To Dye or Not

Last week, I underwent a three-month scan for cancer. I am still cancer free, so let’s get that out of the way. I’m so cancer free that I started thinking about those with kidney cancer who have scans. That’s when I started asking questions about this procedure that I’ve already undergone what seems like a million times. My questions, while answered by the technicians, of course led me to other questions. Here are the answers. 

Let’s start at the beginning. Do we use CT or CAT Scan when referring to this kind of test? According to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center’s Blog at https://bit.ly/3lKrkjP:  

“… CAT and CT scans both mean the same type of diagnostic examination. CAT was used earlier in its history, while CT is the recent up-to-date term for convenience sake. The term CT stands for computed tomography and the term CAT stands for computed axial tomography or computerized axial tomography scan.” 

Huh? I get ‘computed,’ but what’s ‘tomography’? On to my favorite dictionary of all time. You guessed it; The Merriam-Webster Dictionary at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tomography tells us, it’s: 

“a method of producing a three-dimensional image of the internal structures of a solid object (such as the human body or the earth) by the observation and recording of the differences in the effects on the passage of waves of energy impinging on those structures” 

Ah, that makes sense. Now what about this iodine dye that we, as Chronic Kidney Disease patients, are not supposed to have? I went to Inside Radiology at https://www.insideradiology.com.au/iodine-containing-contrast-medium/ for information. 

“Iodine-containing contrast medium (ICCM), sometimes called contrast or contrast medium, is a chemical substance used in medical X-ray imaging [Gail here: CT is a sort of X-ray.]. When injected into the body, ICCM shows what is happening inside the hollow parts of the body (like blood vessels, the stomach, bowel or even the fluid around the spinal cord) on X-ray images or pictures. When injected into a blood vessel, which can be either an artery or a vein, it not only shows the inside of the blood vessel, but it can give information about how the organs supplied by that blood vessel are working. Good examples of this are the kidneys, brain and lungs.” 

I still have my port from chemotherapy, so that was used to inject the iodine dye. Reminder, 

“A chemo port is a small, implantable reservoir with a thin silicone tube that attaches to a vein. The main advantage of this vein-access device is that chemotherapy medications can be delivered directly into the port rather than a vein, eliminating the need for needle sticks.” 

Thank you, Moffit Cancer Center, at https://moffitt.org/treatments/chemotherapy/what-is-a-chemo-port/ for this information. It’s pretty clear ports can also be used for the dye, blood draws, and infusions of any kind. For example, I’m receiving iron infusion once a week via my port. 

I know the big question here is why am I having contrast dye when it’s not recommended for CKD patients. Let’s take a closer look at that warning.

“’The historical fears of kidney injury from contrast-enhanced CT have led to unmeasured harms related to diagnostic error and diagnostic,’ explained lead author Matthew S. Davenport, MD, associate professor of radiology and urology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. ‘Modern data clarify that this perceived risk has been overstated….’” 

The above statement is from U.S. Pharmacist at https://www.uspharmacist.com/article/risk-of-contrast-media-in-reduced-kidney-function-patients-overstated

I’m comfortable with iodine contrast. First, it was clear that cancer took precedence over my kidney health, but now I’m not worried about it because of the overstatements. 

After the CT, saline was infused into my port. Wolf Medical Supply at https://bit.ly/3gjx8Q6 did a great job of explaining what this is and how it’s preformed in layman’s terms: 

“A saline flush is used to help prevent IV catheters from becoming blocked and to help remove any medication that may be left at the catheter site. 

A saline flush is a sterile mix of salt and water that is compatible with your body’s fluids and tissues. Typically, the healthcare provider will fill a syringe using a bottle of normal saline solution or use a prefilled flush syringe that’s been prepared under sterile conditions. 

To flush the IV, first, clean the IV port or hub, then connect an IV saline flush syringe to the port, slowly pull back on the syringe plunger, inject the saline solution into the IV line, and then start the medication drip. Before beginning another infusion, your provider will flush the line again.” 

