Cryopreservation and radioactive sugar

*PLEASE NOTE: the first part of this post, titled “The Collection Room” may be something that some of you do not want to read (like, say, if you’re my sister or my mother-in-law!). I post it here in the interest of full disclosure, and because it is one of the stranger, more fascinating parts of my cancer journey thus far. You have been warned.

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The Collection Room

What an absurd thing to do. As I’m sure you can see from the picture (sorry Tara), it was the coldest, most impersonal personal act of my life. It was like masturbating in a doctor’s waiting room. Not that obscene or public, I suppose, but just look at the decor. And what you can’t see in the photo of the collection room (don’t worry, I took a video too, if anyone is interested in a panoramic shot) is the other poster on the wall, an aerial shot of Lambeau Field glorifying the Green Bay Packers. They must think all of us Wisconsin men are turned on by football. I’m just glad Bucky Badger wasn’t on the wall.

Near the door was a black knob with a sign above it that read, “Please adjust noise reduction to a comfortable level.” I had no idea what this meant, but I was concerned that the room was in the middle of a busy hospital and I could hear nurses scurrying about in the hall — not really conducive to the act, unless you’re turned on by that sort of thing. The knob was surrounded by digits from 0 to 10, and it was set at about 4. When I turned the knob higher, there was an increase in an ambient white noise that I hadn’t noticed before. It slowly filled the room as though someone upstairs was watching a television with nothing but static and the volume cranked. But I did feel a bit more alone. I settled the knob on 8, not wanting to seem to eager, and looked around the room.

It was set up perfectly for the typical football-watching male, with a large comfortable looking chair right in front of a TV. In the cupboard under the television were two plastic drawers, one labeled “Heterosexual Visual Aids,” and the other “Homosexual Visual Aids.” They were loaded down with dozens of pornographic magazines of all sorts. On a shelf above the “Visual Aids” were a smattering of XXX movie boxes. All empty. I wondered if men just put them in their bags and left, leaving each successive masturbater with fewer viewing options. It seemed plausible, since I myself was not about to complain at the front desk that all of the porn in the “Collection Room” was missing. It struck me as a perfect crime. There were two videos still there, however, so maybe the boxes were placed there in case some men just liked to look at the lurid images on the boxes themselves. I don’t know.

Once I decided that I would never be really comfortable in such a room, in such a situation, with such a task at hand, I just went ahead and did the deed. In a way it breaks my heart a bit to think that there is a possibility that what I did in that room today will someday result in Dawn’s pregnancy and our child. It’s not really how I envisioned my “babymaking” years. September was to be the month that Dawn and I set out on the romantic, albeit a bit scary, adventure of trying to have a baby — timing ovulation, and hoping for the best. There is still hope, of course, that this can happen sometime later on, after the chemotherapy is over and my body is healed.

The lucky thing is that I somehow escaped giving them blood! They wanted us to be sure that our insurance would cover them, otherwise we could have it done somewhere else. Well, any excuse to avoid one needle for a day is fine by me. But don’t get me started on insurance. Dawn and I are both dreading the day we must deal with all of these bills and begin the inevitable disputes with the insurance company. But anyway…

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For my PET scan today I had to visit the clinic where I was first told I had cancer. I walked there, since Dawn has a very hectic schedule today and on into the night — not to mention the clinic is not a far walk from our home, and the exercise did me good. It’s beginning to feel like Autumn here, with the crisp breeze lifting the leaves up and off the trees. It’s my favorite time of year.

The sign above was plastered all over the trailer in which the PET scan took place. That’s right, I said trailer. The test itself took place in a sort of double wide outside the actual clinic — don’t get me wrong, it was a very nice double wide, but nevertheless.

The testing began with the usual plea on my part that the nurse let me lie down for the IV placement. When she asked if I preferred one arm over the other, I told her that the right would be best, since my left was beginning to bruise a bit (this morning Dawn says to me about the brusing: “You’d better get used to that, it’s only going to get worse”). So, she put the IV in and sucked a small amount of blood out so that they could test my blood sugar in the trailer. Having low blood sugar is important for this test, because they only want to see the sugar that has been laced with radioactive juice for tracking purposes. Apparently, the sugar is normally broken down quickly in the blood, but if there are cancer tumors, they will attract the sugar and not allow it to be broken down, thereby giving the doctors a clearer indication of what’s growing in me.

