Hello doctor,

You will probably never meet me in person. Your name will be on the bill my insurance receives from the hospital. Your signature will be on the line after the end of the report as you mumble report after report into the system. You will never know my story. I am my organs to you — organs with anomalies that you have to squint and sometimes lean back to look for. You look for spots that don’t belong in the image and measure whether they grow or shrink over time. A body riddled with cancer. It can be quite challenging to look through all the CT scan cuts, day after day, hour after hour.

Each of those films has a story behind it. Mine has a 40 some year old woman with metastatic breast cancer. A story that starts a whole month before the upcoming scan appointment when she starts to wonder what her scan will show this time. She pretends to ignore those thoughts because her cancer is incurable. She secretly hopes that everything disappears this time. She looks at her young kids and hopes that your scans will not see cancer this time. She hopes that her treatment continues to work. She stays up at night and contemplates various scenarios should things change. She wonders if she will see Thanksgiving next year. She wonders how many more CT scans she has left in her lifetime. She wonders if she can just cancel all her appointments and move to another country and pretend she never had cancer. She then shakes her head and gets busy.

Then the day before the scan arrives, she is more nervous than usual. Kids annoy her. She doesn’t feel like eating anything. All she can think of is the possibility of her life changing after 24 hours. She wonders if she gets another extension for 3 months on her treatment. She barely sleeps that night. She wonders. And thinks.

The next day, she gets to radiology and gets a number. She looks at others who look much older and much sicker. She wonders if that would be her in a few months. She gets called and is rushed off to the changing room. She wonders if her kids made it to school. She thinks of her husband in the waiting room. She changes into her gown. With her clothes, she hangs up her control in the locker.

Then she waits again. Another rushed technician gives her a vat of barium to drink. She sits and sips the barium listening to Anderson Cooper complain. She tries to cope with the nausea caused by her anxiety and barium. Then she sits on the edge of her seat, wondering when she will get called so she can be done with this ordeal.

She lies down in the scanner. She has an IV in place for which she was poked 3 times and was called a “hard prick.” She has a pillow under her knees, and she is slid into a giant device in a cold room. She holds her breath when instructed, letting it go only when told. She hears the machine, and the circular gadget spins around. She is being seen by the technician in the other room, both from inside and outside. She lays as still as possible — still nauseous and anxious.

Then the contrast is pushed, and a bolus of heat travels through her body till it hits her lower body. It feels warm as if she just peed in her pants, but this is her umpteenth scan, so she knows that it is the contrast. She also knows to drink 6-7 glasses of water that day to keep her kidneys flushed. That’s what the nurse who put her IV in told her. She knows that she will later have diarrhea due to the barium she drank. She laments that the goddamn mocha flavor of the barium has ruined the taste of her favorite latte for her.

But she does all this. Just to live, to survive metastatic breast cancer with scans every three months. The machine stops. The IV comes out, and she is let go. She quietly goes back to the locker and changes, tired from this morning of scans. She still has to go to nuclear medicine to get her bones scanned, which will take another 45 minutes at least. Another machine to befriend.

After all those scans, she goes home. And she waits, counting each tick and tock of the clock. It’s hard to distract herself. She could never decide if the bone scanner moves slowly or her life. Twenty-four hours later, her anxiety is making it hard to breathe. Those who love her also wait. Her life is on hold. She wants to sign up for another art class but is unsure if she would be on the same treatment after these scans. She needs to do Christmas shopping, but she can’t get herself to go out. She needs to sign up her kids for classes but isn’t sure how available she will be. She needs to respond to that job offer that came through.

And when she can’t take it anymore, she gets her oncologist paged. He is just a tiny bit short with her. It has not been reported by radiology, he says.

She tries to breathe. There is another night ahead of her while those films sit in your office to be read.

She has cancer, this is her life, and she has to cope.

You must be really busy, you have a life too. But you look at those spots, tomorrow, whether they are bigger or smaller, hopefully, you will ponder what it would mean to her to get those results. You will know what she went through to hear your “impression.”

It is just another scan for you. But when you have read it, she can resume that fragmented thing she currently calls life.

Please, dear doctor, give me my results; my life is on hold.

[On Dec 1, 2020, Dheeraj Raina made minor edits in grammar, punctuation, spelling, and style in this post and added the featured photo by Harlie Raethel on Unsplash]

25 Comments

    1. Yes. I know I do. I hope that all the patients I read for know that I read each case with care, and I don’t rush through any. The list is long, and the stories behind them hidden. But I do know, and I do care. I have cancer too.

  1. Sending love and strength to you. I can’t imagine the anxiety you’re feeling. I went through a similar wait this summer after a mass was discovered on my pancreas. My news was good. The wait for the biopsy results was brutal. You have so many faceless supporters out there. Stay strong.

