Where The Popsicles Are-101

There’s a reason they call them waiting rooms.

Part of this process involves waiting. It is part and parcel of dealing with any serious disease. Most of us, when we see something is wrong, want it fixed, and we want it fixed right now. With medical science, or arts, things don’t work that way. The waiting becomes the norm, not the exception. You wait for an appointment, you wait for a diagnosis, you wait for treatment, you wait for lab work, you wait to see the doctor, and you wait to see if the treatment is working. Then you wait to see what happens next.

Joanie and I had our own ways of coping with the waiting, especially in the aptly named waiting rooms. She would read, either a book or some old magazine. I would often read the paper, do a crossword, or try to find some way to amuse us both.

One time, when we were in the waiting room at Mid-Dakota Clinic, waiting to go in for one of her infusions, I noticed the word above the desk where she had checked in. The sign read, “Receptionist.” I thought about that word for a moment, and then decided to see how many words I could make out of that one word. By the time they finally called for Joanie, they were very busy that day, I had written down over 300 words made from that one word. Joanie didn’t seem the least bit impressed with my accomplishment, but, if anything, it helped me pass the time in the waiting room that day, and it helped put the reason we were there for in the first place in the background for awhile.

We were back in the waiting mode again after Joanie got out of the hospital on the 19th.  Now we were looking ahead to the 30th, and the PET scan they would do to see what progress had been made after these three somewhat difficult treatments. We had our fingers crossed, and Joanie would, in the quiet of the night, be saying her silent prayers, as she often did.

Joanie recovered well from her stay in the hospital, faster than I would have thought possible given what had happened. She wasn’t back to work full time, but after a few days at home, she was quite anxious to go to her office, at least in the afternoons. I think the idea of work helped keep her mind off of the scheduled PET scan in eleven days, and the meeting with Dr. Carson on June 2nd. While she never said as much, I couldn’t help but think the scan wasn’t on her mind. I know it was on mine.

I was waiting to see if there was a difference between what they would find on this scan compared to the one they did on February 14th. I had no idea of what to expect, especially given the amount of trouble Joanie had after the first three treatments. We knew the chemotherapy had been given to her, and made her sick every time, but as to the  progress of the treatment we would have to wait.

On May 30th, I took Joanie to St. Alexius Medical Center for her PET/CT scan, and soon the waiting would be over. The scan itself doesn’t take that long once they give her the shot of radioactive glucose, and it has had a chance to circulate. The plan for us was to pick up a disc of the scan to take with us to Minneapolis for Dr. Carson, along with the radiologist’s notes. That material would be available the next day.

I’m sometimes impatient. The next morning, the first thing I did was to go to the clinic, and get a copy of the radiologist’s notes. What I found turned out to be good news, bad news deal.

The radiologist wrote, “Since 2/14/2006, there has been a decrease in number of abnormal regions of FDG uptake in the chest and liver regions, however regions of uptake still remain on today’s scan. These findings correlate with some response to chemotherapy, although residual neoplasm is still present in multiple locations. Otherwise the examination is stable.”

I sat down, let out a big exhale, and began to parse his words, though I understood them pretty well at first reading. FDG, by the way is the radioactive glucose the inject, and it is the material that lights up on the scan. So, the good news was there had been a decrease in the number of regions that lit up in the chest and liver. The bad news, was there were still areas that lit up, but his notes were silent on where those areas were. I suspect Dr. Carson will be able to determine that when she views the scan.

He did say there had been “some response.” My reaction to those words, was muted. I had hoped for a stronger message. I suppose I was happy there had been some decrease, and now, my hope looked toward the end of this treatment plan, and the next PET scan.

I called Joanie with the news. She never asked to see the notes herself, but just relied on me to tell her what she needed to know. I told her the treatment seemed to be working, but there was still some work to do. When she asked me if there was a lot of work to do, or what, I just told her that there were fewer areas that lit up this time than lit up back in February, but there were still some areas that lit up, but the radiologist said there has been  “some response” to chemotherapy. I told her we would have a better idea of what all this meant when we met with Dr. Carson in a couple of days, but at least there was some good news. I told her those first three treatments may have been really hard on her, but at least there was some progress, and that was the good news we were going to focus on right now. At least we knew it was working.

Now, we would wait some more. This time we would only have to wait a couple of days. We were scheduled to meet with Dr. Carson in Minneapolis on Friday, June 2nd when we would get her assessment of the scan, and an idea of what she might have in mind regarding changing of the treatment. Joanie and I assumed she would drop one of the drugs, but we didn’t know.

It was now Wednesday, and we would be leaving for Minneapolis the next day to meet with Carson. When I picked Joanie up from her office, I mentioned something about a mild celebration of the good news aspect of the scan, and she agreed that might be in order.

That evening, we ordered a pizza, and opened a bottle of wine. Though she didn’t eat much of the pizza, or drink much of the wine, at least we took the moment to celebrate this small victory. Joanie was relaxed, and chose to ignore the bad news aspect of the scan. She, instead had grabbed on to the good news of the report, and now she was focusing on the fact that at least it had worked some. Her outlook now was that the next three treatments, regardless of how they might be changed, would work as well.

As I learned over these last 10 years, it is the small victories that mean so much. They are the ones that give you the hope you need to keep on keepin’ on.

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About Bob Kallberg

Retired reporter. Concentrating now on recounting Joanie's 12 year battle with cancer, a battle she waged with extreme courage, determination and an indomitable spirit, that, for me, serves as an example.
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