My oncologist read the radiologist's report just a couple of days after the first PET scan was performed. The news was great--it showed no evidence that those things in my lungs were cancer. Six nodes--three in each lung--were noted on the report. They ranged from 5 mm to 11 mm across, but they showed no increased metabolic activity. Comparing to the (kidney) CT from fifteen months prior, it was completely reasonable to allow that the nodes might be nothing to worry about. "...however, we will keep a close eye on them," she promised.
Hypodense lesions in the liver that had been noted on the more-recent CT scan (the one just prior to colon surgery) were not showing up on the PET scan. One might have assumed this meant "no evidence of disease", however, the radiologist added a further comment, "Please note size of liver lesions is below the sensitivity of the PET." Bummer.
If you stack up enough radiologists' reports, you begin to notice that each writer's personality shines through the medical jargon. Some radiologists seem more optimistic than others. Some are more meticulous in the way they report findings, too. It is only by following a series of scans over many months that the true story of what cancer is doing (or not doing) becomes evident. At least, that is how it has played out in my case.
If you want to be an advocate for yourself, reading your own radiology reports is vital. Whether you download them (patient portals are The Best Thing Ever) before meeting with your doctor, or you obtain a copy from your doctor in person is a decision to consider carefully. Trust your medical team, and always read the reports. The two are not mutually exclusive.
* * *
At the clinic for the final visit before chemo began, my unsteadiness concerned the hematologist. Every time I stood up, I became dizzy or blacked-out altogether for a few seconds. I developed a new habit of holding onto something sturdy each time I stood up, to hopefully remain upright. Sometimes it didn't work and I would need to sit right back down, wait, and try again.
Upon hearing this development, the good doctor had some interesting tests for me that day. Patrick joined me in the exam room.
Doc: Please stand up, and walk across the floor.
Me (unspoken): Ha. I got this. [walk across the floor without incident]
Doc: OK, now walk back, heel-to-toe.
Me: Ha! I've seen my kids do this at the pediatrician's a million times. Or...twenty, maybe. [commence walking heel-to-toe like a boss] No problemo. [swoon] OK, maybe a slight problemo. But. I did it. I totally did it, and that one little wobble should not count. Maybe he didn't even notice! I will now SIT DOWN without wobbling, as though everything is normal because: Everything Is Normal. Also, if he asks me to walk like a duck next (as the pediatrician always asks the kids) I am refusing.
Patrick, sounding dubious: You couldn't see a thing, could you?
Me: I can't hear you.
Doc: OK stand here in front of me with your arms out in front of you like this. [He stretched out his arms, and held my hands, keeping my arms parallel to the floor.] Good. Now close your eyes.
Me: This is weird. [eyes closed]
Just then, the sneaky doctor let go of my hands, and almost immediately I toppled backwards, nearly giving already-stressed Patrick a heart attack as he lurched forward to catch me. Needless to say, this was an EPIC FAIL of remaining vertical.
The doctor practically hurtled out of the room, calling over his shoulder as he went, "I will be right back. I need to get you some paperwork."
Me: Oh good. A little paperwork is probably just what I need right now.