  2. I’m an oncologist I don’t know if it brings you any measure of comfort to know often times the radiologist call us to celebrate good scans and tell us how sad they are when the scans go the other way. I know you are a psychiatrist and have deep knowledge of how the world of medicine goes but was not sure if you knew of this. We all stand with you. You inspire me with each post

  3. Scanxiety is the pits! I have learned now to make an appointment the following day with my oncologist so I don’t fret about when she is going to call, and we can look at the images together. It has really helped with my sanity. *Hugs*

  4. God bless you. A friend shared this on her page. I am praying for you. What an amazing, strong and beautiful person you are.

  5. Boy…this post sure resonates with me! I just had my scans Monday. A nurse emailed me Tuesday with a brief sentence that said ‘scans were good and stable.’ I emailed back to see if I could get copy of written reports. She emailed them to me within minutes. Met with my oncologist (after waiting in the exam room for 3 hours!) yesterday (Thursday) to review. I’d highlighted terminology on the reports that was new to me so she could explain. Then we reviewed the crappy chemo side effects. Then hours after I returned home, I contemplated the relief I felt about not having to change drugs…but also the concern that this chemo that I get every 3 weeks (for 15 months already) via infusion is really messing with my eyes. So now I see an eye specialist who is monitoring closely…and the anxiety of going to those appts is beginning to rank up there with scanxiety. Your post is perfectly expressed! Thank you for sharing your experience. Sending all good wishes to you for a joyful holiday season. 💞

  6. I feel badly that your scans don’t get read within a few hours! I work radiology in Pediatric Hospitals and nothing waits that long; not an x-ray, an Ultrasound, a CT. I’d like to think that, even without knowing a personal patient story of this depth, that every radiologist delivers excellent and timely care for each and every patient. If turnover time is >24 hours, there is a problem with the imaging practice, or communication of results to the referring MD. Wishing you well.

  7. As the spouse of a cancer patient, I can totally relate to this post! Scan days are tough for everyone–the cancer patient and the caregivers. I try to keep myself extra busy on those days.

  8. Thank you for sharing this perspective. As a radiologist, I also very much appreciate the oncologist’s reply above. I want to reassure you…and all patients… that there have been many scans where in the midst of my mumbling report after report, I have to pause. I pause to cry…to pray…for you, my patient. We don’t see your face and you likely won’t see ours. But we see…perhaps more clearly than most physicians …how this disease is ravaging your body. There have been many a patient that I make a note to follow up on…late at night… after staying late to devote the time and attention needed to each of those scans in the sometimes seemingly endless list…and after getting my own babies into bed….just to see how you are doing. To see if the next drug worked better. To check the palliative care note to see how your husband is holding up.
    How your kids are doing. You are our patient just as much as you are your oncologist’s patient. We see you. We care. Please know you are more to us than organs. And for those rads who have forgotten to think about the story that goes along with the organs…I hope they will read your beautiful post and remember.

    1. Thank you very much for writing this touching comment. This is Uzma’s husband, also a physician, trying to keep her blog alive. Unfortunately, Uzma passed away the same day as your comment. She died at peace, in her home, surrounded by family, after about 5 weeks of hospice and long after both of us had stopped even reading radiologists’ reports or trying to see the scans because we could no longer bear to look.

      If you find Uzma’s words impactful, please consider reading and reviewing her book on Amazon, and recommending it to others. Her book goes by the same name as the blog: Left Boob Gone Rogue.

      1. I have followed Uzma’s story for long . Praying for peace and strength for all of you. Reading her posts have been inspiring . I am a radiologist working in a big cancer centre and will always remember her words while I look at my long list of follow up scans and remember that each scan means so much more than a lot of organs .

  9. Radiologist here – each cancer case – we do see your age and get sad and relate when you’re the same age as us. Most rads don’t leave a case unreported for 24 hours. You should also realize you can always ask for a same day read. You can ask the radiologist to show you your scan and review it with you before you leave. Or you can call and ask to speak to the radiologist. I’ve never said no in my years of practice. It just takes knowing that you can take charge and remember the radiologist is your doctor and will be there for you if you ask. If they refuse to talk to you, talk to the site manager and inform them you’re taking your business elsewhere.

    1. Thank you for being the kind of radiologist you are. I accompanied my wife Uzma to almost all her appointments. Never were we told in our patient and caregiver roles that we could speak to the radiologist and no radiologist ever attempted to speak to us. So what may sound good in theory probably doesn’t happen in practice very much at all.

  10. Oh I just saw your comment. I’m so sorry for your loss. To God we belong and to Him we return. I wish ease for all your suffering.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s