An image

Jan 06

There are two nurses that administer PET scans at the hospital where I go for my scans.  I’ve lost count at the number of scans I’ve had, but I love that there are only two nurses.  The nurse takes my blood sugar to confirm I’ve fasted, and then retrieves a radioactive isotope syringe which he carries around in a lead barrel.  (I’m pretty sure this is why there are only two nurses qualified for this particular scan; I can’t imagine how many professional hoops they jumped through in order to be accredited to handle and inject nuclear material into people.)  I’ve been in to this department every 3-6 months since I was first diagnosed in 2012, and the details these nurses remember are heart-warming.  They give me an extra warm blanket upon arrival.  They know I prefer to wait in an intake room in a recliner rather than in the waiting room with trashy morning television blaring.  Once I’ve been injected with the material from the lead barrel, the protocol is that I sit and wait for one hour while the radioactive material “marinates”, for lack of a better word.  Invariably, I use a lot of that time to pray and reflect.  As with every single day of my life, I consciously remind myself not to worry.  Worrying is not productive.  Attaching more worry to things does not serve any purpose other than to darken the present moment I’m experiencing.  Thus, I enjoy my hour wait–but it is a forced enjoyment; a chosen joy.  In a way, it makes the time sweeter: I fought for it.

Once an hour has passed, I use the restroom and then head to the room where the big machines are.  The nurse is fairly quiet as he knows I don’t need the rote directions he usually utters, but it’s also not a small-talk kind of time and place.  On scan days I essentially wear my most comfortable clothes because if my outfit doesn’t have metal in it, I get to wear my own clothes and skip the hospital gown.  (A component of the machine is magnetic, so metal both interferes with the images and could whip around inside the machine.)  It is a total no brainer to wear sweatpants, obviously (though I kind of want to see what would happen with that metal-whipping-around thing.)  As I stretch out on the plank to move into the machine horizontally, I’m greeted with two more warm blankets, one to cover my body, and the other to wrap around my arms like a giant muff.  The muff-blanket creation is my idea/request because the hardest part of holding still is not shivering in the cold room.  I’m flat on my back with my hands together over my head, often in a posture of prayer.  It takes twenty minutes for me to move through the machines as they whir and rumble around me; I think I am lucky to have 20 pure minutes with no connection to the world–a distraction-free 20 minutes is hard to come by in our culture.

I emerge from the machine and confirm that the scan has a STAT read on it.  It goes in the queue for the radiologist, who reads it and compares it to past scans, charts a report, and sends it to my oncologist, Dr. Wonderful.  I always get the results from Dr. Wonderful.

I leave the hospital with time to kill: I make some returns, I sign Greta up for gymnastics, I make an appointment to get my tires rotated.  It is such a paradox that I deal with tire maintenance in the same hour my cancer is measured.  My eyes drift as I wander stores; I never buy anything for myself during this hours-long wait.  Morbidly, I think, “It will be such a waste of money if I find out I am going to die in a few hours.”  Most of the time I can squash these thoughts, but in this reverent window it’s become my ritual to not buy anything.  I choose peace, I pray for mercy, I focus on the pleasure of the moment I’m in.

Brad and I meet at Dr. Wonderful’s office.  It’s my less-frequented office today, but I still know more than a dozen of the staff and say hello as I move through the waiting room, vitals check, exam room checkpoints.  Brad and I sit and watch a family of deer grazing on the hillside behind the office as we wait.  We talk about normal things.  We hold hands.

These scans don’t really matter.  They are a measure of a moment of what’s going on inside my body.  One image.  The scan doesn’t do anything.  We — and by we I actually just mean Dr. Wonderful — gathers information from the scan and use it to plan the best treatment available to treat my cancer.  I actively work against scanxiety, and I choose to not tell many people about scans because I don’t want it on my radar more than it needs to be.  It’s the same as the worry-thing.  There is nothing to be gained in dwelling in the unknown, the fear, the darkness.

The technology at the hospital was down today, so Brad and I heard an unofficial report in the afternoon that turned out to be false.  I got a call at home in the evening from Dr. Wonderful (working well past the close of business hours as he often does); he got the official report from the radiologist and it shows a new spot near my esophagus, more active spots, and bigger spots.  Crap, crap, crap is what that means.  Cancer is progressing, which means it is not being controlled by my current drug(s), so we’re changing treatment again.

