2nd PET Scan and Information About PET Scans

I had my second PET scan on Friday since starting iBrance and Faslodex. I wasn’t nervous about the scan; that part is relatively easy; it’s the uncertainty and having to wait to see my oncologist for the results that is the most difficult part. I also deal with pain during my scan because ever since my first surgery in April 2019, I have had pain when raising my arms over my head, which can become very uncomfortable when I have to stay still in that position for more than a few minutes.

Unfortunately, PET Scans are not as quick and easy as getting X-rays. From checking in to registering, going through the scan process to leaving, I was there for 3 hours. I go alone to the appointments because my husband can’t go back with me while I am being scanned, so it doesn’t make sense for him to be there. He goes with me to my oncologist appointment after my scan, so he will be with me when I get my results. I never know what to expect, so it is comforting to have him with me, no matter what the results turn out to be.

Until I faced breast cancer in 2019, I had never had surgery, a biopsy, a CT Scan, a Bone Scan – Nuclear Medicine, or a PET Scan. I have learned so much in the last three years and eight months about things I wish I had never had to experience. I share as much information as I can with my readers because I want you to not only understand what I have been through and what I am going through now as a stage 4 metastatic breast cancer patient but also to help those who are going through the same journey. It is terrifying when you don’t know what to expect, and you are overwhelmed with information. I try to make it a little easier for those interested in getting the information needed to help themselves through whatever they may be facing or helping a friend or loved one through a difficult time.

What is a PET Scan?

A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is an imaging test that can help reveal the metabolic or biochemical function of your tissues and organs. The PET scan uses a radioactive drug (tracer) to show both normal and abnormal metabolic activity. A PET scan can often detect the abnormal metabolism of the tracer in diseases before the disease shows up on other imaging tests, such as computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

The tracer is most often injected into a vein within your hand or arm. The tracer will then collect into areas of your body that have higher levels of metabolic or biochemical activity, which often pinpoints the location of the disease.

Why it’s done

A PET scan is an effective way to help identify a variety of conditions, including cancer, heart disease and brain disorders. Your doctor can use this information to help diagnose, monitor or treat your condition.

Cancer

PET scan combined with CT scan

Cancer cells show up as bright spots on PET scans because they have a higher metabolic rate than do normal cells. PET scans may be useful in:

  • Detecting cancer
  • Revealing whether your cancer has spread
  • Checking whether a cancer treatment is working
  • Finding a cancer recurrence

PET scans must be interpreted carefully because noncancerous conditions can look like cancer, and some cancers do not appear on PET scans. Many types of solid tumors can be detected by PET-CT and PET-MRI scans, including:

  • Brain
  • Breast
  • Cervical
  • Colorectal
  • Esophageal
  • Head and neck
  • Lung
  • Lymphatic system
  • Pancreatic
  • Prostate
  • Skin
  • Thyroid

Heart disease

PET scan image of the heart

PET scans can reveal areas of decreased blood flow in the heart. This information can help you and your doctor decide, for example, whether you might benefit from a procedure to open clogged heart arteries (angioplasty) or coronary artery bypass surgery.

Brain disorders

PET scans of the brain for Alzheimer's disease

PET scans can be used to evaluate certain brain disorders, such as tumors, Alzheimer’s disease and seizures.

Risks

For your PET scan, a radioactive drug (tracer) will be injected into a vein. Because the amount of radiation you’re exposed to in the tracer is small, the risk of negative effects from the radiation is low. But the tracer might:

  • Expose your unborn baby to radiation if you are pregnant
  • Expose your child to radiation if you are breastfeeding
  • Cause an allergic reaction, although this is rare

Talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of a PET scan.

How you prepare

Tell your doctor:

  • If you’ve ever had a bad allergic reaction
  • If you’ve been sick recently or you have another medical condition, such as diabetes
  • If you’re taking any medications, vitamins or herbal supplements
  • If you’re pregnant or you think you might be pregnant
  • If you’re breastfeeding
  • If you’re afraid of enclosed spaces (claustrophobic)

Your doctor will give you detailed instructions on how to prepare for your scan. A general rule is to avoid strenuous exercise for a couple of days before the scan and to only drink water after midnight before the day of the scan.

What you can expect

The PET-CT or PET-MRI scanner is a large machine that looks a little like a giant doughnut standing upright, similar to CT or MRI scanners.

