A Tall Cup of Barium

I try my best to gulp down a giant cup of a barium milkshake without gagging. It’s Monday and I’m still dealing with the awful side effects of Thursday’s chemo session. I can hardly manage to get down regular food, let alone this giant cup of citrus flavoured chalk. I say something light and meaningless to my husband who is doing his best to navigate in and out of Toronto traffic. I’m on my way to Princess Margaret Hospital where I am to have my third CT scan since September. I’m trying desperately to overcome the awful feeling of dread I have in the pit of my stomach. Ian swears loudly and slams on the breaks narrowly missing a cab who has aggressively moved over into our lane.

I start to think about how naive I was preparing for my first CT scan. “This is just precautionary. It’s very unlikely that we will find anything” my Oncologist reinsured me. “98% of the time when the cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes it doesn’t become metastatic”. I felt completely healthy and wasn’t the least bit concerned, when for the first time, I changed into a hospital gown in the medical imaging department of Toronto Western. Cancer was going to be my big wake-up call. I was going to loose my hair, go through six hard months of chemo and radiation, adjust my life goals and become a better well rounded person because of it.

I strip down to my underwear in a tiny worn-out grey change room. I can hear the chatter of the other patients who are also waiting to be scanned. The outfit I change into leaves me feeling oddly vulnerable. The combination of two stiff blue hospital gowns, one opening to the back and one opening to the front, minimally conceal how naked and defenceless you are.

A short nurse in her mid thirties calls my name. “Did you drink all your milkshake?” she asks all smiles. I nod. She guides me to the imaging room and places a small cup of ‘milkshake’ in my hand and tells me to drink up. I awkwardly pull myself up onto the CT scanner attempting to keep as much of my modesty intact as possible. She gives me a well practice speech about drinking lots and allergic reactions, while she inserts an I.V. into my forearm. “This is going to make you feel like your urinating… Don’t worry your not.” I nod. She leaves the room.

“The chemo has worked, there is less cancer,” I repeat to myself as machine starts to make whirling sounds. I know deep down that this wont change my results but still I repeating it over and over again squeezing my fists together. It has to be working, because I don’t think I can handle the alternative. An overly cheerful female voice chimes out from the machine dictating my breathing patterns.

The phone rings. It’s Tuesday morning, one day after my CT scan and I’m on the couch still resting off chemo side effects. The caller ID shows that the number is blocked. Ian answers and puts the phone on speaker. “Hello, is Anna there?” my oncologist croons in his smooth British accent. I sit up straight, he never calls.

“Yes” I faintly reply…………………

I contemplated ending my post here, but my husband informed me that a cliff hanger is not appropriate in these types of blogs. As you who know me well will know, holding back from doing something inappropriate is very hard for me. I think of it as my greatest strength and my greatest weakness.

“Hi, Anna it’s Dr. A. First off, don’t worry everything is fine.” He brightly declares. “Actually the scan results are good news,” I take a deep breath and try to listen further. My mind is struggling to grasp the term ‘good news’.

“There has been significant improvement in both your liver and lungs. I can go over the exact wording of the report with you later. The reason I’m calling is there is an irregularity at the end of your portacath. It could be nothing, or it could be a clot. The problem is, the area in question is too deep to tell for sure what it is. Its not bad news, its more of an inconvenience, but I’d like you to come in today if you can.” I take a giant breath in and try to absorb what he said. Finally the chemo has worked.

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