Dr. Wonderful is making treatment decisions based on a bajillion variables: what he knows about my body, what he knows about my cancer, past response to various drugs, side effects, my age, vitality, lifestyle.  I’ll see him again on Monday and he’ll give me the official plan along and the insurance-approved version.  I’ll probably be starting weekly infusions of chemotherapy.  I won’t hypothesize much beyond that because it really doesn’t matter.  The details are much less important than the overall plan: do today well.  (But, yes, inquiring minds want to know: it is likely the chemo is harsh enough I’ll lose my hair again.)

What does this mean?  Well, it’s bad news for my overall prognosis.  In order for me to live a long life, we need the cancer to cease and desist.  So that’s what we’ll keep hoping for and praying for.

But, despite this blow, tonight is not a night of wallowing, whining, or crying.  I’ll soothe my sadness with doing things that are good for my soul.  I’m playing princess dominoes with Greta, and Chinese checkers with Maren.  Brad and I will make plans for the future and hope and dream together, as we always do.

We choose joy, we trust God, we love our life.  There is so much I yet want to do.

45 comments

  1. I think I understand just a little bit of what it felt to follow Jesus and sit at his feet, because I see Jesus in you. It feels like reading your words, to learn to consider worry a distraction, to choose joy despite circumstances, and to Do Today Well, despite what tomorrow may bring.
    You have been on my mind and my heart these past few weeks. I continue to pray for you, and for Brad, and for Maren and Greta.
    I am grateful that you have a doctor that you can trust, that your medical team has your best interests at heart and your healthcare is in good hands. May the insurance company see the wisdom of the doctor’s choices.

  2. Jennifer McNeely /

    I am keeping you in my thoughts. I am so touched by your strength and at the same time it sucks that you have to do it. I am so grateful that I found your blog. thank you

  3. Lisa Smith /

    I am without words but I can’t just not respond. Love you Jen. More words to come.

  4. Kelly /

    Doubling….scratch that, tripling up on the prayers and positive vibes being sent your way.

  5. Lindsay l /

    Dang-it.
    Praying for you, the next treatment, and your family. Also appreciate the vulnerability you have in sharing your latest scan news. Much love to you, Lindsay

  6. David /

    Jen,

    We have known you since before you were born. We have watched from afar since your Mother banned us from sporting events (she was right, we were a bit over zealous). You have gown into beautiful, competent and caring wife/mother/friend. I want you to know that your extended family loves you and our thoughts are with you always. You are never alone.

  7. Rebecca /

    Holding space and praying.

  8. Karin /

    My heart hurts, I am holding you up. He holds you closer. Declaring strength, cancer free cells, complete healing, purity, clarity, wisdom, rest, peace that passes human logic and any natural understanding. Strength for Brad. Love.

  9. Stephanie /

    Jen,

    I am at a loss for words. I am sending so much love and many, many prayers.

    xoxo

  10. Praying, praying, praying. 50 years!

  11. Dottie /

    You, my friend, are the epitome of hope in the world of unknowns that we, as Cancer patients, live in. I pray for you and your health and I pray for your family.
    I really enjoy reading your blog. It’s real. I too find peace and joy in all of the amazing things that make up my little world, it’s my calm and it’s crucial. It takes conscious effort to push the fear out of everyday thoughts, but we must.
    Stay awesome, Jen and thank you for giving me hope in my own situation.

  12. Kim Rourke /

    Well, Jen, crap, crap, CRAP is right yet you once again sweep us away from the crap right into the sanctuary of your beautiful family and your indomitable spirit. You bless us, as readers, yet again! Love, hugs, prayers!!!

  13. I am saying a prayer for you tonight. Wishing you, love, peace, strength, and so much time with your babies and Brad. Love.

  14. Ginger /

    Jen,
    None of us know what tomorrow brings so thank you for reminding us to Do Today Well! I am praying for you! I love your attitude and strength. You are a blessing to us all!

  15. Mommaj /

    Jen, my heart has been on you all day. Even though this wasn’t the news you WE had hoped for…. The Lord still holds you in the palm of His hand along with Brad, Maren, Greta… Your whole family!! You are loved and supported by so many. I Thank the Lord for you and your continued perseverance. We are here for you Always!!

  16. Kelly Burns /

    Jen,
    Your strength is inspiring to so many. Sending love and hugs to you!

  17. KellyE /

    You are amazing, even when faced with CRAP. Prayers for you, your family, doctors and treatment!

  18. Ginger /

    Sending love and prayers to you Jen and your family.💕

  19. Kristy /

    Sending love to you and your family. Thinking of you and holding space!

  20. Jenny /

    Praying tonight for Dr Wonderful to be given wisdom from our one true Healer. Praying for God’s hand over the treatment plan and for the cancer to be eliminated. Praying for continual peace for you, your husband and your girls. May the Holy Spirit fill your home to overflowing.

