Chapter 4: PET scan & Bone Marrow Biopsy

“Let’s go for a walk.” I hadn’t seen my newly acquired fiancé in a couple of weeks. It had been a whirlwind summer full of cancelled plans, and exciting new adventures ahead of us.

“Okay.” The humid Tennessee air felt heavy in my lungs. We held hands and walked down the street. The last time we’d seen each other was over a month earlier, before school has started. Brandan was finishing his senior year at Virginia Tech, while I continued my education at the University of Tennessee. “Where should we go?” It was a silly question, neither of us was particularly familiar with the area. Since Brandan didn’t have a car my Dad had driven from northern Virginia to bring him down for a football game. Dad left to meet up with some old college buddies and Brandan and I walked.

This trip served a purpose. I knew what was coming. His palms were sweaty – he’d just spent 4 hours in the car with my Dad – but I pushed my fingers between his. “How about the park?” I’d never been to the World’s Fair Park, so we walked. Impatiently. I think he was biding his time, but I was antsy. As we walked I would stop along the way… waiting. The top of the sun sphere? How about in front of this fountain? The weird statue of the piano guy? No… no… no… okay… well. Fine. Sitting down on the concrete bench I patted the spot next to me, but he didn’t sit. Instead I see him wrestling a box the size of Canada out of his pocket.

“Jessica, I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

That’s all I remember. I think I cried. I’m pretty sure I said “yes”, but I may have said nothing and just cried. Luckily Brandan is fluent in my version of crazy.


On Tuesday I had a PET scan done. The procedure is relatively painless, but time consuming. Brandan and I arrived early, registered, then were eventually lead to a small room with a reclining chair for me and a regular chair for Brandan. They started an IV live in my hand – the easy spot – then we played the waiting game. For a PET scan the inject radioactive sugar into your veins. Prior to the test I was told to not eat any carbs for 24 hours. The waiting game involved waiting for the dose of radioactive stuff to decay to the right amount. Because of my age and the number of PET scans I’m going to need (it is the most effective way to find my kind of tumor) they waited until it was the lowest dose we could use. Then they pulled out a syringe with a 3 inch metal sleeve around it. The injection was painless, though it was emotionally challenging. Some times knowing is the hard part. Then we waited, in stillness. Brandan read to me, and I tried not to think too hard. My cancer is “aggressive”. It is growing and constantly taking sugars from my blood stream. So after an hour of waiting I was laid down and scanned. The scan was also painless, but time consuming. It was also emotionally draining. Just laying there – forced to think about the things growing inside of me. I laid there, the machine slowly inching me through the scanner, for 45 minutes.

He’s started doing “voices” when he reads to me. I love it!

Next time I’m taking my own CD to play. The song “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons will be included.

The music playing was like some sort of dramatic background music. Depressing.

Once the scan was done I couldn’t be near children for 6-8 hours, as a precaution. Not seeing my daughter all day sucked.

We were able to bring a disc home with the scan. It was a bad idea though. I popped in the computer and to my dismay realized that… well.. realized why CT scans are not enough. The CT scan had shown the tumors in my abdomen. It had not shown the tumors in my chest.

Enter my last dramatic blog post. It was a tough night. We had felt like things were under control, just to find out it is worse than we thought.


It’s not worse, really. It doesn’t change the treatment, it doesn’t even change the prognosis. It just changes a few words on a few pieces of paper. Nothing has changed, but it was a blunt reminder that we have no control. No matter how hard I try to feel in control, I’m not.


The next day we went to see the oncologist in Fairfax. She slowly helped melt my hopeless feelings again. Nothing has changed. Nothing has changed. I keep repeating that. My brain has taken a turn towards “depressed”. But I know that is something I am in control of, so I’m trying my best to manage it.

She explained the treatments to come, talked to us about the schedule, the side effects, and the prognosis. Though there are always risks, this is unlikely to leave me permanently infertile. So that’s… good… I guess. Nice to have options. As I said to my Dad this morning though, “I’m not sure if pregnancy is something I want in my future, I’ll need to get past the constant paranoia first.”.

One step at a time. One breath at a time.

So I’m now officially Stage 3.

This crop doesn’t show the tumor under my right clavicle, but you can see most of the tumors in my stomach. Terrifying – huh? That one on the bottom left is the size of a baseball.

I’m also pretty sure that I might run out of blood. Due to my slight fever they needed to test for bacterial infections. So much blood drawing. So much. And they won’t use the port for it. Wamp wamp.

Yesterday we checked in at the Radiology department at Inova Farifax. We waited a while. Waiting is the hard part of this game.

Once we were finally taken back I was a little disappointed – my other procedures at Sentera spoiled me. Sentera has all private bays, while Inova’s bays were just separated by curtains – and were much smaller… and busier. The staff was nice though, which is the important part.

