A Boobtastic MRI Experience

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Today I had my first ever MRI – in this case a boobtastic MRI. They’re using the MRI to look for blood supplies in both of my breasts. Cancers need a lot of blood to grow and thrive so that’s why MRIs are used in cancer screening – they look for unexpected blood supplies. However, many other things can also cause out of the ordinary blood supplies and many of these are in no way dangerous. This means there’s a high chance of false positives that lead to additional screening such as ultrasounds that focus in on the area with the extra blood supplies. Today’s MRI will help them better estimate the size of the tumor in my left breast to increase the chance they take the optimal amount of tissue during the lumpectomy. They aim to get “clear margins” meaning they remove a bit of non-tumorous tissue around the tumor without missing any of the tumor or taking more tissue than needed. The MRI could also identify other potential “excessive” blood supplies that might need further investigation before surgery. I’m looking at a future screening schedule that includes an MRI every 12 months for the rest of my life since I’m a high risk patient. That will alternate with mammograms so that I have some sort of screening every 6 months. This “enhanced screening” greatly increases survival rates in high risk patients to the point that high risk patients are actually more likely to survive a cancer than someone in the general population who may or may not get screened regularly. So gals – get screened as often as your doctor recommends and get familiar with your own boobs!

Originally my MRI was scheduled for 430p at the downtown Boise St. Luke’s very near my house. However, I got a call around 1130a saying that there were some emergencies that needed the MRI and they could not get me into the Boise location today. Would I be able to arrive at their Meridian hospital by 1230 because they had an opening there? I quickly checked with my chauffeur, Linda Crozier, and verified that yes, this would work. She ditched her husband and their planned movie and picked me up immediately. We were “all the way in Meridian” (those of you in Boise will understand that to mean “almost in a foreign country”) by 1215p. I popped my prescribed anti-anxiety pill as we pulled into the parking lot. If they offer you an anti-anxiety pill when they’re scheduling the appointment then take the pill – why not? They quickly checked us in and I was back in the MRI waiting room within a few minutes. Linda opted to wait in the main waiting room as they wouldn’t let her observe the actual MRI any way.

They let me keep on my metal-free yoga pants and thick, warm socks but had me put on scrubs for a top. They verified yet again that I was wearing no metal, had never had an accident involving metal in my eyes (!), and that the only metal embedded in me was the plate in my left arm (per the tech that isn’t ferrous and can’t cause harm in an MRI) and the clip they inserted in my breast to mark the tumor.

Boob MRI for breast cancer screening
Boob MRI for breast cancer screening

Within a few more minutes I was in the MRI room. That’s when I first saw the pink contraption pictured here. I guess they figure anything breast related must be pink because all women just love pastels and pink in particular… right…. NOT! They had me sit on the side of the table while they inserted a catheter in my arm so they could add some dye later in the process. Then they had me get as comfortable as possible on the boob contraption. The boobs themselves just hung in two holes (labeled conveniently as left boob and right boob in the picture). My head fit in a massage-table-like head rest. My arms were stretched out in front of me. Then they figured out the right combination of blankets and pillows under my rib cage, legs, and feet to make me comfortable enough that I wasn’t likely to squirm and added a blanket on top to keep me warm. If you move during the 20-45 minute MRI they have to redo pictures and stay even longer so comfort is key. They hooked up a line to the catheter in my arm, put some big headphones on me (with music piped in from my iPod), put a call button in my hand (they can’t hear me call out over the loud noises the machine makes), and pushed me back into the MRI machine.

The machine had been making clunking noises of various sorts the whole time, but now the noises became more consistent and louder, though the specific sounds changed quite a bit. The machine is taking many, many pictures, each one of a different 3mm slice of my breasts. I just concentrated on breathing deeply and listening to my music. They had placed a double mirror under the headrest so I could see out the end of the tunnel. I watched that for a while but it was not very interesting – a very narrow view of the room between my fingers. So I closed my eyes and relaxed. After about 10 minutes I heard a voice over the headphones saying they were injecting the dye and I could feel a cold spot in my arm for a few seconds. I have a vague memory of hearing an extra loud noise and jerking at some point. I think the memory was vague because I was asleep…. The tech’s voice came over the headphones saying I had moved so they would have to redo a couple of the pics. I was very relaxed at that point and may have gone back to sleep – it seemed to be over very quickly.

They came in and pushed me out of the tube. They had me sit up and they removed the catheter then said I could leave. I asked if I could grab my phone from the waiting room and take a picture. They said sure. I couldn’t take the phone inside the room but was able to take the pic from the doorway. I said I needed it for my blog and the tech said, yes, people do that all the time. Who knew so many of us thought other people would care about our MRI experiences!

After changing back into my street clothes I collected Linda and we headed back to Boise for a coffee fix at Starbucks. They already have Pumpkin Spice available! We relaxed in the Starbucks for a while then Linda dropped me off and headed out to get back to her day.

It generally takes 24-48 hours for a mammo-radiologist to review and report on the results. I really hope they get to it before the end of the day Friday because they aren’t working on Monday due to the Labor Day holiday. I would really like to have confirmation that the MRI has no surprises so I can plan for a Sept 6 lumpectomy. If the Sept 6 surgery date doesn’t work out we may be back to the original Sept 25 surgery I was hoping for when I was thinking I wanted to wait for my BRCA results (I’ll cover that in a separate blog).

I hope you found my boob’s boobtastic journey through the MRI entertaining and/or educational. 🙂 For anyone trying to calm your nerves before having your own MRI – it was easy! Just make sure you are comfortable, ask tons of questions ahead of time and as they are prepping you for the MRI, and relax.