Because I’m considered high risk for getting breast cancer since my mom had it, I do cancer screenings a lot earlier than most people do them. For the past 2 years, I’ve done mammograms. They aren’t fun to do, but I know I need to do them. There is a chance that I might not be doing them every year for the next few years, but that’s not yet decided.
But because my mom’s type of breast cancer wasn’t caught on a mammogram, there was some discussion that I would need to get a breast MRI in the near future. I got a letter from my mom’s geneticist that explained that a baseline test for me would be a good idea, and my doctor sent that to a geneticist at my hospital. And after my last appointment with my doctor, it was decided that getting a baseline MRI would be my cancer screening this year (it was instead of getting another mammogram).
I’ve had a MRI before for my hip. That wasn’t a great experience for me because I didn’t realize how loud the machine would be and how long I would be stuck in there. I also went into that MRI knowing that if my pain went away or decreased after the solution they used was injected into my hip, that was a clear sign that my cartilage was damaged and I would need surgery (the MRI was before I had a full diagnosis or treatment plan). I was out of pain within minutes of the injection, so I spent the entire MRI knowing that I would need surgery and that freaked me out a bit.
This time, things were very different for me. First of all, this MRI couldn’t be done at my hospital. Because breast MRIs require special equipment and they aren’t done that often, there is an imagining center that my hospital outsources them to. I’ve never had to do any procedures or appointments outside of the hospital that I go to, but I tried to think about it as a new adventure. I was able to get a Saturday appointment, so I went right after work this past weekend.
When I got to my appointment, I had a dozen or so papers I had to fill out. Most of them were pretty basic, but there were a few things that I had to think about (such as the dates of my mammograms and the date of my previous MRI). I was trying not to be nervous while filling out the forms, but I’ll admit that I was a bit shaky as I was trying to write.
After my forms were filled out, I waited for a bit for my name to be called, and then the tech that I was going to be working with brought me back to the changing area. For my last MRI, I had to be naked under the gown (they needed full access to my hip for the injection) so I just assumed this would be the same. I didn’t realize that if I had worn pants with no metal I could have kept them on. I should have worn yoga pants so I could have done that, but I wore jeans so I had to just wear the gown. Not a big deal, but something to keep in mind if any of you are going to get a breast MRI.
Next, the tech took me into the MRI room. They were able to arrange for me to have an open MRI machine since I do have issues with claustrophobia and I was grateful for that. The tech had me lay down face up on the bed for the machine so she could put the IV in my hand. I’ve said how much I hate needles and IVs are the same problem. I told the tech my issues and she was seriously amazing! She asked me if I knew any good or bad veins, and I showed her the vein that was used for both surgeries I’ve had before. She was able to get the IV in with one stick, and then she got ready to prep me for everything else.
For most MRIs, you lay on your back on a table that slides into the machine. For breast MRIs, you lay on your stomach on a ledge that is on top of the table. There are holes in the ledge for your boobs to go into (they want to keep the tissue separate from your body) and you have your arms out in front of you. It took a few tries for me to lay properly so that everything lined up ok, but the tech was really great again and helped me get into the position that was going to get the best images in the machine.
Right before I went into the MRI machine, I got my earplugs (you totally need those for MRIs) and the tech hooked up my IV to a machine. For the first part of the MRI, there would be some saline going into the IV. But about 2/3rds of the way though, there would be contrast going through my IV to get a different type of images. I tried not to think about the IV too much and was slid into the machine.
While I was face down, my face was close to the front of the room so I could see light. And they had a fan at the front and the back of the machine so there was air always moving around me. Some of the images took 5 minutes and some were shorter. Each time, the tech warned me how long the session would be and I tried to stay distracted or count down the time. It’s extremely loud inside of the machine, and since my hip MRI had my head out of the machine I didn’t realize it would be quite as loud as it ended up being. It wasn’t too bad (the sound was very muffled with the ear plugs) and I tried to use the variety of noises to distract me.
Then it was time for the contrast to go into my IV. My mom had warned me that the contrast sometimes hurts, but it was more uncomfortable than I expected. The contrast is a thicker liquid than the saline so it feels weird. It wasn’t unbearable or anything, but I think the shock of the feeling made it feel worse to me than it really was. As soon as the contrast was all injected into my IV (it was done by a machine and not the tech), the tech ran into the room and disconnected my IV so that I didn’t get anything else into my vein. That made the discomfort go away almost right away.
After the contrast went in, there were only a few more minutes inside of the MRI machine. And before I knew it, it was all done and the tech was pulling the table out of the machine so I could get up. She first had to remove the IV from my hand and bandage it up, but I was able to sit up within a few minutes of being done. My body didn’t hurt too much, but my abs were a bit sore because I think I was tensing my body up from time to time and that gave my core a bit of a workout.
I didn’t get any pictures of the MRI process. I was so tempted to ask the tech to take one while I was in the machine, but I didn’t want to distract her from her work or make her run behind with other patients. But I did take a picture in the dressing room after everything was done.
I felt really great after the MRI was done. I was so nervous about the IV and I made it through that. I was nervous what the MRI would be like or if I would have any issues, and fortunately I didn’t really have any problems. I haven’t gotten my results back yet, but I’m not too worried. This is just a baseline MRI so that future MRIs can be compared to it. I also know that MRIs (just like being young and getting mammograms) can have false positive results, so if I do hear back that there was something suspicious I’m not super concerned. There is no reason for me to believe that there is anything wrong with me and that’s the mindset I’m sticking with.
I know that having cancer screenings can be scary. You are terrified that they will find something and that’s why many people don’t do them. I totally understand that feeling, but I also know how important it is for me to be on top of my health and this is just a part of life for me now. I don’t know if I will be doing any more cancer screenings before I’m 40 (that will be up to my doctor and the geneticist to decide), but whichever way it goes I trust my doctors and that they are looking out for me.