We’re not done yet, though. Next came a heparin flush. Does the word ‘heparin’ sound familiar?  According to Drugs.com at https://bit.ly/3qvmGcW,   

“Heparin is an anticoagulant (blood thinner) that prevents the formation of blood clots. Heparin is used to treat and prevent blood clots caused by certain medical conditions or medical procedures. It is also used before surgery to reduce the risk of blood clots.” 

I didn’t understand why I needed heparin after a CT. WebMD at https://bit.ly/3mUeCjK explained: 

“This medication is used to keep IV catheters open and flowing freely. Heparin helps to keep blood flowing smoothly and from clotting in the catheter by making a certain natural substance in your body (anti-clotting protein) work better….” 

While I understood the CT process now, and hope that you do, too, there are warnings in place. For example,  

“Patients with kidney failure or other kidney problems should notify their doctor. In some cases, the contrast media can cause kidney failure, especially in patients with underlying kidney problems or dehydration. Patients taking the diabetes medication metformin (Glucophage), or its derivatives, who receive contrast are at increased risk of developing a condition called metabolic acidosis, or an unsafe change in blood pH, and the drug may be halted for 48 hours after the procedure.” 

The above is also from WebMD, but this time at https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-60428/heparin-lock-intravenous/details.  

I take the warning to mean speak with your nephrologist first. Although, your case may be like mine was: cancer first, then kidneys, especially if it’s kidney cancer. But we always speak with our nephrologists first, don’t we?  

Until next week, 

Keep living your life!

re·​ha·​bil·​i·​ta·​tion 

What! As if staying in the hospital for six to thirteen days weren’t enough, it turned out that I would be in a rehabilitation center for an additional six to eight weeks. Again, while this was for pancreatic cancer, many Chronic Kidney Disease patients who have had surgery may require a stay in such places, too. I look for new experiences, but not this kind.

human-438430Let’s go to my favorite dictionary, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rehabilitation for the definition of the word.

“: to bring (someone or something) back to a normal, healthy condition after an illness, injury, drug problem, etc.

b: to teach (a criminal in prison) to live a normal and productive life

c: to bring (someone or something) back to a good condition”

I hope it’s clear that it’s the first definition we’re dealing with today.

Forgive me for being dense, but I still didn’t get how that’s going to be done. So I searched for help and MedlinePlus, which is part of the U.S. National Library of Congress which, in turn, is part of the National Health Institutes, at https://medlineplus.gov/rehabilitation.html did just that.

What happens in a rehabilitation program?a.d.

When you get rehabilitation, you often have a team of different health care providers helping you. They will work with you to figure out your needs, goals, and treatment plan. The types of treatments that may be in a treatment plan include

  • Assistive devices, which are tools, equipment, and products that help people with disabilities move and function
  • Cognitive rehabilitation therapy to help you relearn or improve skills such as thinking, learning, memory, planning, and decision making
  • Mental health counseling
  • Music or art therapy to help you express your feelings, improve your thinking, and develop social connections
  • Nutritional counseling
  • Occupational therapy to help you with your daily activities
  • Physical therapy to help your strength, mobility, and fitness
  • Recreational therapy to improve your emotional well-being through arts and crafts, games, relaxation training, and animal-assisted therapy
  • Speech-language therapy to help with speaking, understanding, reading, writing and swallowing
  • Treatment for pain
  • Vocational rehabilitation to help you build skills for going to school or working at a job

Depending on your needs, you may have rehabilitation in the providers’ offices, a hospital, or an inpatient rehabilitation center. In some cases, a provider may come to your home. If you get care in your home, you will need to have family members or friends who can come and help with your rehabilitation.”

Personally, I won’t need some of these such as cognitive rehabilitation, speech-language therapy, and vocational rehabilitation. Brain and speaking aren’t involved in pancreatic surgery and I’m retired. You may be in the same situation if you have rehabilitation or you may not. It’s a list that’s made unique for each patient. I’ve got to remind you here that I’m not a doctor; this is a lay person giving her opinion.

