarts' worth of barium sulfate milkshakes over an hour (I chose the vanilla over the berry flavor) and are injected with an additional IV contrast agent (iodine-based, clear solution) during the scan itself. My PowerPort was accessed for this IV, making the whole process pretty straightforward. The oral contrast (barium sulfate) makes it easier to identify the stomach and intestines, and the IV contrast (iodine) makes it easier to "see" my blood vessels and heart. Both contrast agents are eliminated by my liver and kidneys. By the way, the IV contrast agent makes you feel warm inside (one CT technician warned me that it might make me feel like I'd wet my pants - but my experience was more of a warm, metallic tongue first and then a very slightly sweaty sensation spreading down my body and then up into my head). Then the table that I was laying on slides into a circular tunnel (not claustrophobic at all), the scanner starts to slowly spin around me, and a feminine machine voice says, "Breathe in and hold your breath." The table slowly slides out of the machine, and the voice says, "Breathe." It's good to be reminded to breathe every so often. And now we're all done.

Except for the waiting.

Since I am meeting with my oncologist on Wednesday next week and need to take the imagery/results with me, I asked the CT technician when the scan results would be available. He said that I could pick up the digital imagery immediately (since it is digital and all!), but that the radiologist would not look at the images until later that day. So I picked up the imagery and final report the next afternoon, and here is what it says [comments in square brackets are mine]:

HISTORY: Followup colon cancer in a 46-year-old male. He was initially diagnosed in March 2007. He underwent surgical resection in June 2007 [actually, the surgery was in April 2007, and chemo began in June]. Since that time, he has been treated with chemotherapy.

PROCEDURE: Following administration of oral and IV contrast, axial 5mm images were obtained from the lung apices [plural of apex - the top of the lungs] through the symphysis pubis [just below the bladder, basically].

FINDINGS: The lungs remain clear. No developing mass or nodule seen in either lung. No local infiltrate is present bilaterally [I believe that this is a redundant sentence, given the one immediately preceding it, but it might mean that the radiologist did not see any symmetrical "features" that should not be there]. No pleural effusion [excess fluid in the space around the lungs] is present bilaterally and no pericardial effusion [fluid around the heart] is seen. No areas of pleural thickening [increase in the width of the pleura - the lining of the sac that surrounds the lungs] are identified. No developing adenopathy [large/swollen lymph nodes] is seen within the chest. Heart size is normal [whew!].

The liver is normal in size. Numerous small low density nodules are again seen throughout the liver, which measure up to a maximum of about 11mm. All of these nodules were seen on the prior study from 5/22/2007 and appear stable in size and number. No enlarging or new mass is seen within the liver. The gallbladder, bile ducts, and pancreas appear normal. The spleen is normal in size. A tiny low density nodule [this usually means "fluid-filled" and is not cancerous] is seen on image 51, measuring about 6mm. This was present on the study from 5/22/2007 and has diminished in size. Adrenal glands and kidneys appear normal.

Postsurgical changes are present within the pelvis. A suture line is noted at the rectosigmoid junction [where the rectum connects with the large intestine] compatible with partial colonic resection [the surgery I had]. The remaining colon appears unremarkable [my new favorite diagnostic word!]. No areas of bowel wall thickening are seen. Small bowel appears unremarkable. No dilated bowel loops are present. No developing adenopathy is seen within the abdomen or pelvis. No ascites [accumulation of fluid in the peritoneal cavity - basically the area below your lungs and above your crotch] is present. Bladder appears unremarkable.

1. No evidence for developing metastatic disease or recurrent neoplastic disease within the chest, abdomen, and pelvis.
2. Clear lungs.
3. Stable appearance and number of multiple small low density nodules in the liver. A prior ultrasound was performed on 3/29/2007, showing these to represent cysts. No new or enlarging mass is seen within the liver.
4. No developing adenopathy is seen within the chest, abdomen, and pelvis.
5. Postsurgical changes related to partial distal [toward the end] colon resection. Area of anastomosis [the site of the surgical reconnection of the two parts of my colon] appears unremarkable, without developing wall thickening. No adenopathy is seen within this region.
6. No ascites is present.
7. Tiny nonspecific low density nodule is seen at the anterior margin of the spleen, diminished in size when compared with the study on 5/22/2007.

So, with the caveat that I have not spoken to my oncologist yet, I think this CT scan result bespeaks quite good news. Thanks for your interest and attention, and you will now be returned to your regularly scheduled programming....

