the indignities of breast exams.

Two weeks ago I had my yearly mammogram. Squish and zap. No deodorant. Stretch that boob onto the shelf. Squeeze the armpit in there. Yeow! Three images of each boob. The radiologist was happy with them, I figured nothing warranted a second look, so I left there, and then, figured I would breeze through my gyn/post surgery appointment. No problem. It’s nearly two years since my diagnosis.

But, it’s not seamless. Turns out there were two wonky spots on the mammogram. It gets weirder. The spots each appear on one view only, and my doctor, an imaging expert can’t find a thing on the ultrasound. Ugh. I’m sort of scared, sort of hopeful. My doctor is hopeful but can’t dismiss it. Once you’ve had breast cancer, it has to be monitored carefully. I’ll write a more serious post about the feelings I experienced, but the whole medical testing process as it relates to breasts is surreal. Is it like this for testicles? I have no idea.

Next step in the process – a breast MRI. Do I know how to have fun or what?

A long time ago, when I was a chemistry student, I probably could have told you what an MRI does. All I remember now is that it creates a magnetic field and causes the hydrogen nuclei to align, and with repeated images and computer processing – voila – you have almost 3D images of structures. It’s a good thing that we have so much water inside, and that different tissues have different amounts of water. That’s what makes the MRI so useful. All those different water concentrations help to create representations of our internal structure.

But because it’s a giant magnet, you first have to remove all metal from your person, and make sure the staff know if you’ve got metal/electrical bits inside you such as hearing aids, pacemakers, artificial joints, shrapnel. And tattoos. Do tattoos have metal in them?

So anyway, there I was, undressed for success and in a lovely hospital gown. I have a blood test to make sure I can pee out the contrast medium. This too shall pass. A needle is placed into my arm so they can insert the contrast medium. Contrast medium is absorbed at different rates by different tissues. I can only guess that cancer cells light up the image, so it helps identify the buggers.

Have you ever seen movies where criminals receive lethal injections? Contraptions consisting of multiple bottles mixed into a single IV? When I saw the contrast medium/saline dispenser, that’s the first thing I thought about. But wait! I’m not a hardened criminal!!!! Not yet anyway!

Hooked up to the dispenser, I go into the MRI. Since this was an MRI of my boobs, I was positioned face down and my boobs fit into two matching square-ish receptacles that I can only describe as a bizarre duo of cake pans, lined with something similar to cupcake liners. Hands behind my back, they tell me to relax (As If!) and hand me a rubber ball to squeeze in case of emergency. Oh, and i have earplugs, too.

It’s a tight fit in the MRI, but not uncomfortable and I can relax a little. I’m glad I took that omeprazole, because the machine digs right into my diaphragm. Fortunately, I didn’t feel like eating, so there won’t be any barfing, because reflux would really suck in there. As it is, the whole thing provokes some anxiety.

Now the noise starts. All sorts of sounds. Pounding and banging, high pitched whirring, stopping and starting. The earplugs help. I’m thankful I’ve practiced meditation, it helps me relax and concentrate on the different layers of noise. I must have been in there for half an hour, I really haven’t a clue. It’s not comfortable, but neither am I fighting discomfort. And at the end, the noise stops and I hear water rushing, cooling the magnets.

I get up awkwardly. There’s no other way. I’m dizzy and have very little leverage. They remove the IV and I get dressed. I was supposed to find out my results then, but they were running behind. So I went home. A little numb, and very tired.

But that’s it. And everything turned out fine. My doctor called me the next day on her afternoon off to tell me the good news. Next post, i’ll talk about my feelings and the outcome.