It’s Sunday night, and the feeling is all too familiar. Sure, the Red Sox are playing in the World Series and Sunday Night Football is on…but my routine MRI is scheduled for 10am tomorrow, and it’s all I can think about. Usually, people only see my “GOOD MRI! Stable results!” posts on facebook and instagram after MRI day. I’ve been lucky enough to make that post 3 times in the past year, so people may not realize how exciting that truly is. In order to understand, I want to walk you through MRI day for those of us battling brain cancer.
Every 3 months, I have to get an MRI. If you’ve ever had one, you know they’re not fun. The thing is, I know that my tumor is going to start growing. My doctors and I have discussed it at length. It’s just a question of when – and that’s what this MRI is checking in on.
MRIs aren’t easy for me. Because of my tumor, it’s not just zipping in and out of the machine for a quick image. I have to arrive 30 minutes early to change into two uncomfortable, scratchy “one size fits all” hospital gowns, get my blood drawn, and get an IV put in. Then, I have to sit in a cold waiting area with my IV in (but capped) for anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour depending on how long the wait is.
Finally, when it’s my turn, I have to lock my personal items in a locker and go through a metal detector. Fun fact – You absolutely cannot wear metal into an MRI machine as it could be deadly. An MRI machine works by using large magnets to create strong magnetic fields, 1,000 times the strength of a refrigerator magnet. They have the metal detector to make sure I haven’t forgotten a bobby pin or neglected to take off any jewelry.
Next, I walk into the freezing-cold room and am required to put bright orange earplugs in. They don’t work well, feel like cheap foam and are always falling out. Once those are in, I get to lie on my back on the hardest board ever (it’s completely flat with no padding) and get positioned. They put a cage-like mask over my face to keep my head in place, as I cannot move my head during the entire MRI since they’re imaging my brain. They give me an “emergency call button” which looks a lot like a stress ball, and the machine starts moving and I’m basically in a tiny metal cocoon.
For the next 25 minutes, I am lying completely flat listening to extremely loud sounds – anything from clicking to high pitched screeching to very low tones (those ones are the most tolerable). If I have to sneeze, I can’t. If I want to yawn, I can’t. I have to be perfectly still, since they’re imaging my brain. All I can do is think…and the only things crossing my mind are:
- What are we going to do if the tumor is growing?
- Will they keep me on wait and watch, or will they want to treat it?
- Wow, that was a loud bang – holy crap!
- I forgot a few words yesterday…that means the cancer is growing
- God, I hope it’s not growing
- Shit, did I feed Mickey before we left?
- In less than 2 hours, I’ll have the results…
Not fun thoughts. (Steven always reassures me he’s fed Mickey).
Eventually, the technician comes over the speaker and says “OK Rebecca, we’re going to give you the contrast now”. They slide me out of the machine, but they don’t take the mask off so I still can’t move. They inject the contrast into my IV (the contrast is what lights up my tumor on the scans), and I get a really salty taste in my mouth. Then, I go back into the machine for another 20 minutes of loud banging.
Finally, when the technicians are happy with the imaging, I get to leave, but not without a bad headache. I meet Steven in the main waiting area, and we head to the other side of the hospital where my oncologist’s office is. We grab a coffee, and wait for an hour until my results appointment. That hour is probably when the scanxiety is at its worst.