In February, I had my first breast MRI. At first, I thought it would be like the one that I had on my back, which was almost relaxing (minus the clanging of the machine). I was wrong. A few days before, I started to do some research and while I found some clinical descriptions of what was going to happen, I didn’t find any first-person accounts. So, if you’re on this page because you’re about to have a breast MRI – this was written specifically for you.
My breast MRI was part of the R.I.S.E. program at Memorial Sloan Kettering. To recap: I do not have breast cancer. I’m at high risk due to my family history. They watch me and make personalized recommendations for testing.
First, I’ll share a warning that my doctors gave me. An MRI gives very detailed photos. It’s very likely that it will pick up things that they might want to test further that will turn out to be benign. (known as a “false positive”). I was told to expect follow-ups and biopsies but to understand that it would likely not lead to a cancer diagnosis.
I was not given any special instructions for that day. They only wanted to know if I had any metal inside of me. (I do not.) Unlike my back MRI, I was not able to wear my own clothes of yoga pants and a t-shirt. They handed me scrubs and a robe and told me to get changed and wait. (I did ask if I could bring my phone with me to take photos for this blog, but was told no.)
My next stop was get an IV line put in my arm so it would be easier to add the contrast solution later. I was anxious at the idea of walking around with a needle in my arm but the nurse explained that they remove the needle and only leave plastic tubing. I could bend my arm as I wished. Although I couldn’t feel the tube and it did not hurt at all, I kept my arm straight. I’ll admit it, I’m such a baby at times. It was the idea of something in my arm. Very mature.
Now it was time to go to the (freezing) MRI room. I was put through 3 different metal detectors. One looked like a pole attached to a wall. I stood next to it and slowly spun around. Next,the technician checked me with a wand. The third was like the old-school airport security ones – walking through a doorway.
The next was the hardest part of the MRI – getting situated on the table. I was NOT going to be on my back, as I originally thought. I had to lie on my stomach over an odd contraption called a “breast coil”. It has holes for the breasts to hang down, the opposite of a mammogram – they want pictures uncompressed. I was then to lay my face in one of those massage-table-like donuts (not. even. close.) and extend my arms over the top of my head (think superman, flying). It took several minutes for them to position me just right. Then, they were kind enough to pile blankets on top of me. I rarely get cold, but the thin robe and scrubs were no match for this room. (If you have a pet polar bear, feel free to bring them! They’ll be right at home…)
I was stuck there for about 45 minutes, without moving, while they took some photos, stopped, gave me the contrast (which may or may not feel very cold going in) and took more photos. The machine was very loud and I wish I’d brought better-fitting ear plugs. I tried to go to my happy place (vacation!) and breathe deeply until it was over.
Then, it was over. I was very stiff and it took me a few minutes to get up. The technicians were very nice – everyone I’ve encountered at MSK is always very nice – and helped me off of the table. I took my time getting back to the dressing room, changing, and heading to work.
Nothing overwhelming happened after. My day went on as usual. I wasn’t stiff from the awkward position or nauseous from the contrast. The Breast MRI was annoying, uncomfortable, and then it was done. I think will go much easier next time because I’ll know what to expect. (and hopefully your first will as well, now that you know one person’s experience)
As much as it wasn’t a big deal, I wish I’d done something nice for myself after – maybe a new shirt to change into? A breakfast treat? (my appointment was at 8:00AM!) It was anxiety-inducing for me (I always think of my mom in every aspect of these tests + the whole thing is awkward) and a little kindness afterward would’ve put a smile on my face a little faster.
As for the results, much like the DNA test, I spent the next 24 hours trying to keep myself calm, and not think that THIS time it really was the one. An MRI is some of the best imaging that money can buy. This is where they will find whatever it is I’m convinced is growing inside of me. But, Dr. Mangino called the next day (!!) and told me that the scans were clear. There was nothing they wanted to test further. She’d speak to me more at my follow-up appointment.
In addition to the joy of knowing that the best imaging showed nothing, I realize that I need (more than) a bit of an attitude adjustment. Having been around breast cancer since I was a child, it’s been a dark cloud that’s followed me around. Probably more so since I’ve lost my mom. From the results, it doesn’t look like I’m moments away from being admitted for surgery. (when an active imagination turns into a curse) Maybe my fate isn’t already determined. While it’s serving me to stay on top of my health and get all of these extra screenings, it’s not useful to add stress to my life! A Breast MRI is for not everyone, so if you are unsure, talk it over with your doctor. As for me, I consider myself lucky to have access to the best equipment and doctors in the world and these results are helping me walk through life a little lighter.