This weekend was my birthday, and I am fortunate to celebrate 35 trips around the sun. It’s certainly not old age (despite what my kids may say!) but after cancer I can appreciate just how special each year is. Not one year is guaranteed even though nobody sits down in the twenties and thinks, “I’m going to develop an aggressive breast cancer and almost die at 32.” However, one can certainly reflect after the improbable occurs, and one of the impacts of living on borrowed time is that I am almost always reflecting.
It somehow ended up that my birthday weekend coincided with my yearly survivor MRI– the scan that tells me if my cancer is back, or at least if we can see its presence in my chest and surrounding area through magnetic resonance imaging. I wasn’t looking forward to the MRI for two reasons:
- There is a trembling sort of scanxiety that fills me every time I approach the radiology department.
- At my last MRI in August of 2021, the staff had to stab me eight times (YES, EIGHT) with a needle before they were satisfied with the IV they set up for the contrast.
I walked through the usual process: placing a mask on my face as I entered the hospital doors, checking in at the front desk and then again at Radiology, where they passed me a three-page handout to complete, navigating the long hallway following the red arrows that led to the heavy double-doors marked “Welcome to MRI”. Once in the small waiting room, I began indicating on the handout where in my body there is metal (nowhere) and where on my body there is metal (wedding ring, hair clips I forgot about). A person in scrubs retrieved me and brought me through a second set of double-doors, confirming my responses to verify that I didn’t suffer any shrapnel to my body at any time between the two sets of double-doors.
Next, I entered the dressing room and changed into two gowns flipped opposite each other as directed and tripped my way out to the hallway, where a chair with a folding arm growled my name menacingly. This was where I dealt with the needle attack last year, and I was sure to warn my technologist this time, informing her that I could be a difficult stick, that the veins in my arms were too small and that they were still apparently ticked at me about the whole chemo thing.
This woman immediately brought out the familiar ultrasound machine and lathered its cold, soupy liquid on my arm before pressing the probe against my elbow. She was incredibly patient, taking her time to find “the best” vein, but I felt my legs twitching already. I just knew it was going to be the sort of day where I was stabbed multiple times with an IV needle. Because it always is these days.
Imagine my surprise when she jabbed the good vein right on the first try and worked the saline and beamed with success (at least, I thought she was smiling? Thanks, Covid). I was partially speechless, and I thanked her repeatedly, even after I left the MRI’s eerie white chambers and the squealing, tapping, and thudding magnetic noises that always remind me of robot battles in space.
I didn’t realize how much of an impact it had on me that she got it on the first try until I burst into tears in the car ride home. And then again when I told my husband about it. The resounding relief of only having to endure one needle stick. Wow. Tell me you’ve been through hell without telling me. Hah.
The results popped up on my portal later that day, and I tried not to immediately rush to view them, but that patience didn’t last long. I clicked open the test results: No sign of malignancy. Another sigh of relief. Another few swallowed-up tears. Another year I get to celebrate my birthday.