IMG_1843(Edited)

Hmmm, it seemed pretty clear that each type of surgery requires its own sort of rehabilitation. Now that we know what’s involved, let’s see who would be involved if you required rehabilitation after a surgery. WebMD at https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/rehab-after-surgery#1 offered a succinct, easy to understand answer.

Who Works With You

Different experts help with different parts of your rehab. Some people who might be on your team:

Physiatrist. He’s a doctor who specializes in rehab. He tailors a plan to your needs and oversees the program to make sure it’s going well.

Physical therapist. He teaches you exercises to improve your strength and the range you have when you move your arm, leg, or whatever part of your body had the operation.

Occupational therapist. He helps you regain the skills you need for some basic activities in your everyday life. He might teach you how to cook meals, get dressed, shower or take a bath, and use the toilet. He’ll also show you how to use gadgets that can help you care for yourself more easily, such as a dressing stick or elastic shoelaces. Some occupational therapists will visit your home to make sure it’s safe and easy for you to get around.

Dietitian. He’ll help you plan healthy meals. If your doctor has told you to avoid salt, sugar, or certain foods after your surgery, the dietitian can help you find other choices.

Speech therapist. He helps with skills like talking, swallowing, and memory. Speech therapy can be helpful after surgery that affects your brain.

Nurses. They care for you if you’re staying for a few weeks or months in a rehab center. They may also come to your home to help track your recovery and help you with the transition to life back at home.

Psychologist or counselor. It’s natural to feel stressed out or depressed after your surgery. A mental health professional can help you manage your worries and treat any depression.

It can take many months to recover from an operation, but be patient. A lot depends on your overall health and the kind of procedure you had. Work closely with your rehab team and follow their instructions. Your hard work will pay off.”

Looking over the list, I won’t need a speech therapist and neither would you if you have some kind of kidney related surgery. I’m not so sure about a psychologist or counselor, either. I’m sort of thinking that going through chemotherapy and radiation treatments without one, I won’t need one after surgery. Then again, I’ve never had major surgery before and I’ve been told this is major major surgery. However, should I find myself in a position where my medical team and/or I feel I need counseling, I would not hesitate to ask for it… just as I’ve asked for help with the cancer.ot

Rehabilitation offers so much. I had no idea this was available until my surgeon told me about it. Nor did I know that Medicare will pay for it… sort of. This is from Medicare at https://www.medicare.gov/coverage/inpatient-rehabilitation-care.

 

“You pay this for each benefit period:

  • Days 1-60: $1,364 deductible.*
  • Days 61-90: $341 coinsurance each day.
  • Days 91 and beyond: $682 coinsurance per each “lifetime reserve day” after day 90 for each benefit period (up to 60 days over your lifetime).
  • Each day after the lifetime reserve days: all costs.

*You don’t have to pay a deductible for care you get in the inpatient rehabilitation facility if you were already charged a deductible for care you got in a prior hospitalization within the same benefit period. This is because your benefit period starts on day one of your prior hospital stay, and that stay counts towards your deductible.”

Excuse me while I go check my bank account.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!

Not Nuked

Friday, I saw my oncology radiologist after having had a week of radiation treatments. As he was explaining what the radiation was meant to do to the remaining third of the tumor and how it was being done, one sentence he uttered stood out to me: “This doesn’t work like your microwave.”

Since radiation is also used in treating kidney cancer… and any other kind of cancer, to the best of my knowledge… I decided to take a look at that statement. First we need to know how a microwave works, so we know how radiation treatment for cancer doesn’t work. I went to the Health Sciences Academy at https://thehealthsciencesacademy.org/health-tips/microwave-radiation/ for an explanation.

“How do microwaves work?

Before we talk about how microwaves heat your food, let’s make a distinction between two very different kinds of radiation:

  1. ionising radiation, and
  2. non-ionising radiation.

Ionising radiation, which can remove tightly-bound electrons from atoms, causing them to become charged, is less risky in very tiny amounts (such as x-rays) but can cause problems when exposure is high (think burns and even DNA damage). However, microwaves emit non-ionising radiation; a type of radiation that has enough energy to move atoms around within a molecule but not enough to remove electrons.

