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Cancer Scans: A New Record Is Available

Do you log in to your online health account when you know the news could be bad?
PUBLISHED December 23, 2016
Martha lives in Illinois and was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in January 2015. She has a husband and three children, ranging in age from 12 to 18, a dog and a lizard.
Less than a week ago, I had my regularly scheduled three-month CT scan to determine if my treatment with Herceptin and Perjeta continues to hold stable any remaining questionable spots in my lungs and to check if lymph nodes are still looking the same. I’ve been having these steady three-month scans for two years now, interspersed with other slightly less stressful tests.

The anticipation of CT scans, the drinking of barium that inevitably ends with an upset stomach, the iodine-based contrast IV that makes you feel as though you will have wet underwear when you get up from the machine (you may or may not, I suppose, although that feeling of warmth is a given) and the whirring of the machines. These are the things that raise my anxiety to the almost-intolerable.

And then there's the waiting for the results. So far in my treatment, I have had an appointment scheduled with my oncologist within a week of CT scans and I've always heard results at those appointments. I haven't called or emailed for results, even though I think they might be willing to share them early.

But this morning I awoke to an e-mail message from my hospital: “A New Test Result Is Available”

I sit here typing instead of logging in to my hospital account. Do I want to read my results without the doctor first giving me her assessment and advice?

Will it even be the results of those CT scans?

I had injured my knee, and care for that entailed x-rays and, presumably, an eventual “new record” in my account. 

But if I log in to my health record to see if it's just the records for my knee, I will also immediately know if it is not.

Living with the stress and anxiety of CT scans when you have been diagnosed with metastatic cancer is unlike anything I could have imagined. I am well aware that there are terrible diseases and deaths out there. I know people and have friends who have lived (and died) with them. With many diseases, you know, though. With rashes or by sudden changes in physical ability, you often know if the disease you have is progressing. 

But the same cannot be said for metastatic cancer. It can be growing and spreading and the only way to know before it is too late — and often even after it is too late — is through these scans.

I've become well-versed in what the various types of scans can show and what they might miss. I know that what I may find in my health record, if it turns out to be about my knee, could show something unexpected about my bones.

In these days before the end of the year, just a couple of days before I have my oncologist appointment, do I want to risk opening up those files to find out what the next three months are likely to hold? Would you?
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