Saturday, February 21, 2015

Computerized Tomography Scan

Being as I have not yet been able to reach my oncologists regarding my last CT Scan reports, and I was not able to see my family physician the other day due to scheduling conflicts, I have been left to my own devices for a few more days awaiting the discussion of my January scan results.  

I did email the reports to my family doc and she let me know she is "not super worried" about them, but I will get more detail next week when I see her.  And if I can't reach my Sunnybrook oncologists by phone or email, then I will be seeing them face to face March 2 anyway. Thoughts of my CT Scans do occupy much of my time, funny (or NOT) how we adapt to our surroundings... prior to April 2014 I had never set foot in a CT scanner!?

(see, it's not quite like the claustrophobic MRI)

Computed tomography (CT) is an imaging procedure that uses special x-ray equipment to create a series of detailed pictures, or scans, of areas inside the body. It is also called computerized tomography and computerized axial tomography (CAT) scanning.

CT scan is a series of cross-sectional X-ray images of the body. These images are used to examine bones and soft tissue for damage or abnormalities.  Often, these images can be combined to create a 3D picture of your body. (Think slicing a loaf of bread)

Although a regular chest X-ray can show the heart and lungs for example, the CAT scan can show the same organs but with detail 100 times greater and with little or no additional irradiation (exposure to radiation)(comparatively speaking).

You get on the little table thing, and it slides back and forth through the doughnut-looking part, upon the technicians' command.  

Let me back up a bit - couple of instructions to prepare for CT scan:
  • No food four hours prior to scan (which is why I like my 1pm scans, can have breakfast and coffee by 9am)
  • After registration, for an hour and a half prior to the scan, you have to drink a litre of stuff, one styrofoam cup per 15 minutes.  D R r r r A a a a a a aaaaaGGgg S  O U T that hour and a half! YUCK!!  At Sunnybrook it is a sterile water with "Telebrix" stamped on the side of it, though it doesn't taste bad, I have to force it down simply because I know what's in it.  Well, I can't seem find out exactly whats in it? But it is something that makes your insides glow on the scan.  In Collingwood they still use the chalky drink, which tastes worse, but you can chug fast as it is a lesser quantity.  My tummy rebels violently against both.
  • At appointment time, you go to the Nurses' station to have IV put in, if contrast dye (also glow-worm material) is required for scan, which in my case of course yes always
  • Then you change into hospital gown - at Sunnybrook they are generous and let you use two gowns yeehaw!  Over the course of four scans I have found each time a new piece of clothing I can keep on during scan - which ROCKS.  Being as I live in yoga pants now, they have no metal parts or zippers so I can keep them on.  Tank top too - this last time I learned I can keep everything on except underwire you-know-what!  Awesome news, next time I'll be sports-spandex and cotton head to toe and no need for gown at all. *happy dance*  It's the little things.  (I wish the elderly gentleman sitting across from me in the waiting room who was NOT able to keep his pants on would please not cross his legs, the gowns are short dude) (Also I was a bit annoyed last time when one fellow patient's family member ate an orange while accompanying her charge waiting for the scan... Four hours no food Natalie + waiting time when they are delayed = Please don't eat in front of the fasting patients who had to choke down a bunch of toxic crap and really just want to get the taste out of their mouths!)
  • I am told you can have a hard candy while fasting, to help get over the water stuff
When it's your turn, you go into a room (apparently Sunnybrook has three CT scan machines) and get on the table, minus glasses and jewelry.  It is a narrow table, and the technician explains how it will slide back and forth, and connects the IV to the tube with the contrast dye in it.  Couple of spins through that puppy and done!  My head to knee-ish scans take about 25 minutes in total.  

It's reasonably comfortable (especially WITH yoga pants on yay) and the technician takes out the IV while you're still in the room, though in Collingwood there was a recovery room involved.  I was pretty nervous and crying the first time so that was a bad day.  Now I am much better with it, and have the presence of mind to exchange twin-Mom stories with one of the Sunnybrook CT nurses, she has 10-year old identical twin girls, they are gorgeous. 

