Weird Science

Weird Science is one of those classic John Hughes movies from the eighties featuring Anthony Michael Hall, where the nerdy kids attempt to create the perfect woman. Of course she turns out to be much more than they bargained for, but they were certainly on the cutting edge of science and admittedly so are many of the tests that newly diagnosed cancer patients have to go through. I can only hope that when I emerge from the glass booth at Pulmonary lung function testing or after my radioactive PET scans, I will in fact be the perfect woman.

As a history teacher, my knowledge of science is quite limited. So limited in fact that when I was diagnosed with lymphoma I had to call my GP and ask him what a lymph node was. Luckily for me he was in no part surprised by my nonexistent knowledge of anatomy and went so far as printing me a map of lymph nodes in the body and explaining (very slowly) how they work and why mine are dysfunctional. At least then I would have some working vocabulary to wow my oncologists with at my appointments.

I have developed a new appreciation for the world of science as a result of this process. I still have a sketchy understanding of the technical aspects, but I can appreciate the technology for what it is and what it is capable of doing. And honestly some of it is really fascinating. My first PET scan was my first “science is so cool” moment in this experience. I am from a small rural town, so at this juncture we don’t have a permanent PET on any of the medical premises. Our PET travels from place to place and is only here on Fridays, which in some ways make it a little more exciting – like you are being admitted to an exclusive “day” club where the sound track plays radioactive on repeat. When you arrive with your pass to get in, you are brought to a lift that brings you up to a trailer with metal doors, it’s all very vogue.  Then you are brought into a VIP room off to the side, where your attendee gives you the “good stuff”; a radioactive substance that will course through your veins for the next hour before highlighting all the cancerous parts of your body.

Now my first PET was truly amazing, I was hooked immediately on the process. My attendee, Tim, prepared me for the radioactive infusion. When he took out the “stuff” it was in a metal tube that looked like a rocket and when he opened the top a vapor poured out – well at least that is what happened in my mind. There wasn’t really a vapor, but it had a very Back to the Future feel to me anyhow. He pushed it through the IV and then I waited in the Radiology waiting room for an hour while it circulated through my blood stream and my dad made numerous glow in the dark jokes. After the hour you are brought back to the club and get to go to an isolation room for a truly ‘enlightening’ experience. The full scan takes about twenty five minutes, where you lie completely still as the Scan takes place and ultimately lets your medical team know where your cancer is located. It is used to determine staging and then later to check on progress and eventually as surveillance to confirm that your cancer has been kept at bay. It is often used in combination with CT scans that are completed much faster, utilize an iodine contrast, and still allow you to be around small children and pets. Both tests have done wonders in helping doctors accurately assess a variety of cancers.

In addition to the tests, the actual process of treating cancer is equally impressive. The drug combinations and actual procedures speak to how far science has come over the years. Hopefully, this Weird Science will create the perfect cure!

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