After placing the IV, sucking up a bit of blood, the nurse stood me up and escorted me up to the main floor where I was to wait for the trailer people. The waiting room at this point was nothing but a simple bench meant for people waiting for the elevators. So, there I was, starving from not having eaten most of the day, with an IV in my arm, a bit of blood in its cap, waiting for the trailer to become available. I waited there, it must have been fifteen minutes, watching people go in and out of the elevators. I watched them as I listened to the iPod Shuffle that Dawn has been letting me use lately, and began to wonder what might be wrong with them. Were they sick? Was their child? Their parent? Their partner? Were they better off than me? Or worse? I found myself thinking that I must not look sick to these people at all, save the depressed look on my face and the bloody IV sticking from the crook in my arm.

I thought, I look healthier than most of the folks in this building, including the nurses and doctors, the security guards and receptionists. Why am I sick? Look at them, I thought, sucking down their Pepsis and going out for smoke breaks. Why aren’t they sick? It’s not the first time I found myself sucked into this kind of thinking, but sometimes when I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, or as I walk by a glass building, I think, I look healthy. I look like I’m in good shape. How can I be sick?

In the midst of this, a nice older man came and escorted me into the high-tech trailer, and had me sit on a very comfortable, but medical-procedure-looking chair. He quickly described what was going on, what he was going to put in me, and how long things would take. As he prepared the radioactive sugar concoction behind a thick metal and glass contraption, he let me know that I would need to sit in the chair for about an hour, trying to remain as motionless as possible, so that we could avoid producing any false positives that might occur with too much muscle movement as the glowing juice eased its way around my bloodstream.

I sat there in that chair, in a tiny, tiny room and waited. I was not allowed to listen to the iPod, because it would produce involuntary movement in my body, and that could taint the course of the FDG. It wasn’t too hard to keep still, since I was so tired and hungry. I managed to move my head very little and my left arm to my face only twice to address horribly annoying itches.

When the waiting was over, they moved me to the other end of the trailer where the PET machine was. It was, thus far, the worst test I’ve endured. Mostly because I was so hungry and it took about a half an hour. Also, because I had to hold my hands over my head (so that they could get a clear shot of my chest from all sides), my left arm fell completely asleep about ten minutes into it. It was the first test where I really had to will myself to lie still and be patient. The MRI was not this rough. I just wanted to stand up and say, Okay, you know what? I’m done here, so I hope you’ve got what you need. I’m going home to see my cats and eat some food that is not bacon or chicken or eggs! But, I didn’t. I kept reminding myself that the test needed to be as accurate as possible so that Dr. Arbaje (the oncologist) would have the best data possible — and I sure as hell did not want to go through the test again.

So, there you have it. I made it through another day of needle pricks and doctor visits, and now I’m bracing my mind and body for the next round, and the chemo that is set to begin on Monday.

Wish me luck.

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9 Responses to “Cryopreservation and radioactive sugar”

  1. The photo of the collection room wasn’t so bad. Sounds like you were successful, so that’s good. And it is a weird way to make a baby, but in a lot of ways, it takes a bit more love and effort to go through the clinical footballesque experience.

    I hope you enjoyed the bacon. I have never liked bacon myself. I do eat zero/low carb a lot, though. I would have gone for an egg and cheese omelet.

  2. the first thing i noticed in that photo was the picture of the football field, especially since the chair was facing directly towards it. very odd. but, if favre in tights is your thing…

  3. Yes, I know! The football pictures were very odd to me. As was the very bright, clinical lighting. Oh, and the movies that hadn’t been stolen already sucked.

  4. Georgia Weithe Says:

    Your mother-in-law thinks the fact that you were able to produce anything at all under these circumstances is a testimony to your untarnished virility. Also, this was a real act of love….a great beginning for a child.

  5. “A testimony to your untarnished virility.” I like the sound of that. LOL (that one’s for you Georgia!)

  6. Georgia Weithe Says:

    Your “LOL” made me LOL (is that the correct usage?) Don’t LOL at me…..I’m an old lady.

  7. Has no one else gotten completely helpless with laughter over the collection scene? Brilliantly written, possumhijo. Not that I have another writing example on the same topic, mind you. As for what occurred apart from the collection scene, and I tried to underling “apart” just now, I was emphathizing all over the place, and patting your back, and saying “There there.”

  8. Well, you’ll have to stay tuned, because I have two more “collection” appointments! They want to try to collect as many specimens as they can before I start chemo on Monday. I will be visiting my favorite room tomorrow (Friday) morning, and very early on Monday before chemo commences. Maybe I’ll grow more comfortable with the place and start reserving it out of habit…

  9. Oh gosh,that’s so freaking funny. Um, were you guys ever fans of Mad About You? Do you remember the scene in which Jamie has to sing “I Just Wanna Be Loved by You” outside the door so Paul can do his business in the collecttion room? Bo boop de do.

    The football poster is rather questionable in my opinion. Shannon

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