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A Peek Under the Hood

October 10th, 2012 |

by cancerhumor | Survivor: Colon and Rectal Cancer    Connect

You're not the first person to be diagnosed, to go through the treatments, or to live with cancer. In this column, Myles Beskind points out the funny side of being scanned from head to toe and front to back.

Surgery, Smurgery

Back the good ole days, when a doctor wanted to know what was going on inside you, say in a place they couldn't reach by inserting a gloved hand in some orifice, they'd lay you on a table and split you open. As nostalgic as that sounds, we 21st Centurions have it relatively easy. Exploratory surgery isn't that common anymore. Instead we use all manner of energy beams to see organs, bones, and all the other insides that make up our insides.

Scan Prep

Some scans require you to drink a nasty concoction an hour or so before the zapping begins. If you are given a choice of flavors, always go with the one that sounds least like a cocktail you'd drink at the beach. A Pina Colada may be fine for sipping poolside, but in the bowels of the hospital, it's going to taste like chalky goat semen (not that I've ever tasted goat semen).

You may also be given instructions about what you can and cannot do before your scan. No eating after midnight, no exercise, and, believe it or not, no sex the night before. I wish I could take credit for that one, but it comes from the Stanford University Hospital website:

Q. Can I have sex the night before?
A. Yes, as long as you don't consider it strenuous exercise.
Damn, brother, you've got way bigger problems than cancer.

Types of Scans

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): involves the use of a large magnet and radio-frequencies to give a better look inside than, say, an x-ray would. Given the whole magnet thing, those of us who eat nails for breakfast would be well advised to skip a meal that day.

CAT scans (or CT scans): contrary to popular belief, CAT scans are not limited to felines. In fact, they are quite commonly used on humans to locate and measure tumors in the body.

PET scans: can measure the level of cellular activity in a suspect area. Just so you don't embarrass yourself like I did, you want a lower number on a PET, just as in golf. You should've seen the look on my doc's face when I started celebrating the fact that my PET score had doubled. "High five!"

In a PET, you get injected with radioactive material that courses through your veins and collects in some organ where it starts giving off gamma rays. It's supposedly safe, and you don't actually feel it, but I like to mess with the technicians and start humming after my injections. Another good one is to pee right before the procedure and to scream "IT'S GLOWING!" while you're in the restroom. That gets 'em every time.

Ultrasounds: can also be used in cancer treatment and detection, but every time somebody tries to explain them to me, I can't hear anything they are saying.

The Tube

The one thing that most scans have in common is that you are placed inside a Tube for the procedure. There are different shapes and sizes of Tubes, but somehow they are all exactly a half inch wider than you are at your widest point. It's like a real-life game of Operation. If you sneeze and accidentally touch the sides, buzzers sound and a small jolt of electricity is sent through your body. (Not really, but wouldn't that make it more fun for the technicians?)

While you're in the Tube, try to relax. Breathe deeply (unless you're told otherwise) and imagine yourself floating in a warm lagoon, Pina Colada in hand. Soon enough, the scan will be over, and you can start to piss away all that radioactive fluid. Ahh...

What has your experience with these scans been? Share your tips in the comments below.

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cancerhumor's picture
Myles Beskind was father of 3, husband of 1, runner of marathons, kicker of cancer’s butt, and author of the not-so-best-selling Welcome to the Club: Surviving Cancer, One Laugh at a Time (just Google it, people). Sadly he passed away in 2014, but the work he contributed to the cancer community continues to help others discover how important it is to laugh, even during cancer.