There’s anxiety. And then there’s scanxiety

Barry Hollander
Dec 22, 2015 · 3 min read
The source of all Scanxiety, a CT

For those of us with cancer, scanxiety starts before our next scan that tells us if our tumors have grown, have shrunk, and if so by how much.

A quick synopsis: I have thyroid cancer, which is usually cured through surgery and a radioactive iodine treatment. For some that doesn’t work. I, along with others, are deemed RAI resistant. Thyroid cancer has spread to my lungs. It’s not lung cancer, it’s thyroid cancer metastasized to my lungs. And there’s no chemo, no cure. Others like me may have it in their necks, their lungs, their bones, their brain. Anyone calls it a “good cancer,” you smack ‘em upside the head.

I’m in a clinical trial at MD Anderson, taking a combination of dabrafenib and trametinib. To get technical, the first is a BRAF inhibitor, the second an MEK inhibitor. The drug hopefully blocks these key pathways to starve the cancer cells. While it won’t kill them, it can shrink them, hold them at bay, at least for a while and delay the inevitable until a newer, better drug comes along.

My first CT scan was good. The drugs did their thing — some tumors shrank, others remained stable. My second scan was not good, there was growth again, enough that she moved me from the clinical trial’s dabrafenib-only arm to the dabrafenib and trametinib combo arm.

So my next scan is January 25. I figure about the middle of the month I’ll have scanxiety kick in.

About that bad scan. My doc is great, the best (she is at the top cancer center in the country, after all), but she and I disagree.

Because of acid reflux, I’d gone on an 80 mg a day dose of omeprazole. That’s four times the normal dose, which is a single 20 mg pill a day. I was taking twice a day a 40 mg pill. I was on this after the first good scan and for a few weeks before that bad scan. If you read the drug info carefully, it warns that omeprazole can interfere with absorption of dabrafenib. My doc doesn’t buy into my desperate hypothesis that omeprazole caused the bad scan, but I cling to hope. Needless to say I’m off omeprazole until we see the new results.

Yeah, she’s probably right. She’s the expert. And yet, and yet…

And if the scan is not good?

She’s working on proposing new clinical trials, and many of us have hopes for immunotherapy. Plus there’s a standby drug (with harsh side effects) that I can go on if necessary. Ugh.

My local oncologist told me in January 2015 that I had 2 to 4 years to live. In other words, he slapped an expiration date on my forehead and promised “we’ll take care of you.” I’ve got a ways to go before I can send him a “Still Alive” card. Does Hallmark make a “Still Alive” card? Gotta check on that. In 2019.

Oh, on a related note, I feel OK. I just returned from a routine bloodwork and doc visit to Houston as part of the clinical trial. They want to ensure no side effects are happening, but I’m really really tired of Hobby Airport. I’ve flown through there so often now that I know which sinks work and which ones don’t work in the men’s bathrooms.

Barry Hollander

Written by

Former hack journalist and now hack journalism professor at UGA, data cruncher, public opinion scholar, and Internet junkie.

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