What does this mean? Because the radiation from microwaves is non-ionising, it can only cause molecules in the food to move. …. In other words, microwave radiation cannot alter the chemical structure of food components. More precisely, when heating food in a microwave, the radiation that the microwave produces is actually absorbed by the water molecules in the food. This energy causes the water molecules to vibrate, generating heat through this (harmless) friction, which cooks the food. This mechanism is what makes microwaves much faster at heating food than other methods. Its energy immediately reaches molecules that are about an inch below the outer surface of the food, whereas heat from other cooking methods moves into food gradually via conduction….”

Phew, I’m glad to know I’m not being cooked from the inside. But what is happening to me and everyone else who has radiation as a cancer treatment? I went straight to the American Cancer Society at https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/radiation/basics.html  for the answer.

“Radiation therapy uses high-energy particles or waves, such as x-rays, [Gail here: this is ionising radiation.] gamma rays, electron beams, or protons, to destroy or damage cancer cells.

Your cells normally grow and divide to form new cells. But cancer cells grow and divide faster than most normal cells. Radiation works by making small breaks in the DNA inside cells. These breaks keep cancer cells from growing and dividing and cause them to die. Nearby normal cells can also be affected by radiation, but most recover and go back to working the way they should.

Unlike chemotherapy, which usually exposes the whole body to cancer-fighting drugs, radiation therapy is usually a local treatment. In most cases, it’s aimed at and affects only the part of the body being treated. Radiation treatment is planned to damage cancer cells, with as little harm as possible to nearby healthy cells.

Some radiation treatments (systemic radiation therapy) use radioactive substances that are given in a vein or by mouth. Even though this type of radiation does travel throughout the body, the radioactive substance mostly collects in the area of the tumor, so there’s little effect on the rest of the body.”

I don’t know how many times this was explained to me, but seeing it now in black and white (and blue for the click through) suddenly makes it clear. So this means I’ve had four months of my entire body being attacked – in a lifesaving way, of course – now only the cancer cells are being attacked.

Yet, I am experiencing some side effects even after only one week of radiation. I wondered if that’s usual. Cancer.net at https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/how-cancer-treated/radiation-therapy/side-effects-radiation-therapy   answered that question for me.

“Why does radiation therapy cause side effects?

High doses of radiation therapy are used to destroy cancer cells. Side effects come from damage to healthy cells and tissues near the treatment area. Major advances in radiation therapy have made it more precise. This reduces the side effects.

Some people experience few side effects from radiation therapy. Or even none. Other people experience more severe side effects.

Reactions to the radiation therapy often start during the second or third week of treatment. They may last for several weeks after the final treatment.

Are there options to prevent or treat these side effects?

Yes. Your health care team can help you prevent or treat many side effects. Preventing and treating side effects is an important part of cancer treatment. This is called palliative care or supportive care.

Potential side effects

Radiation therapy is a local treatment. This means that it only affects the area of the body where the tumor is located. For example, people do not usually lose their hair from having radiation therapy. But radiation therapy to the scalp may cause hair loss.

Common side effects of radiation therapy include:

Skin problems. Some people who receive radiation therapy experience dryness, itching, blistering, or peeling. These side effects depend on which part of the body received radiation therapy. Skin problems usually go away a few weeks after treatment ends. If skin damage becomes a serious problem, your doctor may change your treatment plan.

Fatigue. Fatigue describes feeling tired or exhausted almost all the time. Your level of fatigue often depends on your treatment plan. For example, radiation therapy combined with chemotherapy may result in more fatigue. Learn more about how to cope with fatigue.

Long-term side effects. Most side effects go away after treatment. But some continue, come back, or develop later. These are called late effects. One example is the development of a second cancer. This is a new type of cancer that develops because of the original cancer treatment. The risk of this late effect is low. And the risk is often smaller than the benefit of treating the primary, existing cancer.”

Funny how I managed to forget about late effects, even though my oncology team made it clear this could happen. I think having the radiation to rid myself of this cancer is worth the risk.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!