  21. Christin /

    I prayed for you all day today. I prayed for you as I read this, and I’ll keep praying. I’m praying for His goodness and His healing touch. I love you. Keep doing today well. I’m watching and soaking in your wisdom.

  22. I’m sorry to read this news. Thank you for sharing your story. Your writing is such a tribute to the love you share with your family. You paint such a vivid picture of the bond you all share. Wishing you peace and healing and the knowledge that people that you don’t even know care for you and your family.

  23. I’m holding you and your sweet family close in my heart and sending many positive and strengthening wishes your way <3

  24. Jennifer /

    Sending so many heartfelt wishes and prayers for healing, for health, for courage, for life. You and your family are in my prayers.

  25. Lori6NV /

    I stomped around my kitchen for a minute, I’ll admit. I’m sick of cancer. You, my dad, my friends. Enough! I’m praying tonight that I can do today (or tomorrow) as well as you, my friend. You inspire me, as always. You are beautiful with or without hair. Hats rock!

  26. Eloise /

    Jen, my heart aches with this news. I am just at a loss as to what to say. Sending you big, full of love hugs from Australia.

  27. Neecie /

    Boxing with cancer is just crapcrapcrap. Much love prayers and hugs. Neecie Leo and Dan

  28. MojraL /

    Hi, Jen! You don’t know me, but I have been reading your blog from the beginning. I learn so much every time you post. I can see the love of God shining in you and your life, and it is quite a miracle. You and your family remain in my thoughts and prayers. Thank you for sharing yourself with us all! Love you!

  29. peggy /

    Oh Jen, since I pray for you daily, I’ve been wondering about you and hoping you had a fabulous Christmas. Then I saw the title of this blog and my heart sank. Believe me, plenty of 4-lettered words came spewing out of my mouth (none quite as nice as crap!). Know that you are surrounded by people who love you and pray for you, Brad, Marin & Greta. You’ve inspired us all to live our best lives daily. Hugs to you, you sweet, strong woman ♥p

  30. I’m praying everyday for you and for your family. Kay

  31. ohiofishergirl /

    Sending love and prayers to you, Brad, and your beautiful girls… xo Dale and Lauri

  32. Ugh, I am not happy reading this post, stranger friend. Will keep you and your sweet family in my prayers and send some healing Rays of sunshine from Florida.

  33. Not the news you wanted to hear, not the news we wanted to read. How I long for happy endings to all stories. However, you keep turning the bend of the path, and despite billowing storm clouds on the horizon, stopping to enjoy the unexpected wild flowers next to the path. Thank you for acknowledging the storm clouds, but also for pointing at the flowers. We see both. We savor your view of the flowers, and we pray against the storm clouds.

  34. Nikki /

    Love you Jen. Loving and virtually hugging and praying for you to the moon and back. <3 Over and over and over. <3

  35. Jenn therrien /

    Prayers for you and your family, Jen.

  36. Rita O'Brien /

    This is yet another setback and still you handle it all with such grace. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers.

  37. Valerie /

    Adding my prayers and good wishes to all of these. You and your family are much on my mind — may you all continue to be strengthened by the love that surrounds you. Praying for destruction of those cancer cells… and many many more days of living well.

  38. Elisa Dailey /

    Praying hard for you Jen! I am always in absolute awe of your Faith in our Father and in awe of your amazing positive outlook that u CHOOSE each day!
    …as always, know that your “village” is here to help you with anything along
    the way!
    Love, hugs and many, many prayers,
    ❤️elisa

  39. Shari /

    Jen, while I am angry about your results, your post inspires me to be peaceful and hopeful. Its an incredible gift you give us with your inspirational words. You and your family will be in my prayers tonight and always.

  40. I am so very grateful for you and your inspiring words. I will be praying!

  41. annie /

    This was hard news for you to get and for us to read. You have so much loving and prayerful support and I hope you feel its power. I am grateful that God can reach across the miles.

  42. Crap is right. Hugs. Know I think of you and your family daily.

  43. ShannonK /

    If you only knew how many times I (we) think of you/ pray for you. You are loved. I beg for miracles, cures, I pray for Dr. Wonderful to increase in knowledge and to actually have God’s hand on her brain giving her lots of insight. The BIG battle is already won – awe! The earthly battle is still underway – ugh! I love you friend! When we see each other and our speech is superficial know that the connection is deeper than words could ever express!

  44. Marion /

    Oh Jen, I am so saddened to read this. I have been thinking about you a lot lately, wondering how you were doing. Lots of prayers for the new meds to do their thing. You deserve only the very best out of this life.