Scan takes on new meaning for cancer patients

Published11/3/2008 12:04 AM

There are many variations in the simple word "scan."

We scan our newspapers; we scan e-mails; we scan a crowd to spot friends and family. Seldom do we think of using the noun version. What's a scan?


Medically, it's related to X-rays or images that are read by radiology specialists. To make the images clear and easy to read, some preparation is needed. Many tests require that no food be consumed - only clear liquids - for at least four hours prior to the procedures. Others also demand chugging one or more contrast agents, like barium.

My latest scan needed an investment in time, no food at least four hours in advance, and an injection that would likely cause security detectors to sound or light up. I joked around that people needed to give me space, lest they glow in the dark.

I completed the first of the scan series four hours after eating. I topped off the liquid treats by glugging the bottle of water as I waited for the other scans. With some down time between tests and feeling very hungry, I scarfed down a turkey and cheese sandwich before heading to the hospital gift shop.

Back for the rest of the scans, I climbed onto the ever-so-skinny table where I could doze through the rest.

Handed another bottle of water as I re-emerged into the world, I returned to life as I knew it, with instructions to let nature wash what was injected down the drain before it damaged my kidneys.

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With a long-past history of unrelated kidney stones, I didn't want to take any chances, so I dutifully drank plenty of water. While scans are not habit-forming, drinking water can become a regular thing.

Even my cat defies the norm. He isn't slated for any scans but finds running water irresistible.

He happily dips a front paw into a faucet set to a trickle, meowing to announce his success in discovering the latest fountain of youth. If the trickle is just right, he'll slurp directly from the faucet, announcing to all within earshot that he's ready for a scan, too.

• Ruth Gesmer Silverman of Buffalo Grove learned in March 2007 that her breast cancer, originally diagnosed in 2002, had spread to her bones. Her column about living with the disease appears every other week in Health & Fitness.

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