SCAN-xiety. A survivor’s perspective.
If you are a cancer survivor, nothing strikes fear and dread quite like the word scan. While there are many types of scans, they all have a similar impact on the person and their family and friends. They create a sense of anxiety.
There is a struggle between the wanting to know and the blissful joy of ignorance. The build up to a scan can be seriously distracting. In the weeks or days leading up to a scan, it is hard to ignore it. You tell yourself it’s no big deal but you know that’s the moment that could change the course of your life.
That is exactly what I experienced 2017- about one year after my first surgery. After my initial diagnosis, I had surgery to remove the lowest lobe of my right lung (you have three lobes on the right and two on the left). That surgery was deemed “curative.” That meant that I didn’t have to have any other treatments after that operation. I only had to have scans every six months.
The first scan was a breeze. I had just finished healing from the surgery that was supposed to cure me. What did I have to worry about? I still worried. Was it back? Had it spread? Nope. I was good. Off I went back to my pre-cancer attitudes and life. Sure, I was a different person but I was cured.
The second scan was one year after the first surgery. I went into the hospital cocky and came out humbled and shocked. My wife and I had been taking selfies and laughing waiting for the scan results. When the doctor entered the small exam room, his facial expression and body language told us that the high-fives would have to wait. Our life was about to be thrown a seriously unexpected curveball. The cancer was back. Together we peered at the computer monitor. Looking over Dr Hall’s shoulder, he pointed out 13 cysts- all in my two remaining lobes of my right lung. A biopsy surgery was scheduled for two weeks later. It confirmed the initial diagnosis- Stage 4. No longer “cured” and now facing a terminal diagnosis.
The thing about scans is that your life can change at that moment. Every scan is another fork in the road. On one side is the continuation of remission or confirmation of a treatment plan- basically a continuation of your new “normal”. On the other side is a potentially scary course of action into an unfamiliar or unknown path. For most this new path is just that- it is a new treatment or new medications. For others, especially with lung cancer, it is the dreaded step towards a spread. With any cancer, there is a fear of spread. With lung cancer, this is especially likely and greatly feared.
The day that I entered the hospital for a CT scan, I had no idea that my life was about to change, again. That day I arrived at the hospital with business trips booked, plans with family and friends and the thought that I had once again become invincible. In a few short seconds, that all changed.
If you know my story, you know that was there was a new chapter being written. This new path included chemo and immunotherapy every three weeks. Keytruda and Alimpta became my primary weapons in a war that continues to this day.
After more than 20 chemo treatments and 6 additional CT scans (and one brain scan), I have a new-found sense of humility and gratitude on scan day. Every scan is an opportunity to begin anew. We either affirm the current regimen or discover that a new treatment path is needed. Either way, I am humble. This disease is bigger than me. It is cunning and always looking for a way to spread. I am also grateful for the time that I’ve already had and the incredible care that I continue to receive. Either way, my faith is strengthened. While I may not understand it, all things are working for good.
Now I have scans quarterly. On Scan Day, I’m striving for calm. The cocky me is left behind. The new humbly confident me is ready for the next step in this journey. Hope, Faith and Action are central to overcoming SCANxiety. We have HOPE for the future, regardless of the scan results. We strive to make the most of every moment and every day. We have FAITH that we are each part of a much greater plan, even when we don’t always understand the plan- especially in those challenging moments. ACTION will always be the outcome. We will keep fighting. Either on the same path or a new path. We will keep fighting. Until we are unable, there is no other choice.
We need to find a cure to this awful disease. Lung cancer kills more people than any other cancer. If never-smoker cancer was a separate disease, it would be among the top ten cancer killers. It kills more women than breast cancer and more men then prostate cancer. We need a cure not a stigma.
If you let us know about your next scan day, Streak for a Cure will commit to thinking about you and praying for you. Please, let us know. You can reach me at James@streakforacure.org. No days off until we have a cure!
To learn more about Streak for a Cure and find helpful resources, visit website at www.strekforacure.org/about.