From start to finish, the procedure takes about two hours to complete and typically does not require an overnight hospital stay. When you arrive for your scan, you may be asked to:

  • Change into a hospital gown
  • Empty your bladder

A member of your health care team injects the radioactive drug (tracer) into a vein in your arm or hand. You may briefly feel a cold sensation moving up your arm. You rest and remain silent in a reclining chair for 30 to 60 minutes while the tracer is absorbed by your body.

During the procedure

When you are ready, you lie on a narrow, padded table that slides into the part of the scanner that looks like a doughnut hole. During the scan you must be very still so that the images aren’t blurred. It takes about 30 minutes to complete a PET-CT scan and 45 minutes for a PET-MRI scan. The machine makes buzzing and clicking sounds.

The test is painless. If you’re afraid of enclosed spaces, you may feel some anxiety while in the scanner. Be sure to tell the nurse or technologist about any anxiety causing you discomfort. He or she may give you a drug to help you relax.

After the procedure

After the test you can carry on with your day as usual, unless your doctor tells you otherwise. You’ll need to drink plenty of fluids to help flush the tracer from your body.

Results

A doctor specially trained to interpret scan images (radiologist) will report the findings to your doctor.

The radiologist may compare your PET images with images from other tests you’ve undergone recently, such as MRI or CT. Or the PET images may be combined to provide more detail about your condition.

I hope this explanation of PET scans helps you to understand what is involved and what cancer patients go through as a regular part of their care. Depending on the type of cancer and the treatment plan, most cancer patients are scanned every three to six months. I am scanned every four months because my cancer, in both 2019 and currently, has proven to be aggressive, so my oncologist feels that every three months is too often, but every six months is too long between scans, making both him and me nervous.

I will post again once I have my results, but in the meantime, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me. Thank you for being here! 💕

What is Metastatic Breast Cancer?

Many people have asked me to explain what Metastatic Breast Cancer is and what it means for my future. There are a lot of misconceptions out there as to what a stage 4 MBC diagnosis means. The information below is an excellent explanation, that is clear and easy to understand. I previously posted an article specifically about the Myths and Misconceptions About Metastatic Breast Cancer which highlighted many of the questions that I have been asked since being diagnosed back in March.

Metastatic breast cancer {also called stage IV} is breast cancer that has spread beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes to other parts of the body. Although metastatic breast cancer has spread to another part of the body, it’s still breast cancer and treated as breast cancer.

The most common breast cancer metastasis sites are the bones, the lungs, the brain, and the liver. The symptoms of metastatic breast cancer can be very different depending on the location of the cancer cells.

Bone Metastasis: Symptoms and Diagnosis
The most common symptom of breast cancer that has spread to the bone is a sudden, noticeable new pain. Breast cancer can spread to any bone, but most often spreads to the ribs, spine, pelvis, or the long bones in the arms and legs.

Lung Metastasis: Symptoms and Diagnosis
When breast cancer moves into the lung, it often doesn’t cause symptoms. If a lung metastasis does cause symptoms, they may include pain or discomfort in the lung, shortness of breath, persistent cough, and others.

Brain Metastasis: Symptoms and Diagnosis
Symptoms of breast cancer that has spread to the brain can include headache, changes in speech or vision, memory problems, and others.

Liver Metastasis: Symptoms and Diagnosis
When breast cancer spreads to the liver, it often doesn’t cause symptoms. If a liver metastasis does cause symptoms, they can include pain or discomfort in the mid-section, fatigue, and weakness, weight loss or poor appetite, fever, and others.

Cancer cells can break away from the original tumor in the breast and travel to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or the lymphatic system, which is a large network of nodes and vessels that works to remove bacteria, viruses, and cellular waste products.

Breast cancer can come back in another part of the body months or years after the original diagnosis and treatment. Nearly 30% of women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer will develop metastatic disease.

Some people have metastatic breast cancer when they are first diagnosed with breast cancer (called “de novo metastatic”). This means that the cancer in the breast wasn’t detected before it spread to another part of the body.

A metastatic tumor in a different part of the body is made up of cells from the breast cancer. So if breast cancer spreads to the bone, the metastatic tumor in the bone is made up of breast cancer cells, not bone cells.

Being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer can be overwhelming. You may feel angry, scared, stressed, outraged, and depressed. Some people may question the treatments they had or may be mad at their doctors or themselves for not being able to beat the disease. Others may deal with the diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer in a matter-of-fact way. There is no right or wrong way to come to terms with the diagnosis. You need to do and feel what is best for you and your situation.