We used my port for the first time. It was itchy, but I guess that is slightly better than four needle pokes to the arm. For chemo I will have a numbing cream to put on the area beforehand to make the process as painless as possible.

Lately I am impressed with how far medical procedures have come.

The had me laying on my stomach, then they put this lined sticker on my back that would show up on the CT scan. The doctor then looks at the scan to know the best place to take the sample from. I was sedated, then the area was numbed. You can’t numb bone though, and I do recall the actual biopsy portion. I may or may not have cried. For the record I didn’t curse. lol.

Then… well… I moved back to the rolly bed and they returned me to the bays. Woot. Normally I try to power through the sedation so that they’ll let me go home, but my phone was dead and offered no distraction. I need to get one of those phone back-up battery things that charges the phone battery… back up.

Just out of surgery and feeling okay.

I don’t recommend owning a Motorla Atrix HD, the thing is dismal. Pretty, but dismal. The battery lasts just a few hours even with most features turned off. But I digress.

So I slept for an hour, woke up, ate a very bland chicken salad sandwich and some very delicious apple juice, then tried to play games on the iPad my Mom gave our family for Christmas. But woe-is-me the wi-fi did not reach my cushy end bay and the most interesting game on the iPad was a Mickey Mouse doodle pad.

I may or may not have spent some time honing my drawing skills.

After about 2 hours of “recovery” time we were going to be allowed to go home. I had been lead to believe that while uncomfortable this would not be particularly painful. This was a lie. I hadn’t experienced any pain while laying down, despite the pain during the procedure I some how thought it would be all good. Lies. Lots of lies.

When they stick a needle into your bone and steal some it… that hurts.

It was sore for most of the evening. I slept through Harry Potter #2, then we went to pick up my baby love from her Aunt’s house.


“Jexica!!!!” She runs into the hallway as I start down the stairs. “It’s Jexica!”.

All of the new adults with real names has left her confused. She addresses us as Mommy and Daddy, but has started talking about us by name.

“Yes, that’s my name, what’s your name?” I am constantly brushing her blondish-brown tendrils away from her face.


“Oh? I thought your name was Ginny!”

“No! I’m your Ginny-baby.”

I snuggle her up in my arms. Her perfect little body, strong and determined, nestled in my arms. “I love you Ginny-baby.” I’m brushing her hair again with my fingers, holding her like I did before she had even considered walking or talking, tracing her cheek, then resting my hand on her tummy. My precious little one. As I rub her little tummy she reaches over and rubs mine too.

“I’ll kiss it better mommy, that’ll make it much better. You tummy will be much better.”


She’s a goober.


I’m nervous. There is a lot to be nervous about. So much I can’t control. So much I need to let go of.

I’m thankful. Several people have reached out to me. I don’t have the mental fortitude to list every one, and I cannot explain my gratitude well enough. From the meals to donating and sharing the fundraiser my friends has organized, to the people who have reached out to offer solidarity, despite their own suffering. It gives me perspective, and helps me stay focused on my priorities.

I’m tired. Stress will do that to you.

I still love my life. Everything that was perfect before this is still perfect. I will not let this mar my appreciation for the good in my life. My sweet husband still adores me, my sweet daughter is still healthy and thriving.

I’m not alone. I am reminded constantly. Between blog comments, the donations and sweet messages I’ve received, and the meals people have brought over – I’m thankful for the constant reminders that I’m not fighting this alone.

Continue the fun!

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  1. I sat staring at the blank comment box for a few moments, searching for the right words. They didn't come. I'm not going to be that person that just doesn't say anything, because I don't know what to say. I hope too, that I don't say the wrong thing, This situation sucks, but you're doing your best to keep your attitude positive and to focus on the love of your family, and those that care about you, which I think is crucial at times like this. You are right, ya know, you're not alone. Not even close. Your family, your friends and your community are all here for you, Brandon and Ginny.

    Maybe we can get you some fun games and good books for your i-pad, just for some nice distraction.

    We're going to be around this weekend, and happy to take Ginny so you can rest, blog, or whatever need/want to do.

    Lot's of care coming from the Smieja house…to yours. ?

    1. Thank you Teri! We are just going to spend time with family this weekend and enjoy the calm before the storm. But trust me, once the storm hits we will be reaching out for your help. I'm very glad we moved to this neighborhood. This will sound crazy, but it wasn't my first choice (I wanted chickens!). After living here for two years though I can't imagine living anywhere else!

  2. Why didn't they use your port? That's silly. I'm glad that you have a good attitude and I'm glad that you have an awesome and supportive husband. (I loved the story of him proposing to you.) You can beat this! We are rooting for you!

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