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The Waiting Room

I’m not sure if this happens to everyone, but my mind always seems to wander as we sit in the waiting room at MSK.   As the assistants repeatedly call out names, trying to locate patients amidst the sea of people in the waiting room, this time I hear…“Anna.  Anna.”  A pause.  “Anna?”  Who are you, Anna?  What’s your story?  Is it the young lady across from us or the middle-aged woman beside her?  So many questions race through my mind…How has cancer impacted your life?  Do you know you have cancer or are you hear to find out your diagnosis?  Is it a recurrence that has brought you here today or has it been years since your diagnosis and you’re here for a routine checkup?

Whatever the case may be, my heart goes out to everyone in this waiting room.  Every single person here has in some way had the “C” word come crashing unexpected and uninvited into their lives.  As for us, we’re sitting here waiting to see how JJ has responded to 6 weeks of radiation he recently completed.  We know that we have to interpret the results of his MRI with caution.  It’s difficult to tell in the first month or two following radiation treatments whether changes on the MRI are due to tumor growth or treatment related inflammation.  So, we wait.  We wait to get the results, but we’re not sure what they’ll tell us exactly.

As I look out the wall of windows at the gray skies above, I notice the rain gently falling on the pedestrians below, and I am hoping that the scans don’t show significant growth.  I can deal with a cold, dreary day but I don’t know if I can handle that.  Then, I hear it.  “James Hanson.  James Hanson?”  My heart races as we’re escorted back down the long hallway into the exam room where I know that we’ll inevitably have to wait a little longer to get the results.  I think, “Okay, just breathe.  No matter what the results show, we can do this.  Breathe.”

When the doctors walk in I always try to read their facial expressions.  I hear little else they say until they tell us what the scans look like.  Some visits they tell us the results more quickly than others.  This time, they first took a few minutes to ask us how JJ has been doing.  We discussed the lingering nausea and back pain as well as the recent seizures in the last 3 weeks.

After what seems like an eternity, they tell us that the MRI looks very similar to the one taken 4 weeks ago.  The area of enhancement surrounding the tumor bed is slightly larger, but not significantly so.  The radiology report states that it’s possibly due to treatment related changes and JJ’s neurooncologist hopes that is the case too.  We discuss the likelihood that JJ’s seizures and new symptoms are due to the tapering of his seizure meds or from neurological changes related to the cancer.  And, ultimately, we decide to move forward with another immunotherapy infusion.  We will stay the course for now and we schedule another MRI for 4 weeks and 8 weeks from now.  If JJ improves over the next 4 weeks and no new symptoms or seizures occur, then we might cancel the 4 week MRI and wait the 8 weeks until the next one.

Although we always hope for these scans to be crystal clear, we expected to hear this one was similar to the last one.  It wasn’t significantly worse and we will consider that is a win for us today.  We continue to remain hopeful there will be clear scans in our near future.

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