Keep in mind that metastatic disease is NOT hopeless. Many people continue to live long, productive lives with breast cancer in this stage. There are a wide variety of treatment options for metastatic breast cancer, and new medicines are being tested every day. More and more people are living life to the fullest while being treated for metastatic breast cancer.

While metastatic breast cancer may not go away completely, treatment may control it for a number of years. If one treatment stops working, there usually is another one you can try. Cancer can be active sometimes and then go into remission at other times. Many different treatments alone, in combination, or in sequence are often used. Taking breaks in treatment when the disease is under control and you are feeling good can make a big difference in your quality of life.

September & October Doctor’s Appointments

I have had several doctor’s appointments over the last two months, seeing my oncologist twice, my surgeon, and having my annual mammogram done.

On Monday, September 12th, I had my monthly oncologist appointment to chat with my doctor, check my blood, and get my Faslodex injections. As far as my bloodwork is concerned, it is a little better. My white blood cell count went up a little bit from last month, so my ANC went up as well, which is good. My PA explained that my white blood cell count, red blood cell count, and ANC levels would go up and down from month to month, but it is normal, and as long as I am not too far off from a normal range, there is no reason to worry.

Friday, September 16th: I had my annual mammogram appointment. This appointment is made along with my annual check-up with my surgeon, so he orders the mammogram and then follows up to do my annual exam and go over my results. My mammogram appointments are not routine, mainly because of the scar tissue I have from my surgeries. As usual, they had to do extra imaging, but at least this time, I didn’t have to go through an ultrasound as well as a mammogram. The hospital has a 3D mammogram machine now so that they can get amazingly clear images. The tech I had was the same one I saw back in 2019, and she was very open about showing me the side-by-side pictures from 2019 and now. It was both sad and a relief to see the comparison because my tumors were very easy to see in 2019, just as it is easy to see that there is nothing in my imaging now to be concerned about. My appointment took 3 hours; as I said, not routine, but when I leave, I had my results in my hand, which was a relief because I didn’t have to wait until the following week when I saw my surgeon. All of my imaging was clear, with no sign of cancer.

Wednesday, September 21st: I went to see my surgeon for my annual check-up and to discuss my mammogram results. As soon as he walked into the exam room, he asked me about having a biopsy done on one of the ribs on my back, so I explained the imaging I had that led up to my getting the biopsy. Once we discussed what I had been through since I last saw him in February, he went through my annual exam. He said that I might have some slight capsular contracture developing in both breasts. I was alarmed by this news, but at this time, I am not overly concerned as I am not in any pain, and I can’t physically feel anything myself. But my surgeon is the expert. So if he feels something, then I believe him; he certainly knows better than I do. He mentioned a few times that I don’t have to limit my visits to once a year, so I agreed and said I would feel better if he kept a closer eye on things, so we decided to do a checkup every six months. I love that my surgeon genuinely cares about his patients and that I can fully trust him.

My oncologist appointment on October 11th was pretty routine. My white blood cell count dropped by .1, but again, it will fluctuate a little from month to month, so there is no reason to be worried. This time my Faslodex injection on the right side hurt for days. I do have some discomfort, usually in the evening after I have had my injections, but this time the pain lasted for days. I can’t explain why it hurt so much this time, but I am sure the thickness of the medicine is part of it. Unfortunately, I now dread the injection part of my appointments, but I must have them because the treatment will help keep my cancer from spreading more than it already has.

I’m sorry for the late update. I have been struggling with several things but mainly with depression. I might write about it in the future, but for now, I need to keep the details to myself. All I can say is that having stage 4 cancer is hard, especially mentally and emotionally. People compliment me on how good I look, and I appreciate that because I try my best not to look as ill as I feel on any given day. On the bad days, I stay at home because I can’t face people, and on the good days, especially days when I have little to no fatigue, I get out of the house or do a workout; anything I can do to take advantage of feeling better on that particular day.

Take care and remember, tomorrow is never promised, so live your life as best as you can. Be kind to people, treat people the way you want to be treated, and don’t judge people; you have no idea what someone else is going through, so always be kind and keep hate out of your heart. 💕

Oncologist Appointment & 2nd Biopsy Results

My husband and I went to see my oncologist on Tuesday to get the biopsy results on my rib. He told us that the results were positive, that there are several cells of cancer located on my rib, and that the mass as a whole is 2.9cm and is located about 1 inch from my spine. I do not have bone cancer; the cancer is not inside my rib. I had absolutely no idea that it was there until a “spot” showed up both on the nuclear bone scan and the PET scan, hence getting the biopsy last week. The cancer cells are similar to the cancer I had before, so it is the same type, breast cancer, so I am diagnosed with Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer. It is metastatic breast cancer because my originating cancer was breast cancer, and it has now spread from the breast to another part of my body.

