Through the Looking Glass… To The Place Where Time Stands Still

Donna Lee

Have you ever noticed how fast time seems to go by lately? I mean, everyone says it. It’s almost as if the world is actually spinning faster. Well, I find this to be especially true for me, especially since I mentioned in my last column that I live my life in six-month increments, from scan to scan. However, something really strange happens on scan day. Everything goes into excruciatingly ultra slow motion as soon as I get to the Adler Institute for Advanced Imaging. I park the car and head toward the door. Then I see the beautifully painted logo, “Vision, Discovery and Hope.” I open it, and walk to the front desk, the world starts slowing down and then, I am back again. To the place I dread. It’s Scan Day.

Now let me first say this, the Adler Institute for Advanced Imaging is one of the finest and most cutting edge PET/CT scan institutions in this country. Dr. Lee Adler’s knowledge and skill with the PET/CT machine, now used all over the country (which he helped developed, by the way), is second to none. The man is a genius and one of the most highly regarded in this field and that is a fact. His highly skilled technicians Lisa and Todd (no Saturday Night Live Mrs. Loopner jokes here) are amazing. His office Staff, especially Joan, have been with me on this journey since day one, January 19th 2006. I am even still in regular touch with the first technician, Linda who did my first scan (who has since moved on to Merck). They are medically the best of the best. They are a family, and they make me feel like one of them.

It is a warm, cozy and secure environment. You get your own tastefully decorated room. They know all my idiosyncrasies; especially that I refuse to use the room on the right. It is the room in which I was diagnosed. In fact, they know I freak out if there is a scheduling error and I almost end up in the room on the right. (I am sure they still recall the “incident” a few years back. Sorry about that guys, and sorry to the poor patient that had to be moved.) Honestly if I hadn’t been lucky enough to find this place, I would probably have to be wheeled in somewhere, completely sedated, on scan days. As much as I hate walking in there because of what I am there to do, I couldn’t do it without this group of brilliant caring people, in this quiet and peaceful sanctuary.

Ok, so that said, back to 9:00 a.m., standing at the front desk in the beautiful reception room, it actually feels like all of a sudden, time stands still. How does this happen? Everything in my daily life leads up to this moment. Lisa comes in smiling, she takes me back, and we chat. She then weighs me (and never says the number out loud- gotta love her!) I sit back in the chair, get my injection, it is exactly the same routine each and every time. My husband sits by my side, reading and attending to whatever I need. I don’t talk so the uptake doesn’t go to my vocal cords, which if you know me, is a feat in itself. TV is Regis and Kelly. My wonderful friend Shirley, a true saint and my guardian angel, is there, chatting and staying upbeat. But, I know by 10:45 I will be “dead man walking” to the end of the hall to get in the machine.” This is the machine that holds all the answers of where my life will go.

I lay down; Lisa tucks me in with a warm, cozy blanket and a smile on her pretty face. She mentions that Todd added a neck pillow for comfort since we lay with our arms extended above our heads for 25 minutes. They play the CD that Linda used to play, and made a copy of, for me, when she left. It is beautiful gospel music and I know exactly where I will be in the process of my scan by each song, so if anything is off I will be forewarned. I will be finished and moving back during the middle of “One day at a Time, Sweet Jesus.” It is all horrifyingly slow and torturous.

I chant to myself, “Jesus give me patience in adversity” a quote taken from my rosary novena booklet. I feel that while I am in the machine, that there is absolutely no greater torture than this. The mental weight on my body feels almost unbearable; I am petrified because I know that Lisa and Todd behind the glass can see if my body has betrayed me again, or if I get another “get out of jail free card.” Twenty-five minutes feels like twenty-five years.

Then the fun really starts. Since I went “through the looking glass” back in January 2006, Dr Langer, my oncologist, has now given Dr. Adler permission to give me preliminary results right there. Dr. Langer also knows me very well, and knows I am completely unable to hold it together, if I don’t know the results right away. I always schedule my scan at 9:00 a.m., and Dr. Langer at 1:00 p.m. on a Tuesday. Dr. Langer once said to a doctor who had given me incorrect results, “So, what kind of spatula did you use to scrape her off the ceiling?” This man really gets to know his patients!

I then go to wait in the tastefully decorated little waiting room, wringing my hands. I am unable to breathe. The weight that I felt in the machine seems even heavier now. Just waiting for him to step through the door, and say the words, that will either start my six-month clock ticking again or crush me… Then he says calmly, “Your scan looks great, just like last time.” No inflection in his voice, no excitement just a soothing gentle voice, that at the time, sounds like angels singing. I love this man. At the exact moment I could kiss and hug him, I just breathe, something I hadn’t done in the last few minutes. The weight on my body floats away, and it is replaced with the utmost feeling of happiness any human being could ever feel! I am officially cleared to go to the finish line!

We chat, he shows us the scan, and he says he will call Dr. Langer with the final diagnosis in the next hour. He tells me he still reserves the right to change the diagnosis after he goes back and goes over it speck by speck. They give me a copy of the CD to take to Penn. I say goodbye to everyone, hug Joan and walk out the door with my husband and Shirley. Then all of a sudden, everything is back in fast motion; we’re all making phone calls and sending texts, sharing the results.

We get to Penn, grab a quick sandwich and I feel as if I am truly floating on air. We wait our turn to see Dr. Langer, another genius and artist. He carefully sculpts the right path for each and every patient, guaranteeing them the best possible result for their personal situation. He is the Leonardo DiVinci of oncology. He is a wonderful personable man, who just makes you feel so safe. I searched out the best doctors, leaving no stone unturned and they have taken such good care of me. I am so fortunate. I feel that there is nothing I can do to give them back what they have given to me. So I vow to help these men do what they do best, it has become my personal quest, and one I will honor for the rest of my life, which usually, except for scan day, seems to be moving at breakneck speed.

5 thoughts on “Through the Looking Glass… To The Place Where Time Stands Still

  1. Dear Donna,

    I read you article and I can certainly relate to it 100%. i like you have ct scans every 6 months. During the 6 months i really do not think about the cancer too much. i still work and keep myself busy. but on cat scan day i feel just like you. cant sleep a few nights before that day or the night before. i cry. my stomach is churning. i am so scared. When i get the good results I feel free for another 6 months. Your article made me feel so much better. it just isn’t me who has these feelings. Pat

  2. From Linda via our Facebook page:

    Excellent article and continued success to you. I’m almost 12 years out but still have the yet to get off the 6 month “where time stands still.”
    Thanks for sharing a very personal experience which helps the patient, families and caregivers …;)
    And a huge HUG to all of the great oncologists and their team who hold our hand through the journey!

  3. Hi Donna!

    I’m so glad you directed our office to your new blog! I read your entry aloud to our office staff on our lunch break today, and they want me to tell you they have goosebumps. Our patients mean so much to us, and we’re here to cheer you on. We look forward to hearing from you more in the future from this blog — not just every six months!

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