The Human Side of Molecular Imaging

June 11, 2012
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The Society of Nuclear Medicine (SNM) is dedicated to advancing molecular imaging and therapy, and its annual meeting features many technical sessions on “hybrid imaging on inflammation and infection” and “PET updates in GI Oncology.” In the kickoff keynote Sunday morning, Dr. Kirk Frey MD, PhD, of the University of Michigan talked about the growing toll of dementia and the coming breakthroughs in imaging solutions that offer hope for early and more certain diagnoses.

The Society of Nuclear Medicine (SNM) is dedicated to advancing molecular imaging and therapy, and its annual meeting features many technical sessions on “hybrid imaging on inflammation and infection” and “PET updates in GI Oncology.” In the kickoff keynote Sunday morning, Dr. Kirk Frey MD, PhD, of the University of Michigan talked about the growing toll of dementia and the coming breakthroughs in imaging solutions that offer hope for early and more certain diagnoses.

Still, there has to be more to keep nearly 6,300 attendees inside a refrigerated box other than the daunting, debilitating Miami humidity outside (the local basketball  team is called the Miami HEAT, after all). Or even seeking refuge in the boisterous hall populated by 173 exhibitors, including one that featured a contortionist imitating a pretzel on an imaging machine. But the story told by Betsy De Parry at the SNM Technology Section plenary meeting put a human face on the technological breakthroughs that have made this scientific field so dynamic and important.

A nearly decade-long survivor of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, De Parry has authored two books, “The Roller Coaster Chronicles” and “Adventures in Cancer Land,” written several essays and articles, spoken to numerous organizations, and produced and hosted educational webcasts about a variety of topics relating to cancer and survivorship. She writes Candid Cancer, a column for www.AnnArbor.com.

De Parry recalled driving on a Michigan interstate on Jan. 7, 2002, on her way to pick out bathroom tile, when she got a call from her doctor with the bad news. What followed was a series of chemotherapy treatments, increasingly stronger, “turning my body into a toxic wasteland” and ultimately not really doing a whole lot to improve her medical fortunes. It wasn’t until she became eligible for a new treatment, called radioimmunotherapy, or RIT, that uses an antibody labeled with a radionuclide to deliver cytotoxic radiation to cancer cells, that her condition showed improvement.

Along the way De Parry learned a lot about nuclear medicine and imaging and the technicians who support these procedures. By the time RIT “had successfully killed off the cells that were trying to kill me,” she became convinced that the language and actions of techs can have a significant impact on survival rates. “Medicine is the service of helping people,” she declared. “Doctors send us down to you for tests and  it really falls upon you to tell us what’s going to happen. Anything you can do to educate and advocate will help patients.”

De Parry described several instances where scans and imaging procedures were made less scary for her by techs who carefully explained the procedures and told her when results might be expected. She said the best answer she ever heard given to a patient who was impatient about test results went as follows: “I see a special person. One the deserves nothing but the best. We have a lot of them here in this hospital, so you’ll be getting your results from one of the best.”

Some of what De Parry related seemed to fall in the “Well, duh!” category, but her experience, and that of many in the 150-member cancer survivor’s group she belongs to, seemed to belie that. “Medical imaging has come a long way,” she noted, “but no one knows the exact expiration date on our innards.” The techs approved what she said in a big way. You could almost call it empathy.

De Parry frequently advocates for public policies that affect cancer research and treatment. She serves on SNM’s Patient Advocate Advisory Board representing the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). As of her speech, she was 23 hours shy of being cancer-free for nine years and nine months. She has a website, www.betsydeparry.com, and can be reached at betsydeparry@gmail.com.

The SNM annual meeting typically makes news about breakthroughs in new therapies and imaging technologies. This year is no different, with upcoming announcements about how molecular imaging and therapy will affect the lives of skin and prostate cancer patients and offer dramatic new views inside coronary arteries. But it was refreshing to hear someone get up and offer a real-life, personal view instead of looking at images on PowerPoint slides.