Life became defined by letters from the hospital and appointments.
The next stop on the NHS conveyor belt was the MRI scan on a Friday afternoon which meant setting cover for my year 11 class who were months away from their new GCSE exams.
I felt I could measure my progress by the progress of the road works on the way up to the Derriford Hospital, both were going slowly. The MRI clinic was a challenge to find (despite having a geography degree) yet we were on time and I felt upbeat as I pressed the intercom and announced I was here ready for the scan. The radiographer was great, friendly, kind and matter of fact and I announced that I was Fiona and I had lobular invasive breast cancer, the more frequently I said it the easier it was to say.
Nick had to wait outside as I got changed into a blue gown with a seam across the breasts so it opened up at the front. First stop was a chair which looked as if I was going to donate blood, not so as it was to fit a cannula into my arm so that dye could be injected into blood stream and highlight areas with abnormal cells. Despite the fact that I’d read everything I’d been given I thought the injection went into the breasts not blood stream and this caused both the radiographers and I to laugh when I asked them what they were doing and told them the cancer wasn’t in my arm!
If you think of the episode in the Television Room in Charlie and the Chocolate factory then it will give you an idea of the room with the MRI scanner in except….there appears to be a large tumble drier with a massage bed in front of it. I was invited up onto the bed, and no I didn’t need help to get on, but I did understand the significance of having a front opening gown as there was a space for your face and two spaces for your boobs to hang through as you lay out on your tummy. I found this very funny.
The radiographers arrange your arms above your head with blocks of foam and then arrange your boobs so they are in the right place. After they have attached the ear phones to you, put the grey tube into your hand and explained to press on it if you need to talk to them and attached the canula to a spiral tube, they retreat into an office you cannot see as you are facing down and the massage bed moves up and back into the tumble drier. The radiographers spoke to me and told me what was coming next – 2 scans without the dye, 4 minutes, 3 minutes “you are doing well”. It was slightly claustrophobic because when I took a deep breath I felt my back was against the top of the tumble drier.
I had taken my favourite CD, Graceland by Paul Simon and thought I’d be able to sing along. Unfortunately, I could not hear it over the “cludunk, cludunk” of the machine. It was warm and strangely relaxing, I just counted the “cludunks” and it appeared to me that these went in a circular motion around me. I didn’t drift off to sleep and it wasn’t a terrible experience. I was glad when the dye went into my arm and the longer scans were complete as the noise was more intrusive. The process took about 40 minutes and as the massage bed emerged, the spiral tube was disconnected, I pushed myself up and took myself back to the changing room. I did ask if I could see the scan but that wasn’t possible – reading Maps and reading scans are not the same. MRI done…. Despite being relaxed I felt shattered, Nick drove us home and I went to sleep.
Tip: Expect to feel tired, it is the emotional stress of it all – being in a new environment, not in control. Be friendly, smile at the staff as you don’t know what they too are going through.