Once the biopsy results were in, my oncologist and my radiation oncologist spoke and determined that putting me through radiation would not only be challenging to treat but also a waste of time. It is difficult to treat me because I have cancer in two very different areas of my body, my neck, and back. They decided it would be a waste of time because they are convinced that I most likely have cancer elsewhere in my body that is too small to show up in scans. So they decided that we should treat my entire body instead of just the areas where we know I have cancer. Surgery is not an option because there is no point in opening me up when I most likely have cancer elsewhere. Plus, surgery in both areas is quite risky due to major blood vessels, arteries, and the spot on my rib being so close to my spine. So with all of those facts in place, I will be starting medication on Monday.

Stage 4 cancer has no cure. As odd as it sounds, I am lucky that we are dealing with breast cancer because there are many drug choices for treatment, and the medical world is always coming out with new and improved drugs. Why is that? Because breast cancer is the leading cancer in the US, with over 2.26 million cases per year, followed very closely by lung cancer at 2.21 million cases per year. Stage 4 breast cancer ads constantly barrage us on TV, and that is why. Not all stage 4 metastatic breast cancer meds are chemotherapy drugs, but I will be on a chemotherapy drug called iBrance. No, I will not lose my hair while on iBrance, even though it is chemotherapy which I am very thankful for. What is sad about iBrance is that it is $18,000 a month; no one can afford that, so thankfully, there is an aid to apply for to get it free for a year. I will also have a new inhibitor in an injection called Faslodex. These two medications are often paired together with favorable results in killing cancer, keeping it from coming back, and extending life.

It is hoped that iBrance being chemotherapy will kill the cancer in my body, and Faslodex with replace the current inhibitor that I am taking, which is Anastrozole because it didn’t work. The Anastrozole might have kept my cancer from spreading and growing more, but it did not keep cancer from coming back by lowering the estrogen in my system, which is its primary job. I have estrogen-driven breast cancer, so I have to take an inhibitor. I took Anastrozole for two years out of 10 before my cancer returned. My treatment plan is as follows…I will be taking iBrance for 21 days, and then I will stop taking it for seven days, then that cycle will repeat. On Monday, I will start my Faslodex injections, with the first three injections being one injection every two weeks and then once a month after that. In about three months, I will have a PET scan to see if there is any change in the size of my tumors. If the medications are working, my tumors should be smaller; if there is no change, my medication will most likely be changed. If my tumors are persistent, I may have to undergo infusion chemotherapy again, but we will try to avoid that. I don’t have any details about how long I will be on the medications, but I suspect it will be at the very least until having a clear PET scan; but I will find out for sure when I see my oncologist on Monday.

I will post again when I have more information about the length of my treatment and how my first injection appointment went. Take care, everyone!

CT Guided Biopsy

A few days ago, I had a CT Guided Biopsy of my 8th rib on the left side, on my back. Everything went well; I am in a little bit of pain, but nothing that Tylenol can’t help. The doctor instructed me to rest for the rest of the day on Thursday, remove my bandage on Friday, and resume my normal activities.

After finishing my paperwork in the hospital registration office, I went to the lab to have my blood drawn for a few panels; among a few other things, they had to check my kidney function before doing the CT, and after that, I went to radiology to wait to be taken to the pre-op area.

Once my nurse was done prepping me for my procedure, my anesthesiologist came to get me and take me to the CT room. He explained that he would only give me enough medication to make me relaxed and a little sleepy but not entirely out. He said that if I did get sleepy not fight it and let myself fall asleep. I did fall asleep for some of the procedure, but I don’t think it was for very long because the process only took about 30 minutes.

When I walked into the CT room, they had me lay on my stomach on the CT table. I was shocked to find out that the lesion is actually on my 8th rib on the left side of my back, not in the front, and it is very close to my spine, so that has me a bit concerned. The rib that I fractured some 18 years ago, that I was thinking was what was showing up in my scans, was a few ribs down from where the lesion is located, so it has nothing to do with the lesion at all. So with that said, I don’t know what to expect when I meet with my oncologist next Tuesday to get my biopsy results.

