Scanxiety 2.0

It was scan week again.

This one was my 11th PET scan. You’d think by now I’d be accustomed to the pre-scan diet and the days of waiting that come between the scan and the results. But the truth is, I’m not sure you ever get used to those things.

The day between my scan and my results, I drove myself to the grocery store 45 minutes away to do my grocery shopping {instead of the one 5 minutes from my back door} and I went by way of my favorite coffee shop for breakfast {adding an extra 20 minutes of drive time} and then went home by way of a Wal-Mart that was nowhere near anything, all while listening to episode after episode of my new favorite podcast. Why? To distract myself of course! To keep me from crawling back into my bed for the morning. To keep me from going crazy with anticipation. To keep my mind from settling on what the scan might show.

Only two of my ten scans up to this point have shown minimal or zero disease. And both of those were followed within months by scans that showed disease that cropped up from nowhere. I’ve learned to expect just about anything from my scans.

This time however, the timing added an extra element of fear and solemnity. You see, just two days before my scan, I attended the funeral of one of my dearest and oldest friends. Heather was 34, like me. A mother, like me. A wife, like me. She was a devoted child of God, like me. She was a sister, a daughter, a friend, all like me. She was also battling cancer, like me.

We have walked through so much life together. We have followed such similar paths from the 2nd grade to junior high, through high school and college and into married life and motherhood. And we also shared cancer. Different diagnoses, but similar struggles, side effects, treatments and fears.

Now here I was, watching and participating in her funeral service, not only mourning the loss of my soul sister, my fellow cancer fighter, my sweet friend, but imagining that this will also be my fate. I was crying tears for Heather and also crying tears for my kids, sitting on either side of me. I was crying for her siblings and parents as they shared beautiful memories of her life and also cried wondering what stories my family will share of me. I watched her dear husband go through the motions of the day and couldn’t help crying for Joe as we hugged each other after the service.

It was a heavy day that added an extra element of heaviness to the waiting for scan results.

On Wednesday, we traveled down to Penn to meet with my oncologist and hear the results. The 10 minutes we sat waiting in the room for him, felt like an hour. But, we’ve gotten good at nervous chit-chat and I learned quickly where the nearest restroom was.

My oncologist at Hershey gave us so much bad news that we had gotten good at reading her body language as soon as she entered a room. This was our first experience getting results at Penn, so we weren’t quite sure how to read him as he entered the room.

He quickly asked how I was feeling. “Good!” I replied. Not a lie. Physically, clinically, I’ve felt pretty good. I was even able to run/walk a turkey trot on Thanksgiving! “That’s interesting,” he said, “because your scan says differently.”

My heart was in my feet before he even finished his sentence. I knew it, I thought. I prepared for this. Worst case scenario. We’ll start planning my funeral and talking end of life. We’ll get through this.

My mind continued to race and my heart continued to ache as I watched him scroll around on the computer trying to make sense of a patient who mostly feels ok, has great bloodwork and checks out clinically, but didn’t have a great read on her last PET scan.

“Ohh!” he exclaimed. “This is the report from your scan last August!” Turns out, the radiologist in Hershey (where I had my PET scan) hadn’t completed and sent their report. So, in the preparation for my appointment, his assistant had attached the wrong report. I’ve never felt happier about a clinical error. I handed him my disc and we walked through my current results.

It ended up being one of the more boring results we have ever gotten. It showed nothing majorly new or remarkable, but also did not show any reduction in disease. Stable. We’ll take it.

As soon as the word stable settled into our minds and my heart rose back into my chest, we were able to talk through options.

Long story short, the best and most viable option for me right now is a clinical trial that is running at Penn. We have until my next appointment on January 2 to decide if we want to commit and even then, I am able at any point during the trial to call it quits, no questions asked.

My oncologist doesn’t feel the trial will necessarily be a route to cure for me, but will help keep my disease at bay and may even show reduction until there is a better long term solution available. It is an oral therapy that will allow me to maintain the same quality of life I’ve still be able to enjoy since my last relapse. The side effects are possible, but mild. Aside from taking two new medications daily and monthly trips to Philadelphia for check-ups and labs, it will allow me to continue living a relatively ‘normal’ life. The trial lasts for two years.

Two years.

As Joe and I walked to lunch after my appointment and talked about how we felt about the idea of the clinical trial, that was what stood out to both of us – two more years. It turns out that both of us had our hearts prepared to see tremendous disease progression and hear that I may have much less time than that.

It has been a heavy couple weeks over here you guys and all of it while trying to prepare for the holiday season. It seems so incongruent to be listening to peppy Christmas music on the radio as you wrestle with loss and so conflicting to wrap a brightly colored gift for a Christmas party as tears wash down your cheeks. Then a good friend sent me this article on advent {https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/30/opinion/sunday/christmas-season-advent-celebration.html} and I realized that the darkness weighing down my heart actually makes the Christmas season that much more remarkable.

If you are maxed out on reading things today, stop reading my post immediately and start reading the above article.

We need collective space, as a society, to grieve — to look long and hard at what is cracked and fractured in our world and in our lives. Only then can celebration become deep, rich and resonant, not as a saccharine act of delusion but as a defiant act of hope.

Tish Harrison Warren, ‘Want to get into the Christmas Spirit? Face the Darkness.’

The exclamation point on that first Christmas day was the 400 years of silence from Heaven that had preceded it. A broken world, awaiting a Savior. Defeated, lost and hopeless were the people of God and for 400 years, not so much as a whisper from God above. It was because of the profound ache that rippled through the people on Earth that the arrival of a baby on a cold December night was an occasion of great joy.

If we allow ourselves to lean into our pain and see the brokenness that surrounds us, we are able to more deeply experience the joy that comes with a Savior willing to take on our likeness. A Savior willing to suffer as we suffer. A Savior willing to not only carry our brokenness, but be broken for us.

‘Don’t be afraid!’ he said. ‘I bring you good news that will being great joy to all people. The Savior – yes, the Messiah, the Lord – has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!

Luke 2:10-11
One of Heather and my very first photos together with Abby on our yearly weekend getaway to my grandparents hunting cabin. We went every year from 3rd grade all the way to our senior year in high school!
Our very last photo together (thanks for the capture Ahna!) and one I will treasure forever. I loved the two days I got to spend taking care of this sweet friend.

4 thoughts on “Scanxiety 2.0

  1. Thank you for your insights Ashley. Thank you for your heart in helping others navigate uncertainty with hope. Thank you for your heart for the Lord and for your family. The Meyer family is praying for you all and love you. Thank you Joe for your steadfast love and care for your wife. In all these things – hope is the anecdote to anxiety, and you have communicated it so well.

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  2. Oh sweet Ashley.. tears tears as I read and yet a sigh of relief as I saw the word STABLE…yes, agreed, stable is good and we will continue looking
    and praying ahead for longterm healing and stableness. Our great God is able!! What a Savior we have!! HUGS!

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  3. Your post ministered and blessed me, Ashley! These past three years have been all about loss and pain at the Foreman end. Your words helped give perspective and hope. I cannot imagine what you, Joe, and your entire family are experiencing. Please know that many, many people are praying for you. I’m awed by your wisdom and strength! Denny

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