Heather Von St. James
Courageous Mother, Wife and Survivor of Mesothelioma
Scans + Anxiety = Scanxiety: My Biannual Checkup in Boston
Scanxiety: Noun [skan-zi-etee]: Uneasiness waiting for ones scans after cancer treatment. ie: I get Scanxiety the week or so before I go to Boston for my check ups.
All kidding aside, it's that time of year again-- my biannual trek to Boston to have my checkup with the good Dr. David Sugarbaker and his amazing team. I always get nervous, ALWAYS! Although, as more and more time goes on, the less the scanxiety affects me. Now, instead of the whole month, it usually hits a week or so before the appointment.
This time last year my scanxiety was the worst it had ever been. I was feeling physically very turned, short of breath, and I had started running a fever the week before I was to go to Boston. I immediately called my local oncologist. He said it was best to keep the Boston appointment and that he would follow up when I got home. In the meantime, my symptoms sounded like the flu or pneumonia, so my doctor prescribed antibiotics. I started taking them and I felt well enough to get on the plane for Boston.
When I got there, I immediately went to bed. I had noticed I was short of breath walking through the airport and through the hotel. I convinced myself that my mesothelioma cancer was back. I prayed a lot that night and prayed hard. I got up early the next morning for my CT scan and my scanxiety level was the highest it had ever been.
When I laid on the bed for my scan and the machine kicked on, I prayed, "please no cancer, please no cancer, please." Before I knew it, I was done and off to my appointment at the office. When I finally got in the exam room, the Fellow came in to see me. He could tell I was anxious. He asked how I was and I bluntly told him I felt like shit. When he told me there was no cancer anywhere, I just started to cry. I was so relieved. All the tension and worry started running out of me in the form of tears. So I asked, “Why do I feel so awful?” He called Dr. Sugarbaker in. When he looked at the scan, he told me that I had pneumonia and was putting me in a room on the 11th floor.
I was so relieved that the cancer wasn't back that I didn't realize the seriousness of pneumonia with one lung. I spent the next few days in the hospital in Boston getting mega doses of antibiotics and x rays. It had been 6 years since I had been a patient up there, but I still knew the doctors and nurses. I was even able to talk with a gentleman who was scheduled the next morning to have the same surgery I had. I guess once a patient advocate, always a patient advocate, even when I'm the patient!
I had another scan at home a few weeks later to make sure the pneumonia was gone and again 6 months after that back in Boston. So here I am again—October and getting ready to go back. It's been almost 7 years since my initial diagnosis. Every time I go to Boston, I make sure to meet with other newly diagnosed patients. I speak at the new patient orientation; I meet with patients in the hallways and in the office. Friendships are made, information is exchanged, and I keep in touch with a lot of them. On this trip I get to meet personally with 3 people whose lives have been affected. It gets me out of my head, my mind off of me and on what matters-- giving people hope.
So I have a little scanxiety. A prayer and good vibes sent my way always help put my mind at ease and knowing so many of you are out there thinking of me gives me more peace than you can know. So as I head to Boston, I feel your energy and I humbly thank you for it. And as soon as I know my results, I'll let you all know. But, I’m pretty sure it's all good.