I have had many people ask me what I think of all of this, how I am feeling, and what my gut is telling me. I can’t help but see the similarities to the first time I went through cancer three years ago. With every appointment, things get worse and worse, more scans, more biopsies, etc. As before, I want to know what type of cancer I have to fight against, and I want to get started on whatever treatment plan my doctors and I agree on as soon as possible so I can get this over with and move on.

I am feeling OK so far. Even if the lesion on my rib is positive for cancer, it appears to be localized like the tumors in my neck, so it is not as aggressive as it was in 2019, and because of that, I have been feeling much better physically this time around so far. Mentally I am up and down; the stress is unreal because this is the moment as a cancer survivor that I have been fearful of, having to deal with recurrence.

Lastly, what is my gut telling me? I will be shocked if the lesion on my rib is negative for cancer. After reading the PET scan report and looking up a few medical terms that I had not seen before, I immediately thought that it would be a bad result once the biopsy results came in. I, of course, hope that I am wrong, and in a few days, I will know for sure.

Oncologist Appointment & PET Scan Results

I met with my oncologist this past Tuesday to discuss the results of my PET Scan. I was shocked to hear that I have two tumors in my neck, not just one. I found them early, so they are small, 0.9 x 0.5 cm and 0.5 x 0.5 cm. So small, under 1 cm, that they usually wouldn’t have done a biopsy on them, but I had already gone to my surgeon to have the initial ultrasound and biopsy done and had received the results already. I am happy that I took that initiative and went to see my surgeon as soon as I found the tumors so that I found out sooner rather than later that my cancer had returned.

The spot on my rib is still causing concern; it has been determined that it is a lesion that was not on my previous PET Scan in 4/2019. So with the fact that it was not on the last PET Scan and the combination of findings from the recent PET Scan, they are concerned that it is a solitary bone metastasis. My oncologist ended up ordering a biopsy of my rib after our discussion. So next Thursday, I am going to the hospital to have a biopsy of the lesion done. I will have both a local drug and anesthesia for the procedure. The procedure will take about an hour, and I will be in recovery for about 2 hours as they want to keep a close eye on me for bleeding and excessive pain. Unfortunately, I have to go through this biopsy to know if the lesion is cancer or not because it could change my treatment plan if it is positive for cancer, and I then have two different locations on my body with cancer.

Because I am having the biopsy done this coming week, I cannot continue planning with my radiation oncologist at this time. It is good that she now has the images she needed to determine my scope of treatment and if it is possible to treat the tumors in my neck, but the biopsy results could change everything. The lesion on my rib is on my 8th rib, right under my left breast, so as far as I know, it is located in the previous scope of treatment done in 2019/2020.

So my oncologist and I discussed what would happen if I couldn’t have radiation treatment. As far as my neck is concerned, he doesn’t want me to have to undergo surgery, but it is a possibility that I may have to go that route. When it comes to my rib, he didn’t want to speculate on it much. I asked him if it is common for there to be one tumor in one location when it comes to bone cancer, and he said it is unusual but not impossible.

Yesterday my husband remembered that I had pain in my rib several months ago. While we were discussing it, I remembered that I mentioned it to my surgeon when I saw him for a follow-up appointment in September. I pointed to the location of the pain and told him that I felt a bump there as well. When he felt the spot that was hurting me, he said, “that is your rib,” and I told him that I didn’t realize it was my rib because I had never been able to feel my rib so easily when I weighed much more than I do now. He asked if I remembered bumping into something or hurting it somehow, and I couldn’t recall doing anything like that. So I felt it yesterday, and when I pressed on it, it still hurt, and the bump was slightly more significant. So now that I remember that conversation with my surgeon, I am very anxious to get the biopsy done and meet with my oncologist to discuss the results and what will happen next.

I know this might not be common, but it seems that my body will cause me random pain, and then I find a tumor one to two weeks later. It has happened to me three times in a row, so I can say without a doubt that I will never, ever ignore any pain I might have in the future, especially if it is around my bones. My experiences are listed below; I don’t believe that this is a coincidence anymore.

Pain in my lower neck, to shoulder, to the shoulder blade = breast cancer

Pain from my outer ear, up the side of my head, to the top of my head = breast cancer in the lymph nodes in my neck

Pain in the 8th rib under my breast = most likely more cancer, not sure of the type due to location

I will update again next Thursday, depending on how much pain I am in, or Friday about my biopsy. Thank you for being here!

%d bloggers like this: