“I don’t want to be in a battle, but waiting at the edge of one, I can’t escape, is even worse.” So says Pippin to Gandalf on the seventh level of Minas Tirith.
My mother was going to drop me off at the hospital so that I could go for my abdominal ultrasound and my MRI while she entertained my daughter, Indiana, somewhere else. But she suddenly became supersticious about the whole thing. She’s decided that if she’s there nothing bad will happen but if she’s not there it’ll be more bad news. (She was there for my bone scan, she was not there for my biopsy.) So we left Indiana with her other gramma (grandmama) and mum brought a book this time. When I was having my bone scan, it was taking so long, she was certain the news would not be good. This time we had forwarning that it would be a longish test.
The ultrasound was first. The technician said she’d been asked to check my liver, but she was going to check everything. She checked my kidneys, my spleen, my gallbladder, my liver and I think my stomach (she was poking around at the beginning, at what I thought was my liver, but then later she told me when she was going to look at my liver, so I assume it was my stomach at the start). The whole process took about half an hour and involved a lot of deep breaths. The technician said that the Radiologist (the same one that looked at my lump ultrasound and did the biopsy) usually likes to double check her pictures, but she didn’t come in to check mine. So I’m taking that as a sign that nothing appeared on the ultrasound. The doctors usually like to take a look for themselves if something shows up.
The MRI area of the hospital is right beside the ultrasound area, and it didn’t take long for them to ask me in. There was another woman there who seemed very concerned, and I was wondering if she was another breast cancer patient, and if we’d be seeing each other a lot over the coming months. She was waiting at the changing area when I was shown in and I determined right away that she was not a breast cancer patient as her outfit was totally different than my two robes (one open at the front and the other over top to cover the gap.) She started talking about why she was there. A work place injury involving a pinched nerve or a slipped disk. I was kind of annoyed. She was complaining about the fact that they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) just fix the thing. I stood there wanting to tell her how lucky she was to be there for a slipped disk. Finally she said, “You look very worried.” I realized that I had been standing with my arms around myself, rocking from side to side in the same way that all mothers rock when they have a baby on their hip. I was trying to sooth myself the way I sooth my daughter.
I guess I took that as an invitation.
“I have breast cancer.” I said. It was the first time I had actually said it that plainly. I always tell people “I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer.” Maybe hoping that I if I said it that way that there was still a chance that the diagnosis was wrong. That if I don’t say that I have breast cancer, I can take it back later.
I managed to keep the tears in, but as she asked me questions, I made her cry and then I cried a little. Some how telling people to their face is the worst. I was at our toddler group the other day, and all the way there I had debated telling the group during our introductions. But I didn’t want to hijack the group and turn it into Devyn’s personal support group. But, when one of the mum’s asked me about our plans to move to Vancouver, I some how felt she was the right person to tell. And my instinct was right. Her mother recently beat breast cancer, and we had a bit of a cry and a hug. And she told me that if her mum where there to offer advice she’d tell me to take every treatment they’ve got. She had been told that they got it all with surgery and they weren’t going to do chemo. But she demanded it anyway. (In a battle you don’t assume there are no enemy forces lurking in the bushes)
Back to the MRI. The woman with the slipped disk told me that my daughter saved my life. I wish I’d said, “In more ways than one.” I’m sure she’ll save my life a few more times in the coming months.
The technician came and got me and sat me down to put in the IV. During the MRI they inject a magnetic contrast into your blood so they can get an image. But they take a few base pictures first and they need to be able to put the contrast in without taking you out of the machine, so they put an IV in your right arm. They are pretty particular about which arm it is, because of the way the room is set up. A friend of mine had warned me that they might get a bit … cranky … about having to find a vein through tattoos. Thankfully, my tech was pretty open minded about them, and I have veins you can see from space, (plus she tied the tourniquet so tight the veins were practically leaping out of my skin). I find the whole thing so fascinating. I really am learning so much about modern medical technology. There’s so much stuff that you hear about on medical shows, but you never really know what they are. Because the MRI uses magnets, any metal that is on or in your body becomes very very hot, so the IV that they use has a plastic needle. (I feel so much like Magneto) They ask you a series of questions to determine if there is likely to be any metal in you (like, have you ever had any metal go in your eye?). She also told me that there are some tattoo inks that have metal in them, and while she’s never had a problem with them she had heard of a guy that had his arm start to burn him because of the trace amounts of metal in his tattoo. I realized midway through my MRI that the underwear I had on might possibly have stripes that contained metallic thread, and was waiting for the burning sensation in my crotch. (nice) Later when I looked at my underpants, the silver stripes had changed to a coppery colour.
For the MRI, they lay you down on this “bed” that has cut outs for your boobs. You have to lie very still and they give you head-phones with music (that you get to choose, but they don’t have much choice) and a bulb thing to squeeze if you need help (the girl that was in before me threw up). I hate to say it but I nearly fell asleep. For much of the MRI I felt like I was being gently rocked gently back and forth. I kept my eyes closed and tried to think of myself in great places, like on the beach in Greece. I imagined the heat from the blanket that was over me was Mediterranean sunshine. And out of nowhere I found myself crying. Not sobbing or even really weeping. Just tears falling from my eyes. I was conscious of not moving so the images would be good, but it was the most relaxed, I think I’ve been since this whole thing started … 8 days ago.
The MRI was over before I new it, and the tech and I had a bit of a chat while she took out my IV. She asked me about tattoos (as everybody does) and we got onto the topic of cancer. She said she’s been seeing a dramatic increase in the number of younger women with cancer.
My mom and I have been discussing why that is. I can’t help but think that it has to do with the pace of our modern lives. We work so hard and take few vacations or even breaks. We wolf down our lunch in 10 minutes – or while working and that lunch has more ingredients than the human body. We are completely disconnected from the food we put in our mouths, and most people will never see, first hand, where any of it comes from. I wonder if we’ll ever find the magic combination that causes cancer. It’s like the Joker’s toxic cosmetics in “Batman” or that final chemical compound that turned Lily Tomlin into “The Incredible Shrinking Woman.”
All I know is, my friend told me she knows too many hairdressers who have left the industry because they had cancer. More and more younger women are finding out they have cancer. And the best hope we have, right now, of surviving this battle is to take screening very seriously and don’t listen to our doctors when they say it’s nothing. The medical community may be in denial about cancer in younger people, but as long as we live in a country where we don’t personally have to pay for each test – a biopsy takes five minutes and it doesn’t hurt. You may have a bruise for a few days, but you’ll still have your breast and you’ll still have your life.