Nope. These are not the red marks of someone who just received a relaxing massage. These are the red marks of someone who had just undergone her annual bilateral breast MRI with contrast. What does that entail, you ask? Allow me to explain…
While many of you were out running last-minute errands, cleaning your house, baking up a storm, and putting the final touches on your Thanksgiving preparations, I was in an MRI machine. After the technician’s couldn’t get the usual rockstar vein in my left arm to cooperate, they had to try again on my right arm. Granted, I have not let anyone take my blood pressure, prick my finger, or draw blood from my right arm ever since my lymph node extraction surgery two years ago. There’s no real medical reason for me to baby that side of my body other than the fact that there’s always a threat of edema (fluid buildup), but I didn’t suffer from edema after my surgery. I do still have numbness down the back side of my right arm, and I think in some way that’s why I don’t like to mess with it. I’m also right handed and I really need that hand to continue to work, so I try to avoid all things “right” when possible. Oh, well.
Once the technicians got the IV/catheter in on the right side, we were ready to go. For the next twenty or so minutes I had to lie face down, breasts hanging out of holes in a metal table, breathe shallowly, and remain perfectly still. Even though I was given earplugs, the sound of the magnet circling my body as it took images of my chest cavity were literally deafening. I truly don’t understand - with all the technology in the world, why hasn’t anyone invented a quiet MRI machine? A few sets of ridiculously loud banging later and the technician comes on the intercom to announce that the contrast will start coursing through my IV. This allows them to compare images with and without contrast (metallic liquid that glows on imaging). This time I didn’t feel anything, but in the past it’s felt ice cold and was quite a shock to the system.
Luckily I’m not claustrophobic, but the real fun starts when trying to monitor my breathing while in this tube and lying perfectly still so that I don’t mess up the scans, and have to repeat them, and therefore extend my time in the tube. I told you it was fun! This is where I have to talk myself off the ledge multiple times in a 20 minute period. Until sweet victory when the technician comes on the overhead speaker and tells me that I’m all done and she’s coming to help me up.
Once out of the machine I always feel a little wobbly from being prone for so long, plus I now have Wolverine juice coursing through my veins. I was able to head back to the changing room and snap the pictures of what my face then looked like after pressing my head into the so-called cushioned head rest.
Why would I book my annual MRI the day before Thanksgiving, you ask? I didn’t. The other point I’d like to make in telling you this story is that advocating for yourself as a patient never ends. This MRI should’ve taken place at some point in the last two weeks. The reason it didn’t is because my oncologist forgot to put the order in after my last six month check up with her. Life got busy and I paid no attention to the fact that I had not received a call from the scheduler. Then it dawned on me that I didn’t have my annual MRI results to compare to the previous two years and I panicked and reached out to my doctor’s office. They admitted their mistake and had the scheduler call me that day. The earliest appointment they had available was December 29th. I had no choice but to take that appointment. I did request to be added to a cancellation list because I was not happy with the date that was being offered. My MRI is supposed to take place annually in November.
I let a week go by to see if anyone would call me back with good news. No one ever called. I called the scheduler at the hospital where the MRI was to be performed and left a long voicemail advocating for the fact that if my MRI doesn’t take place in November, and I stick with this December 29th date, it was going to negatively impact my post cancer screening schedule. If you’ve ever dealt with an insurance company regarding an annual procedure, you know that next year my MRI would have to take place no earlier than December 30th which only gives me two days in the calendar year to schedule this annual screening. The following year my only option would be on New Year’s Eve, which might not even be available due to hospital staffing shortages on a holiday. Then we’d roll into the next calendar year the following year, which is a whole other issue. I knew I had to get an earlier appointment and I made my plea very clear. Wouldn’t you know that the scheduler received my voicemail, called me at the end of her shift, and found a magical appointment on November 23rd due to a cancellation. I found that very hard to believe, but I was grateful for the new appointment.
Fast forward a few weeks after we got the new date worked out, and I received an approval letter in the mail from my insurance company. Normally this would be a joyous occasion, as MRIs are not always deemed medically necessary, so oftentimes phone calls have to be made to get it pushed through. After reading the fine print and all the details on the approval letter I noticed that the wrong type of MRI was noted. I then entered a circle of hell that included calling my insurance company who explained that I needed to call my doctor’s office and have them revise the order they sent, but to make sure they called the third-party scheduling firm that they use to clarify the description of my MRI in the hospital system so that I didn’t have any issues upon arrival. I finally reached a nurse who understood what I was asking for and she promised she would call me back at the end of the day, yesterday, to confirm that everything had been taken care of. I did not receive that phone call. Just before I decided to follow up first thing this morning, I finally received a call from the nurse at my doctor’s office who handles these issues, and got clarification as to how the insurance approval letters are written, and that everything was going to be in order by the time I got to the outpatient surgery center. Everything was in order, except for a few pages of medical history I had to complete even though I had completed my pre-registration online, and I’m a frequent flyer in this health system and can be found in multiple databases. Why all the repetitious paperwork??? Ugh!
Check on your friends with cancer and/or chronic diseases. We’re not always okay. I’m two years post diagnosis, surgery, and treatment and yet every 3, 6, or 12 months I am in a doctors office getting poked, prodded, screened, or probed to ensure that the cancer has not returned or metastasized into some other organ. Decisions are always having to be made about preventative surgeries to remove organs that could be a cancer risk in the future and what that might do to my day-to-day quality of life. There’s always something to worry about.
I do my very best to not dwell on the fact that I had cancer, and I don’t bring it up as often as I used to, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have to think about it, and see it in the scars on my body, and deal with the side effects by way of the medicine that I’m on, every single day. It’s A LOT and it’s always going to be A LOT. Add to that the survivor’s guilt of knowing that someone next to me went through a harsher treatment regimen, or had a more invasive surgery than I did, and I’m faced with the negative self-talk of “just move on with your life” mantra. Not tonight. Tonight I’m going to sit in my feelings, acknowledge that this happened to me, and hope and pray that the results of this annual MRI are clear.
I’m Thankful to be here. I’m thankful for my family. I’m thankful that my house will be full of people, conversations, love, and food tomorrow and I don’t have to think about cancer…until my next appointment.
©Linné M. Diiorio, CMP. All Rights Reserved.