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The tests - worse than the SAT's!

Posted Mar 28 2012 6:10pm
After the first frightening mammogram, comes the seemingly endless series of diagnostic tests. The biopsies, MRI's, PET/CT scans and the waiting. Once you've entered the cancer club, every visit starts with the waiting room. And no matter how little fun you're having, and how relieved you are to leave, it always takes too long to schedule the next visit, the next test, and way too long to get the results.

Unless you have a very aggressive form of the disease, breast cancers grow relatively slowly, and the days or weeks that it takes to get all the tests done won't increase the chances that it's spreading. That doesn't mean it's easy to sleep. Don't you just lay awake thinking - I WANT IT OUT!? Of course you do - but realistically, the time it takes to get everything organized, is most likely not going to change your outcome.

At this point in my experience, nobody had actually said, "You have cancer." They talked about not getting ahead of ourselves, taking one step at a time, and other platitudes. Meanwhile - unless you've been living under a rock - you know what you're dealing with. It's really frustrating that you have to go through all the tests before you can get a straight answer - but that's the drill. Your doctors don't want to make assumptions - they want data - and data takes time. In other words, please ignore that pink elephant standing over there until we're finished with all these tests.

So what are you supposed to do while all the data is being collected? Sit tight. Don't get ahead of yourself, take one step at a time, and other platitudes. Actually, this is advice you will hear over and over during the next months, so you'd might as well start trying now. It's almost impossible to do it every day, or all day, but trying to focus on the moment and not think ahead and "scenario spin" (as my dear friend calls it) is crucial to your sanity.

After my mammogram, the first test that followed was an MRI. I'd had them before for an ankle injury, etc. but this one is different. You don't need to do anything to prepare for a breast MRI except take off anything metal. After you change, a tech will bring you into a large room with a machine that looks like a tube. Some MRI examinations may require an injection of contrast material into the bloodstream. I'd rather have an injection of chocolate, but it was fine. Maybe a little sting - but that's about it. I'm claustrophobic, and the first place I went to had a snazzy mirror setup so when I was lying face down, I was looking into a mirror that showed me the end of the machine and into the room. It was kind of like a fun-house mirror, but cool. The weirdest thing about a breast MRI is that you lie face down and there are cup things for your breasts. I believe the technical term for them was "depressions." I didn't even remotely fill mine. I was depressed.

The table you are on is movable and it slides you into the donut hole made by the machine. It doesn't hurt at all, but man, it is LOUD!  Major, construction zone in your head kind of banging. You lie there with your boobs hanging down for a while. I kept hearing this song, "Let your boobs hang low, let them wobble to and fro, let your boobs hang low."  You've got to do something to avoid thinking about the results of this thing - so why not sing in your head?

Tips for dealing with your MRI

1. Don't wear a bunch of jewelry or metal - you'll just have to remember to take it off.

2. Ask for earplugs if the tech doesn't immediately offer them to you.

3. Request a copy of your MRI on a CD to take with you. It's best to ask for this when you check in so they can burn you a copy. Start your own file at home of your tests and paperwork. Every time you go in for a test, ask for a copy for your own records.

4. Take your shoes off - even when they say you don't have to. Once, my feet started to be pulled up to my chin because there must have been some hidden metal in my heel.

5. Have someone go with you to this first MRI because sometimes the radiologist will want to do a needle biopsy right then and there, and you're not going to want to be alone or drive yourself home from that!

More on needle biopsies tomorrow.....
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