Recovery and scans

Two weeks pass and life begins to reappear somehow.

I have an appointment to see Dr Banner in four weeks time. It seems a lifetime since I saw him. I forget what he looks like.

I have been plagued with nausea from week three. I suspect it’s the morphine but I can’t do without it and one day before a nurses appointment the retching is so bad the NG tube comes up. I get it replaced the next day.

I’m not making much effort in eating or reducing my pain meds. It all seems so much and I’m mightily depressed these days.

I see the oncologist. Nothing much to report and another appointment in another four weeks. He says I should lose the tube soon. He’s right. I throw it up again and this time I decide to leave it out and make more of an effort to eat.

I discover ice cream….I can eat ice cream and eat lots of it.

Six weeks after I finish radiotherapy I can manage soup, baked beans, scrambled egg, ice cream but not potato which is grainy and horrid. I can drink the ghastly Fortisips too. It all tastes of nothing though. Things are improving slowly but I’m still on the morphine.

I try sipping water frequently but it washes what little saliva I have away so I try keeping it just for night time.

At night I find I get a useful time asleep if I can keep my mouth moist with some Xyligel rubbed on my teeth and couple of Xylimelts which are tablets that stick to your gum above your molar teeth slowly dissolving in whatever saliva is there. It works.

At my next appointment the doctor says there is no way I should still be on morphine. He books an MRI. He doesn’t tell me why and I don’t ask but I suspect he thought there might be cancer still there. The scope shows nothing amiss.

We discuss a PET/CT scan. This is a scan done after being injected with a fast decaying radioactive glucose and will have to be done in Cardiff. It shows up tumours.

So I have my MRI around twelve weeks after radio. I wean myself off the morphine after initially just stopping it. What a stupid mistake. I should have known better, known that I would get withdrawal symptoms….shaking and sweating.

At my next appointment I get shown both sequences. The first MRI and the second. The original tumour looks huge to me but in the second there is no evidence of it at all. I am ecstatic. My oncologist seems jolly happy too.

We chat about HPV vaccine which is being rolled out for boys in Wales as well as 13 year old girls that have been given the vaccine for over ten years. The incidence of Cervical cancer in young women has plummeted as a result. This is a real success story. He chatters on about a subject which he is obviously passionate about and I forget my problems listening to him. 

My PET/CT is booked for the next week and it will be five weeks before I get the results.

Because the radiation causes so much damage a lot of hospitals have been getting false positives at twelve weeks so many scans are being moved to 16. This is the plan for me.

I go home and keep recovering.

I look after my mouth with a gusto verging on obsession and my dental hygienist is really pleased with me.

I can eat more and more normal food and my saliva is returning a little but taste is still 


PET/CT stands for Positron Emission Tomography/Computed Tomography

The scanner is hidden in a concrete bunker at Cardiff University hospital.

I arrive starved from the night before and get an injection of a radioactive glucose tracer that has been prepared that morning especially for me. Then there is a wait of around an hour while the marker travels round my body. The radiation decays and produces gamma rays which can be detected by the machine. Cancer cells are actively growing and use a lot of glucose so the radiation in that sugar can be picked up by a suitable scanner.

Dress warmly for your scan. That hour feels like a long time in a cold room. Take something to read.

The machine is just like a double CT scanner. One takes a CT scan, the other a scan of all the glowing bits of tumour and other active stuff like heart, liver and brain then the two are superimposed.

It is a very skilled job to interpret it; more complicated IT.

Published by Dani Akrigg

I'm 68 in 2019. Retired Veterinary Surgeon

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