I had a CT scan on Tuesday, as a 6 month follow up to my November post-chemo scans. I’ll get results tomorrow (Friday) afternoon. I thought I’d be a nervous wreck right about now, but, strangely, I’m not.
The emotional fallout from this cancer experience continues to surprise me. I was blindsided by the wave of depression and fear that hit just after treatment; I’d expected to feel a huge sense of relief as I walked out of my last chemo infusion, but that never really happened. Now, as I await the results of another scan and the possibility of bad news to follow, I feel oddly relaxed. I anticipated that this would be the most difficult part of “survivorship.” I was sure that I’d have to live with a few weeks of escalating anxiety before each scan, that the days between the testing and results would make me crazy with worry. Not this time, anyway. We’ll see whether my intuition is right when I get my results.
I did get a little bit of advance information that has helped me stay calm. I’ve seen my blood test results. I have blood drawn before every scan, to double check my counts and liver enzymes, and to check my CEA level. CEA is an acronym for carcinoembryonic antigen, which is a type of protein that’s often produced by cancerous tumors and also, strangely enough, by a developing fetus (hence the “embryonic” part of the name). Normal levels are generally under 3 ng/ml, and my CEA level this time was 0.7. That’s the lowest it’s ever been, so I’m feeling pretty good about my chances for clear scan results.
The catch, however, is that CEA may not really be a good marker for me, because I’ve never had a level higher than 2 ng/ml; that was the reading when I was diagnosed last January. Some tumors just don’t produce much CEA. Still, if I had a recurrence, it’s likely that my CEA would at least be trending upwards, or that my liver enzymes might be elevated if I had anything going on there. But blood tests might not indicate anything about a lung met, and rectal cancer does seem to like to head to the lungs first (unlike colon cancer, which seems to hit the liver and then the lungs). We’ll see. At least the first round of information I have looks pretty good.
So – I’ll sleep just fine tonight. I’ll probably have one rush of anxiety as I head into MGH, and I’ll be a little jumpy as I wait for my oncologist, but all in all I’m feeling strangely confident that I’ve seen the last of cancer. It’s possible that I’ve dug myself a nice deep well of denial here, but even if I have, I’m OK with that.
I’ll keep you posted. Right now I’m just happy to have the scan – and the nasty barium cocktail I have to drink beforehand – out of the way. (Why must it be that every major diagnostic test for CRC requires us to drink large quantities of some really foul liquid?)