Thyroid Cancer Update: I'm Radioactive!!

In my last post, I discussed the beginning of Radiation week, during which I was given thyrogen shots and a lesser form of radiation in preparation for my whole body scan.  Let us continue... - Thyroid Cancer Update: I'm Radioactive!!

On Wednesday, I didn't have to check-in to my appointment until 11:15 AM, which is so much better than 7:15 AM.  I was able to sleep in a little bit longer.  I also only had to fast for two hours prior instead of the four hours prior like the previous day.  I wore comfortable clothes that I didn't mind getting irradiated.  For me, this consisted of old tennis shoes, comfy knit pants, and my new graphic tee featuring pre-mutant Ninja Turtles.  The shirt was a hit with all the nuclear medicine doctors.

They called me into the depths of the nuclear medicine department.  The whole body scanner consisted of this long, curved plank with a small pillow at one end.   There were a few moving parts with two foot square panels for scanning.  They could move the bed up and down and rotate the scanners as needed.  I was instructed to lay down on the plank, for lack of a better word, with my head resting on the pillow while the nuc med guy put another pillow under my knees.  They offered me a warm blanket, but I was pretty warm from freaking the eff out.  They used these curved plastic arm rests on either side of you that you have to tightly fit your arms into.  That was probably the most uncomfortable part.  It was a tight squeeze.  It was explained to me that they would do side shots of my throat area and top shots of my throat area that would take ten minutes per shot.  Then they would do the whole body scan, which would take about half an hour.

The side shots weren't a big deal.  I laid very still and just closed my eyes and tried to think happy thoughts.  With the top scan, the large two foot square of the machine is about four inches from your face.  It is a bit off putting, but doable.  I took deep breaths and kept my eyes closed so I wouldn't start freaking out.  Happy thoughts are the key.  I think I hummed some songs too.  During the whole body scan, the two foot square goes very slowly over your body.  It was above my head for another five minutes at least.  Once it moves past your head, you can turn your head and look around. Once it moves past your arms and hands, you can move them around and so on.  The doc was good about letting me stretch between scans.  I was tightly packed in, so my arms fell asleep a bit.  It was great when I could shake them out.

What was supposed to be a sixty to eighty minute scan took almost two hours because the computer they used to start the scans messed up a couple times.  That was pretty annoying.  Another thing that was troubling for me was the computer monitor attached to the two foot moving square.  It would show the scan results image as the scanner moved down your body.  I didn't necessarily know what I was looking at for sure, and since I was already stressed out I was in panic mode thinking the worst.  My nose, cheeks, and ears, throat, stomach, and bladder all lit up pretty bright, but I didn't know what it meant necessarily so I was freaking out.  I think maybe they should have explained it beforehand or not had it there at all to save me some tears.

Once the scan was complete, I waited in the waiting room for the physical copies of the scan and walked them over to my endocrinologist.  She went over them, consulted with a radiologist on the amount of radiation I was to get, and then met with Sean and I.  We were shown the scans and explained that the stomach and bladder uptake, as well as the ears/nose/cheeks was totally normal.  Because I stuck to my Low Iodine Diet so well, nothing else lit up in weird areas.  She said it was "quite remarkable" that I did so well on the diet.  I am guessing most people cheat a little?  I don't know.  I wasn't taking any chances.  I was given two bags of sour lemon candies that I was to suck on constantly during the first three days at least.  The sour candies get your salivary glands in motion and pull the saliva through to get the radiation out.  Otherwise, it can cause permanent damage to your salivary glands, which can actually not show up for months and months down the road.  Hopefully I won't have many issues.

This was also when she decided to give us a list of precautions and time periods for when I could be around people again and all that jazz.  I have to say, I was pretty frustrated that they waited until the day of radiation to give any kind of precaution list.  I feel they should have sent that out weeks in advance.  Also, they never talked about covering things in plastic or being overly cautious.  They never touched on that at all.  If I didn't have the internet, I would have been alarmingly under-prepared.  I know I may have been a bit overzealous in my preparations, but better safe than sorry.

The appointment was pretty quick and I was sent back to Nuclear Medicine to receive my 150 millicuries of radioactive iodine.  My waiting room time was short.  Sean had to stay in the waiting room, but as I left he grabbed me and kissed me in front of everyone.  It was super sweet.  It'd be at least two weeks until we could kiss each other again, so he made it count. :-)

I was taken into a little room where I met with the head radiologist who went over the same precautions with me and answered any questions I had.  When she left, I waited patiently for the other nuc med doc to bring my radioactive pill.  He brought a metal canister with a plastic pill bottle inside.  He went over a few more precautions and handed me the bottle.  Inside of it was a clear plastic pill capsule with a blueish green substance in it.  It kind of looked like sand.  I couldn't get the top of the pill bottle off, so he had to open it for me.  I downed the pill and he showed me out to the waiting room.  On our way, he told me a joke about radiologists or something, which I can't remember now.  He said I had half an hour before the radiation would be running through my system.   It was all very anticlimactic.  I feel like there should have been a drum roll or throwing of confetti with the radiation symbol on it or something. 

Sean and I walked out to the parking garage and hugged each other one last time.  I covered the back seat of the car with a plastic shower curtain and put on rubber gloves for the ride home.  I had to sit as far away from Sean as possible for the ride.  It only took us about twenty minutes to make it home, where I hopped out of the car and stayed away from Sean while he unlocked the house.  Then I high-tailed it to my Plastic Palace/Radiation Jail where I would stay for the next nine days.

This post has been a bit longer than I intended, so next time I will cover what my room looked like and all the precautions and what I did to stay busy.  If you would like to learn more about the whole radioactive process, you can read more about it here.

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