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Life, has been busy! And really, that’s a good thing. I happen to like that my life is so focused on something other than cancer, that I have not written a blog post in over three months! Although I must admit I have had the best of intentions, because I know some like to be updated. But my job has really had me engrossed in psychology, IB, and US History. Nonetheless, here is a little story from cancerland.

About a month ago, I went in for my 6 month scan. In July, I tried to talk the PA into waiting until December, but she said that she felt better if I got one in September. I have never gone more than 6 months without a scan, so she thought it wise to continue with this plan. So, I agreed and scheduled the scan for the afternoon. I am trying to take as little time off of work as possible, and this allowed me to go after work. The only problem is not being able to eat 8 hours prior to the scan. Not eating all day while sitting around the house is one thing, not eating while working a full day is another. I made it through the day and off I went for yet another scan.

It never really gets any easier. The anxiety, the anticipation, the “what ifs” that go along with being scanned. What if a new spot of cancer shows up? What if it moves into a vital organ? What if I have to go back on chemotherapy? I thought after 10 or so scans, these worrisome thoughts might decrease, but no such luck.

The scan was on a Thursday, so I promised I wouldn’t bug the doctor until AT LEAST Monday. I did manage to wait patiently, but, finally, Monday afternoon I emailed the office and requested a copy of the scan report. It took until Wednesday, but I did get the report. I am reading through it and it sounds like good news. Nothing new, all known spots are stable, and then I saw IT! Thrown in, almost at the end of the report, was the phrase “new suspicious mass on adrenal gland.”

As I let this sink in, questions started popping up in my head. Which side? How big? What is the SUV uptake? All of this information usually accompanies news of a new location of spread. But, it said nothing other than that one phrase. It really bothered me, but I had to go with what the report said. I started googling adrenal gland information and looking at treatment possibilities. You know me. I am the “information is power” kind of person. Ultimately, I had to wait until my appointment on Friday.

As we sat in the oncologist’s office, I admit I was pretty nervous. Not that anytime is a good time for the disease to progress, but having just started teaching in a new building, I was extra nervous about what this could mean in terms of treatment, time off, etc.

My doctor pulled up the scan and we looked at it together. We looked, and looked. He asked me if I saw anything. (like I would know????) He said he didn’t see anything. He suggested that maybe it was a mistake. Really? a mistake? Is that even possible? I think he sensed my frustration and knew I was not going to be able to rest easy unless we had actual confirmation that it was indeed a mistake. So, he pulled out his cell phone and called the radiologist who read the scan and wrote the report. Of course, this person was unavailable and we had to wait. In the meantime, I headed to the infusion room for my Zometa.

While getting the infusion, my oncologist came to the room to inform me that the scan report was indeed an error. It was supposed to read “NO suspicious mass on adrenal gland” as opposed to “NEW suspicious mass on adrenal gland.” The following week he even emailed me an amended copy of the scan report.

Now, overall, I am relieved. The mistake was in my favor and I am certainly glad that we caught the mistake. BUT…..and this is a pretty big BUT…….I couldn’t help but wonder what if it had gone the other way? Are mistakes like this common? My oncologist seemed to think so. I have to say that I have a lot less faith in the scan reports. It never really occurred to me that mistakes like this are common. We are talking about health. Not just health, but situations that have serious implications. Life and death type of implications.

I have always felt that I am lucky to receive excellent medical care. I hear the horror stories, but really never have encountered anything like this before. I guess in my situation, one is bound to have an experience or two, or more come up in which mistakes are made. Perhaps I’m lucky to have gone this long without such an experience.

So did I learn anything from this? Well, yes actually. I learned that ONE word can make a huge difference in meaning. I learned to question medical professionals, because they are human and can make mistakes. And, even though this isn’t new, I learned that you must always be an active participant in your health care. That is the best advice I can give to anyone when interacting with the medical community. Question, confirm, and even annoy until you are satisfied. It can make a huge difference!

My next visit to the oncologist will be in early January. Unless, of course, there are symptoms or problems that would require an earlier visit. Fingers crossed that I don’t have to see them until January. I do not know when my next scan will be, but this one has left me with a few more gray hairs. I am in no hurry to go back, but, with a stage IV diagnosis, there will always be a next time.

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