Last Shot: Tumor Levels On the Rise
[Editor's Note: Long-time concert photographer Andrew Youssef found out two years ago that he had stage IV colon cancer. In that time, he has continued to shoot tons of music events, on top of other freelance work and working a day job at a hospital, of all places. As he continues to fight for his life, this series allows him to tell his story in his own words.]
Lindsey Best Andrew Youssef
By Andrew Youssef
While I've detailed the joys of getting poked by a needle to start my IV every two weeks for chemotherapy, another item to contend with in cancer is that of a getting a PET scan. Abbreviated for positron emission tomography, A PET scan is roughly two-hour process where you are injected with a radioactive form of glucose after drinking iodine contrast. The scan is read by a radiologist and it helps determine where the cancer is located within my body and the activity of my cancer cells.
I don't really look forward to PET scans cause they inject you with the radioactive glucose and poke you once more to check your blood glucose level. There was one time that I was injected with the radioactive tracer and waited the hour for the tracer to spread through my body and the scanner suddenly malfunctioned so I had to go back another day and repeat the process, to my dismay.
My oncologist uses the data from my PET scan, my tumor levels and my overall well being to determine how my cancer is progressing or regressing. My last PET scan was in April. I remember it quite vividly since I was literally leaving for the second weekend of Coachella. The scan showed that my cancer has spread to my lungs, kidneys and thyroid. This wasn't too surprising as my tumor levels had jumped from 400 to 5,000 in the beginning of January.
I really pushed it out of mind that weekend of Coachella but the reality definitely set in a few days later. Throughout this long battle with cancer, I was devastated when I had a metastasis to my spine. Seeing that my cancer has now spread to my lungs, kidneys and thyroid took a lot of wind out of my sails. While I may lose the war against cancer, I still hope I can win as many battles as possible.
More recently, my tumor levels are on the rise again. Coincidentally, I started to have some intense right-sided shoulder pain which feels scarily familiar to the previous pain I had when I had a metastasis to my spine. With my raising tumor levels and shoulder pain, I went for a PET scan on Tuesday. The results confirmed my fears that my cancer has worsened in my liver and lungs as well as a new metastasis to my spine. My chemotherapy was postponed and I will reconvene with my oncologist next week.
To prevent the wave of depression that will inevitably hit, I went home and played guitar really loud for a few hours to take my mind off things. After two and half years, it seems like I've tried every chemotherapy drug regimen and combination to the point that I don't know if there is anything left. Good thing my oncologist has worked wonders before and I will call upon him once more to brew another chemotherapy cocktail to keep everything at bay. I just have to keep fighting and take my own advice of not letting things get me down too low.