I have had exactly one MRI (almost a year ago), but because I am part of the Ontario Breast Screening Program, I will be having them once a year for pretty much the rest of my life. It is not optional. I qualified for the program because I am at a high risk of getting breast cancer. Right now, my odds are 1 in 3, but after menopause they will increase. I don’t really worry about it, I also, as of right now, have a 2 in 3 chance of not getting the disease. Either way, being part of the program will help. I have annual mammograms and they are relatively easy, but the MRI has replaced ultrasounds for me. Click here if you want to know what they are like.
An MRI is not as easy as a mammogram or ultrasound if I am keeping it real. The first time that I attempted my breast MRI I panicked. It is not to say that you will, my situation was a little different. First of all, I had ankle surgery and had a 3 hour wait at a different hospital that very day for my final orthopedic appointment. I went to work in the afternoon, then worked out with my trainer and had dinner with a friend arriving at the next hospital, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre at 8:30pm. It was already a long day. It was also at the hospital that I used to take my mother to and that ended up causing part of the issue.
Being back at that hospital was overwhelming for me. I was sitting in the waiting room where I had taken my mother for one scan or another. I walked through the hallways that I once walked with her. It brought back a flood of memories, both good and bad. I sat in the waiting room, trying to hold back tears, not very effectively, while I waited for them to call my name. I went through a lot there, a lot of running around, fixing things, advocating for my mother, and it all came back to me in the moments that I sat in the waiting room.
When I was finally called after 10pm for my appointment, I was ok again. I figured it was maybe 45 minutes of my life. The nurse sat me down and asked me if I was afraid of needles (nope) or had any issues with claustrophobia (nope). So far, so good, right? Wrong. He then proceeded to tell me 7 times in a row (no exaggeration) that I shouldn’t move and that the contrast dye that he was setting up the IV for may make me nauseous – they administer it in the last few minutes of the MRI. I was told not to throw up in the MRI – to push through and wait to be sick until I got out. After having experienced the most extreme nausea of my life, just a couple of months before after having anesthesia, I was shaken. Yes, nausea is temporary, but knowing that most anti-nausea medication doesn’t seem to work on me, made me very nervous.
Once they put the IV in, I had another short wait until I was called. I walked into the room and saw the MRI. I still was pretty much fine. I was asked to open my gown at the front and lay face down on the table. When you lie down, there is a thin strip of metal that lies, pressing against your sternum between your girls which hang through the two spaces left for them. Your face goes into a lightly padded well (similar to what you would rest on for a massage) and you face a bucket. Once you are properly positioned, you are slowly pushed in. This is where I started having problems – I felt like I could’t breathe. It is extremely tight in the MRI and having something pushing against your chest is very uncomfortable. I told the nurse that I couldn’t do it. She asked me if I was sure, and I said yes.
I called my sister crying. I was disappointed in myself. I watched my sister and mother have to suffer through far more than me, and yet, when it was my turn, I just couldn’t go through with it. She was the one who made me realize that the upset came from being at the hospital that I had spent so many hours at, versus me being a total wimp. When the hospital called me the next day to reschedule, they explained that an MRI was more effective than an ultrasound. I rescheduled and got a prescription for Ativan (an anti-anxiety medication) which is commonly prescribed for MRIs so that I could get through it. I also was worried about having to be perfectly still for 45 minutes. On a good day, I have a really hard time staying still for 5 minutes, never mind 3/4 of an hour.
My sister reminded me to just stay calm and get through it as my second appointment neared and my dread grew. I told myself, no matter what, just get it over with. Again, I went to the hospital and sat in the waiting room that I had been in some many times in the past. I took the Ativan and reminded myself to be grateful that my doctor referred me to this program. When it was my turn, I asked the nurse (a different one this time) about the nausea issue with the IV. She reassured me that it wasn’t common and that I had nothing to worry about. She was very calm, and it made me feel a lot better (plus the drugs kicked in). I popped myself on the table and was in the MRI really quickly. It was uncomfortable having a thin metal bar pressing against my sternum, but I just kept telling myself it would be over soon. When you are face down. you can register the lights around you, but you can’t see them. It was extremely loud, with loud banging and clanging noises. I just get saying to myself that every second that went by meant that I was closer to getting out of this tube.
I heard their voices reminding me that the table was about to shake and vibrate and that was normal. It would last about 5 minutes. That meant, when it stopped, I was close to getting the IV. The IV fluid was the final step in the MRI. I felt the liquid go into my vein (it is slightly cool), and then, after another 5 minutes, I was told that they were moving me out of the MRI and that it went well, meaning that I wouldn’t have to do a repeat.
You have never seen anyone jump up more quickly to get up in your life. I was so happy that it was over and also happy that I wouldn’t have to do it again for another year. Well, that year is up on December 3. I’ll have to do this all over again in about a week. It will be at a different hospital this time, with a 6:30pm appointment. That is kind of a cushy time slot in the world of MRIs. It’s after work and not in the middle of the night. I know that I’ll get through this one too, and so will you if, and when it is your turn. Don’t be ashamed to speak with your doctor about taking something to calm you down if you need it. The important thing is getting through the test.