brain MRI’s are scary

I have been in a groove, moving through radiation every morning, then jumping in to the daily groove of juggling the many balls that is my life. I have been eyeing the end date of radiation, counting down, and thinking through next steps to finish out conventional treatment.

I decided to keep my appointment with my local oncologist last week, which typically precedes the next day’s infusion of herceptin – even though i’ve decided to stop the herceptin, for now. I was looking forward to seeing my labs and assessing different levels, as well as – and most of all, honestly – pressing through with relationship and dialogue and big-picture vision with this woman who has walked closely beside me since my diagnosis.

((When she learned of my decision to go against her recommendation and stop herceptin, I received a message from her office, asking if I wanted to “transfer care.” I felt stunned, because in my (perhaps utopic) vision of the model of care in medicine, if a patient disagrees with their doctor about one decision (of a multitude made) – that doesn’t mean that they stop working together. It means that we disagree, and that we remember that I am in this body, driving my healing, and I weigh many factors in making a decision and we continue to move together toward our common goal of my healing.))

So I decided to step in to that space that can feel awkward and tender, and sit with her in face-to-face conversation. I am always glad when I choose this option.

We went through much of the robotic check-the-box questions, and at one point in conversation about radiation, I shared that I often experience dizziness when standing up from the radiation table. This is something I’ve shared with the radiation oncologist (the doctor who specifically oversees my radiation treatment and with whom I meet weekly). He has maintained that it is not a side effect of radiation, although I know that it started 2 weeks after I began and typically hits only when standing up from the radiation table.

So my doctor stopped me and began to ask more questions about the dizziness. I was unfazed by her deeper questions and still wasn’t absorbing her level of concern.

As the appointment concluded, she said gently that she wants me to get a brain mri; that she thinks I’m probably fine but would like to be sure.

I felt that crashing in my stomach; that dark panic starting to hit. What was going on? Because this appointment was supposed to be a quick check in, nothing to see here, moving right along. And this doctor, who had dismissed a different side effect months ago that I actually *was worried about, was now insisting on an mri of my brain. To look for the spread of cancer, of course.

And she wanted it done that week.

I felt the familiar companion of fear and anxiety start knocking at my door. The spinning of reality, the pit in my stomach,  the wrestling with possibilities. A quick check to Dr. Google confirmed that spread to the brain is a signature of the particular type of cancer that I had.

How does a girl walk through this wait? This holding still of time and space while everything moves as normal all around?

The next morning, I got a call from the imaging clinic to schedule the mri. They had a cancellation that afternoon and did I want it? Yes. I know now that I prefer to just do the hard thing instead of put it off when it comes to wild ride of these tests and waits.

The roller coaster afternoon included my first hair cut (!!!) – which was such sweet joy and tearful celebration of healing, followed immediately by the appointment for the mri.

Sometimes it feels like too much.

Claustrophobia and mri’s are not the best of friends. And this one, with the cage around my head, while laying still in a tunnel and then being injected with contrast and laying still even longer – was rough. I vacillated while laying there – moments where I focused on my breathing, exhaling the fear and inhaling the belief that I was well, visualizing my brain as well and without disease. But there were pockets of panic; of placing my hand over my heart to feel it racing and pounding, imagining dark hard outcomes.

I woke up Friday morning clothed with the dark cloud. Oh LORD, please. please let me be dealing “only” with radiation side effects and the ending of treatments and the opening up of the bright spacious new that I see ahead.

Let me focus on my loves before me, and savor this day at home with them, not fighting stray thoughts until the call comes. 

I reached out to a couple dear trusted friends, sharing this dark hard and feeling desperate for encouragement. I read and reread the texts that came, being reminded of what I knew and hearing words of life and hope. Oh, the power in our words!

Late morning, I called the imaging clinic and asked how long I should expect to wait before hearing results from the previous day’s mri. She said that the results had already been sent to the doctor, so I immediately called the Factory. I told the receptionist that I knew that my results had been sent, that I also was aware that my doctor doesn’t work on Fridays but that I hoped that wouldn’t prevent me from hearing back from another doctor that same day. She assured me that the on call doctor would call later in the day.

So life swam on … learning and eating and cleaning and picking up my girl from school and then late afternoon, my phone rang.

The cheery voice on the other end was Sydney from the Factory. She said she was calling to give me … pause … the results from my … pause … mri. My heart was pounding out of my chest. Yes, yes, Sydney – what are the results??

“No malignant lesions” in my brain, she said.

I hung up the phone, shaking with relief … just so thankful.

It felt like the gift of life and healing that I’ve been walking out, was just returned to me. No more barriers, no more delays, only purposeful joyful growing-in-strength and wellness and love and life as I have the gift of this one before me.

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