Monday 21 April 2014

Breast MRI and Radiation Explained

By DebiLyn Smith Author of Running From Cancer: a tilted memoir.

A breast cancer "treatment survivor" since May 2011, DebiLyn strives to reduce the 50% of life-style induced cancer patients. "You can run, but you can't hide," she says.

How the Magnetic Resonance Imaging Machine Feels to Us

"That MRI may very well have saved my life", says writer Debi-Lyn Smith

Many cancer patients have asked me to explain more about the breast MRI and the radiation treatment that I have been through. After numerous mammograms and follow-up ultra sounds on my very dense breasts, my doctor decided the next course of action would be a breast MRI. Once in the hospital, I was put into a hospital gown and housecoat and lead to a room where the Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine awaited.

I have had a brain MRI before and knew that I would be put on a steel table and slid into a long cylindrical "cigar tube" where the tests would begin with a series of long beep and boop sounds. The difference this time was that I was put face down on my chest with my breasts placed inside squares that had been cut out of the table. The problem with this is you are lying right on your diaphragm making it difficult to draw a full breath. Especially when you're not totally comfortable being in tight spaces to begin with.

A ball is placed in your right fist that you may squeeze if you need to come out, but they stress not to squeeze that ball unless it is absolutely necessary, otherwise they have to start all over again and no-one wants that. I recall lying in there reminding myself I had travelled a long way to have this done and as uncomfortable as it was, I made myself lie still until I didn't think I could do it anymore. You are given headphones that they play music and talk to you through. Some sessions seem very long, others quick, but the entire process still took forty minutes. Long enough for them to test both sides. Long enough for them to surprise us all with a detection of a suspicious miniature mass in the right breast that turned out to be cancerous.

That MRI may very well have saved my life. It took two weeks to hear back and after that I saw a surgeon who sent me to Terrace for a biopsy. Four samples were taken, three of which did not hurt. I don't know what was different about the fourth except that it made my toes curl and the breath escape me. Owwwwww. What a wimp I was back then.

As for the radiation machine, same cold steel slab that you lay on, this time face up. You have been warned not to wear any deodorant or perfumed lotion on your skin, no necklaces or jewellery around your neck. Your arm on the affected side is raised up behind you, resting on a cushioned holder. The techs introduce themselves and start moving your torso this way and that. They draw little lines on your skin with a marker that later rubs off. You have two to four new pin-point blue tattooes on your flesh that will stay with you forever as a reminder not to ever radiate this same spot ever again. The techs then flick a switch operating two oblong  over-head light-covers that now illuminate a beautiful forest scene with a babbling brook running through it. This is what you look at as the gigantic head of the machine radiates you on one side of your body with steady humming noises before rotating up and over your chest to your other side. The techs leave the room. There are sliding and clicking noises as different parts of the head open and close, depending on what strength of radiation you are getting (or so I imagine?). The techs re-appear and lower your table to the floor. You hop off and wish them a nice day before heading off to change. You now have the rest of your day to yourself.

Radiation was definitely the easiest part of the cancer experience, physically. Emotionally it is one of the hardest as you start to relax and remember all the things that you have been through the past seven months. You weep both from joy and terror that the treatments are almost over. Your life is about to be back in your own hands and now is when you really face the fact that you just had a big bad brush with that scary "C" word. All you can do is keep on breathing and enjoy the rest of the time you have left as best you can.

I tell you, after all this, going to see the dentist is going to be a breeze!

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