“We found something on your CT scan.”
The words sent chills through my body even though I’ve been down this path before. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to wait for test results. So I was determined that I would maintain control this time as well. After all, it was only a small spot, nothing to get too worked up about. It was probably just a shadow.
But this shadow caused my doctor to order a STAT CT scan of my lungs. I walked into the waiting room with my hands clenched into fists, determined not to cry or express any emotion. I would handle this like a trouper. Just as I did all my other physical problems. This was simply another obstacle in my path, and I would get around it or over it somehow.
I questioned the technician even though I knew she couldn’t tell me anything. Still, I had to take the chance that she might be willing to share some information with me, anything to relieve my mind. Did she see anything at all on the scan? Could she tell if something was there? If so, how big was it? But her resolve was stronger than my demand. And I left the radiology department with no more knowledge than when I went in. And I waited.
My doctor’s call came that evening, and she dashed my hopes that I was in the clear. What was seen on the CT scan wasn’t just artifact or a smudge. I heard everything she told me, but her words came through a tunnel, echoing inside my head. While her voice was soft and confident, I couldn’t allow myself to be comforted, for there was something foreign in my body that hadn’t been there in previous scans just over a year ago. And I didn’t know where it had come from or what it was doing inside me. I did know that this was the unexpected I hadn’t prepared for.
After the call, I found myself going over the risk factors to determine if I should be worried. I’d been exposed to second-hand smoke throughout my childhood and into my teen years, but that was over three decades ago. My lungs couldn’t be holding that against me now, could they? I thought they were supposed to okay after so many years anyway. Wasn’t thirty years long enough?
But my dad had suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder from years of smoking. He’d been on oxygen for almost ten years prior to his death, and toward the end of his life, he would gasp for breath in between snatches of conversation. Just like my grandfather who weighed less than ninety pounds when he died.
I pictured myself having to give my friends the horrible news and how I would take their response. What I would see in their eyes would reflect what was in my own—fear. We’d overcome a lot of challenges together, but if this was as bad as I imagined, I’d never be able to convince myself this was a war we’d win.
And then my anxiety-riddled mind went to the people who’d never smoked a day in their lives and had died of lung cancer. Panic seeped into every pore of my being. Was I going to be one of those few? How did they get lung cancer anyway? The question sent me off on another journey that entailed statistics, the number of non-smokers who died every year from lung cancer, and some potential causes.
As I waited for the next step in this new journey, a decision from doctors and radiologists, I spent more time than I should on the Internet, scaring myself witless as I read the percentages, and the prognosis if I did, indeed, have the dread C-word. Was it an early enough stage that I could be cured? Would I have to go through chemo and radiation? I have a friend who had to have a malignant spot removed and didn’t have to go through the rigors of chemotherapy. Was it wrong to hope I could be like her?
The spot is too small to be biopsied. To even try would risk damage to my lung. So doctors are opting to wait, to monitor it for growth which could happen in as soon as one month or as late as six months. While a part of me wants a CT scan every month, my doctor disagreed. Instead, I’ll have to wait, to potentially give it a chance to grow if that’s its intent. The thought sickens me. No, really, it terrifies me. The only good news is, after a year, if there’s no sign of growth, I should be in the clear. If there is growth, a different journey, the one that scares me the most, will begin. Until then, I’ll wait, wonder, and try not to worry about this thing that’s in my lung that’s not supposed to be there.
And while I wait, I’ll attempt to go on with my life, continue to work, to act like nothing is wrong, but inside the back of my mind, there will always be this constant reminder that I’m not okay yet. The danger still exists. I’ll tell myself I’ll be fine and that I’ll probably even laugh about my paranoia in the future. But right now, I’m not laughing. I’m waiting.