PET scan (Up and Atom!)

by shaysemmens

Yesterday afternoon I had a PET scan at the Austin Hospital. This was the first scheduled test since the diagnosis of my cancer’s return (with the exception of a blood test).

This was the second time I had had a PET scan, and I knew what to expect. It’s completely painless and while it takes a couple of hours from start to finish, is probably the best scan to undertake, as the machine operators play music through speakers in the machine while you’re in it.  Also, unlike a CT scan, the dye they inject into you doesn’t make you feel like you’ve peed yourself (if you’ve had a CT scan, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If not, you’ll just have to take my word for that). The dye they inject is radioactive though, so I assume there’s some sort of risk of gaining superpowers.

I could go through the specifics of a PET scan – about how the ‘dye’ I mentioned is actually glucose and how the cancer cells use more glucose than regular cells so are attracted to it, causing them to show up in the scan, or something along those lines, but I’m really not here to give you the in-depth technical side of things. If you want that, you can click on the PET scan link above and go to the Wikipedia page or go somewhere else. All I can offer you, which is the whole point of this blog, is the personal side of things from the patient’s view. Also, photos of me in a hospital gown, as below:-

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The process of a PET scan is a fairly simple one, though it does take longer than all other scans I’ve had in the past.  The first thing that happens is that you are led into a small room with a bed and asked to get changed into one of the fashionable gowns I am modelling above. Following this, you’ll be asked to lie down on the bed, like so:

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You’ll then be injected with some radioactive glucose – a process that was so quick, I barely even noticed that it had been started. This also meant I didn’t get a photo of the process, or a photo of the protective shielding provided to the operator whilst injecting the dye. Apart from the very minimal pain of the initial needle prick, this is an entirely painless process.

Once this is done, time is required for the glucose to travel through you (and, I presume, to become attached to the cancerous cells) so you’ll then be asked to lie on the bed in the dark for an hour. The first time I did this, it was around 7am, so naturally I instantly fell asleep and the hour flew by. This time, being early afternoon (though admittedly I had just woken up) I stayed awake for the whole hour. When the hour is up, you’ll be asked to empty your bladder and head over to the machine itself for the scan.

I took a photo of the machine prior to getting on to it, so I wouldn’t need to describe it.

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I lay on the appropriate section with my head in the black cusion…thing, and my arms up above my head. It was comfortable enough to start with – though you must remember that you will be in this exact same position for around 30 minutes, so by the end I was less comfortable.

The PET scan itself basically involves you lying completely still, breathing normally, while you are moved through the machine about 5 inches at a time and then scanned for a few minutes before moving another 5 inches. Yes, this is fairly boring.

However, as I briefly mentioned earlier, the coolest thing about getting a PET scan (via the Austin Hospital, at least) is the option to listen to music while you’re in the machine. The music actually plays through speakers built into the machine itself. Last time I had a PET scan, I was told to bring a CD in. I took a Sevendust CD – and felt rather awkward once all the F bombs started blasting out into the room (I hadn’t thought that through). This time around, I took a safer route and suggested that they simply play Gold FM. Music certainly seems like a good idea, but there is of course a problem with this. I was actually told off for moving my foot (as this was affecting the images) due to the fact that I was tapping my foot to Lionel Richie’s ‘Dancing on the Ceiling’ towards the end of the procedure. They’re just lucky I didn’t start singing the first song that came on – REO Speedwagon’s ‘Keep On Loving You’.

When the scan is complete, you’ll be asked to wait a couple of minutes while the images are checked, and then you’re free to get changed and go home. You’ll feel pretty normal, but you get to tell people that you’re radioactive (which is partly true – you can’t spend extended periods of time with babies or pregnant women for 4 hours after the scan) and use Radioactive Man quotes to your hearts content (“MY EYES! THE GOOGLES DO NOTHING!”).

And that’s all there is to it.

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