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Hello. Remember me? I've been "off-blog" for nearly a month now, and have been feeling more and more guilty about that. So, where have I been, you ask? Well, I have been wallowing in the distraction of not having any more chemo-therapy to endure. I have been swimming in the warm waters of a slowly healing body, experiencing the flavors of beer, wine, scotch, and ethnic foods as often as possible. In short, I have been trying to reclaim some semblance of normalcy at the end of Ed's cancer-year.

My fingertips tingle a bit all the time, but especially when I exert any pressure with them (like typing) - and I have a lot of trouble with the collar buttons on my work shirts each morning. I mistrust my fine finger coordination, and have found that I drop things more often than I think I should. My feet tingle constantly too - and this is especially difficult at night (when I think that my feet are extremely cold but they are just, ummmm, tingling).

I would say, though, that getting *away* from cancer-world is virtually impossible. My family and I went on a very relaxing cruise in the Eastern Caribbean. We enjoyed warm weather, calm seas, wonderful meals and no responsibilities for seven straight days. We enjoyed each other's company as well as the companionship of several hundred strangers, and were treated royally by the staff and crew of the Celebrity Millennium. We frolicked on tropical beaches, we enjoyed the massages, the tropical fishes, and the shopping in far-off ports. In short, we had a lot of fun. But I couldn't seem to shake the nagging feeling that my world is still shifted from the *way it was*. My port is still bulging out of my upper-right chest, and I know I have a CT scan tomorrow and an appointment with my oncologist next Wednesday.

Respite - a break from the way things are - is essential. "Vacation" is an Americanism that I have never found to encourage relaxation. I tend to try to force too much *stuff* into too little time, and end up stressing out about the content of that time. This cruise ended up being a great respite for me, but only after a couple days' worth of stress about spending money and over-planning daily activities. I am so glad that we went, and glad for the companionship of my wife, my daughter, and my brother-in-law... and for the anonymity of cruising with strangers. Sometimes getting away from "it all" is impossible, but we managed to get away from most of it. And for this I am most grateful!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Toxic clouds with silver linings

OK. I was scheduled to get my 11th (and last) treatment last Thursday. At the previous monthly appointment with my doctor, we had talked about the endgame for my chemo-therapy, and had agreed that the "final" (12th) treatment could be avoided. (Given that my family has had a special vacation planned for December to celebrate the end of chemo, I had decided that I did not want to spend any vacation time feeling chemo-crummy.) So, #11 on November 29 would be the last one... if my blood work was OK. On the 28th I had a blood test to see if the trip to Portland was even needed (this after a reduced dosage of both oxaliplatin and fluorouracil during treatment #10 AND five injections of neupogen to encourage the growth of white cells and neutrophils). The results were mixed (WBC was too low - 2.7 when I need at least 3.0 - while the ANC was a protocol-minimum 1.5), so we decided that it was worth the trip on the 29th.

No go. The blood work up at the clinic in Portland was significantly different from the previous day's test results. WBC was a 2.1 and ANC was 1.3, both far too low to withstand the impact of chemo-therapy. No treatment #11 (unless I want to, ummm, come back a week later for another roll of the bloodwork dice). No thank you, really. I did not get treatment #11, and #12 is off the calendar completely. I need to enjoy this vacation, and I want my family to be able to enjoy it even more. Being tired, and cranky-stinky - well, that doesn't sound like a fun guy to be (or be with) on a vacation. So, the chemo-therapy part of this colon cancer thing is over! But, what about the implications for my "cure" probability?

I am not qualified in any medical sense to speak authoritatively on that question. But, ten solid treatments are under my proverbial belt, though there have been three increasingly difficult delays. Peripheral neuropathy on the rise, even with decreasing dosages. I trust that my body has been hammered pretty hard by this treatment regimen, and that it is telling me that it has had enough. And everyone is different - on so many levels - that the prescribed length and dosage of treatment must be a variable that is flexible. The toxicity of the chemicals used to treat cancer is intentional, in order to wipe out those hypothetically "fast-growing" cancer cells. My body has been surprisingly strong in dealing with the bi-weekly introduction of liquid poison. My fingertips and feet tingle all the time, and I am very sensitive to cold and heat. My insides are producing gases that should not EVER be released in an enclosed space. And the high fatigue right after treatment had extended from 4 days to about 6 days... and now all of that is only going to improve!

Every day is a day closer to a new normalcy, without the added mental weight of anticipating negative blood counts or the infusion of toxic chemistry. I can work on strength recovery, and look forward to daily walks to work. And the vacation is just around the corner.

Now that's a silver lining.

(PS - the next step is a CT scan on December 27th to check the status of my insides (basically looking for anything unusual) followed by a post-chemo appointment with my oncologist in early January and a colonoscopy later in the spring.)