The Power of Friends and Meds,
Diagnosis is often a challenge and getting the specifics involves a lot of imaging. CTs, PET scans, MRIs, Sonograms, and X-Rays… so much so, I am on a first name basis with quite a few radiology techs at Chesapeake Medical Imaging.
There is a bit of a problem though.
Collision is when your body and the moving machine bump into each other. For me, this is a terrifying combination of my challenges around living in a large body, combined claustrophobia, and a fear of being trapped.
When that fear met my absolute need for diagnostic testing, I was really stuck. Intellectually, I knew what was needed, and how my fears had developed during my original experience with breast cancer.
My first ever MRI was done in 2011 to visualize the tumor in my left breast and look for other lesions. Alex* and I were in the basement of an office building next to the hospital, in a dark room, down a dark hall. I was positioned face down in superperson position with my breasts free below me, with an IV for the contrast that would help visualize any increased metabolic activity. (A frequent indicator of cancer growth.) As the tech moved the table back into the machine it collided with my hips and terrified me. All sense, self-control, and practicalities went out the window and I was bawling. Thankfully, because MRIs are magnet based not radiation based, Alex was able to join me in the room and hold my hand. I got through the test. Barely. This was followed by a PET scan, I required Valium to get through that. Positioned properly, radiation treatment was a white knuckle affair, and there were no collisions. That one time in the MRI machine had set-up the issue and my nervous system responded no matter what my head was saying.
Back in 2016 I had made it through a CT Scan with contrast, had an anxiety attack and developed hives all over my body a day later.
2018… and the only way to tell what is happening to my body is with scans. The dental oncologist had taken the biopsies in April, however that wasn’t the whole story. To get started with my new oncologist, we needed details. My first try with the MRI was a bust. I was triggered before I arrived and the drugs were out of my system. CMI has a high quality larger bore machine that I fit in, however I was simply too anxious. The tech also took me to try the Open MRI… that’s crazy – it is two horizontal plates and you slide between them, so there is this huge plate above hardly inches above me and it doesn’t get good images. So trauma and poor info. No thanks.
The next day I was off to the PET scan in the Glen Burnie office. I went up early for the injection – the radioactive tracer that gets deposited in areas of higher activity. Then my friend Lynayn drove me back a couple hours later for the test. Again, thankfully this test is detecting radiation not using it, so she was allowed to sit in the room with me. The tech was gentle and patient. The room had diffuse sunlight flowing in, far more peaceful and calming. The test took a long time. I counted, and counted, and counted. That plus some mild meds and company got me through it. The results – the cancer growth was visualized as diffuse and widespread. Not so good.
Then, back to the MRI, and more CTs and a liver biopsy which was a trifecta of CT scan at the hospital, IV sedation, and a really big needle (not that I looked.)
On Monday of this week I was back in for a follow-up CT. I didn’t even bother to take any anti-anxiety meds, I was good. Now who knows what the future will bring, and it is good to feel like I have been able to make progress through this fear.
Doubt I will ever enjoy such testing, and I am very grateful to have had a friend who was willing and able to come along and be present and supportive.
*Alex Puma was my wife, and is mentioned in many blogs of the time period, at the time zee was known as Laura Inman Mitchell.