ANYWAY...... once that is done you are free to go.  And if you ask, you can get a CD copy of your scan images.  I had to do that for my first scan in Collingwood, to take to my Sunnybrook appointments.  I still have it, and have pulled it out today for the purpose of checking it out.  

At my writing support group (which is going well by the way) meeting the other day, one of my new friends happened to comment on how she has become experienced at reading her own CT scan images.  She is five years into her diagnosis and has several CDs now.... hhmmm.... methinks this sounds like something I could get into!   I love a project.  

I was too chicken to look at my own disc before, and I was just saving it for the post-cancer BASH we talk about having - we can play the images on TV to music LOL  Or better yet my handy dandy techie friend with her projector could project them onto the wall!? To the beat of "I Love Myself Today" by Bif Naked? Or Metallica "Ain't My Bitch"  hehe 

OK here goes...

 Hhmmm, that one just looks like blank space to me LOL  I hate to say that, as judging by the pillow-shaped thing under the big blank circle, that must be where my brain is supposed to be?

And this one?  Well, I already knew I had a spine.  

Very cool poking around the disc images, and I can see there are 120-130 images per section, but I couldn't figure out how to convert them to an image that I could put on here so suffice it to say I just photographed these on my laptop screen with my camera.  A career in Radiology is NOT in my future. 

I will ask my Barrie friend how she views her images, there must be a program you can use to get them out of the CD and onto the hard drive?  She told me she can see every lymph node on her scans and if anything is changed from scan to scan, she can grill her oncologist about it.  That is homework for my next group meeting! 

This was a fun excercise - I don't usually like pictures of myself, but these I will learn to handle. 

Of course I wish to write a small disclaimer for those of you who may be wondering what happened to Green Me?  I am still in here... I am unfortunately aware of the risks I am taking by participating in all of these scans and treatments.  Yes I know exposure to radiation is bad.  Yes I know repeated doses of it and a level of excitement over being able to have these types of scans and treatments so frequently is a bit wonky in the big picture. ie:
CT scans deliver a dose of radiation (compared to regular x-rays) that can make people very sick later on down the road (typically 10 to 20 years later).

The CT unit rotates around the body, taking multiple cross-sectional images, so CT scans expose you to far more radiation than a traditional X-ray does. Some examples:
1 CT head scan = 30 chest x-rays
1 CT chest scan =119 chest x-rays
1 CT abdomen scan = 234 chest x-rays
Doses vary depending on the type of scan, the machine itself, and the facility performing it. (Source)

BUT..... it's all I've got to go on at this point.  CT scan is my first-line notification about my melanoma metastasis.  Spy-goggles for re-con mission with the risk of being shot down.  I consciously made the decision last summer to pursue testing and pharmaceutical treatments, at the risk of developing problems down the road.  After much consideration, I realised that if I don't take the risk now, I wouldn't have the down the road anyway. 

Okay... is it Monday yet? I gotta get to the doctors!! LOL


  1. Thanks for your article about CT scans, Natalie. I like how you mention that a CT scan can show greater detail for an area of the body without going into surgery. I'm also glad to hear that it is relatively comfortable procedure. I've had an MRI before to check for benign tumors. I hope that your recovery is going well!

    1. Thank you for your comment and the informative link! I believe PET scans are in my future, I will use your link as a starting point for research. I hope your scans are "Unremarkable." :-) Take care!

  2. Your welcome, Natalie. I have two sleeping disorders, so they did an MRI to check if there were any malformations or unusual growths on my hypothalamus. I guess it was good news that there weren't, but sleeping disorders can't really be "cured," per se. Hope your PET scans give you some good news!

  3. Amazing tips! The CT scan can be a helpful and necessary diagnostic procedure. However, feelings of anxiety before and during CT scan are normal. These tips are really helpful