MRI Am Scared: What to Expect During an MRI for BRCA Management

I had my MRI and 3rd mammogram last Friday as part of my pre-op checklist.

I may have mentioned this before, but I have a very irrational fear of needles. When I first found out I had BRCA2, my initial thought was, “OMG, the needles! There will definitely be tests!” Do you struggle with the same thing?

It’s not something I can use logic to fight. This is primal fear. Adrenaline, sweating, and almost passing out every time! Other than breathing exercises, have you had any success at overcoming this irrational fear? Anyone try hypnosis?

During the MRI, they inject you with “contrast” to enhance or improve imaging. This requires an IV (that’s a needle). To deal with the anxiety, my breast surgeon prescribed me Valium. It was only 5mg (after the fact, I can say, 5mg is not enough).

If I know exactly what is happening, what’s going to happen, and the reasons why, I can talk myself through most medical things. So, for all you curious about the process, here’s what it was like getting an MRI:

PREPLANNING

Schedule the Appointment.

I called the radiology office on the first day of my period to schedule my appointment. They like to do MRIs within a certain window of your cycle (I believe 7-10 days in). We happened to be at Disney World celebrating my daughter’s 4th birthday when I had to make the call. I didn’t let it ruin our trip though and kept most of the planning private. On the call, the scheduler asked if I would be sedated. Further questioning revealed this would just be in pill form. I quickly replied, “HELL YES!” When you are sedated for your appointment, you get Xanax or Valium and have to take in in the office, after you fill out your paperwork. Basically, you need to arrive an hour ahead of your actual MRI. My mammogram was scheduled right after the MRI for my convenience!

Get the Sedation.

My breast surgeon had to prescribe the sedation. 1 tiny Valium. I picked it up at the pharmacy the day before my scheduled appointment. I called to follow up with the surgeon to make sure the prescription was written!

Hydrate.

I spent the day before my MRI either drinking water or going to the bathroom. I may have taken “stay hydrated” too literally, but I wasn’t taking any chances with my veins. I needed them to be ready!

Drink water

MRI DAY

I continued to drink water all morning and even bypassed coffee just to be sure the veins were good to go.

I showered, and reminded myself over and over not to apply lotion or deodorant. They mentioned no powder too. Just to be safe, I didn’t even use dry shampoo or put on makeup. Dressing was easy – no metal and two-piece outfits were required. I chose yoga pants and a tunic.

My husband, Robert, went to the appointment with me because a driver was required to stay the entire time. I am sure he would have come either way because he knows I freak out whenever needles are involved.

Once I was checked in at the office, I gave the front desk my Valium to hold until after I filled out the usual repetitive paperwork. 10 minutes of paperwork later, I was back at the counter with my hand out, ready to slip into “sedation”. Once I took the Valium, it was another 15 minutes of waiting and I was called back.I didn’t feel the valium working. I still swear I needed more than 5mg!

I asked if Robert could come back with me. I wanted him to capture some pictures for you all more than I needed him for support. The nurse said no because there wasn’t enough room back there. So, sorry there aren’t legit pictures of me sweating buckets and getting the MRI.

Immediately, they took me back to a room with the MRI machine. A nurse showed me to the changing room and told me to remove my top and put on a gown. FYI – always leave the opening in the front. You laugh, but I used to put those things on like smocks at my annual exams. LOL! I get protocol now. As I went into the changing room, I blurted out, “Can I have my IV in my hand?! I have bad veins and my hand usually works best.” The nurse calmly said, “Of course, whatever you want.” A wave of relief washed over me!

I changed and came back out. The other technician sat me down on the side of the MRI bench. I told her about my veins and my fear of needles. She said it would be okay and looked at the top of my hands. She tied off my hands at the wrist and the small talk commenced. She went to get a heat pack from the cabinet to warm my hand and make my veins visible. Once she removed it I started getting nervous. I looked and saw her getting the needle out. “Oh no, this is it, isn’t it?  I don’t want to see!” I looked the other way and grabbed the other nurse’s hand. The IV was in within seconds BUT I could definitely feel the weirdness of having something foreign in my hand. The waves of nausea and lightheadedness rolled over me. I felt my upper lip with my other hand. It was covered in bullets of sweat. They asked me if I was okay. I said we should just get started because I felt like I needed to lay down. They took my glasses, which was good because I can’t see anything without them.

The nurse put ear plugs into both of my ears. They laid me face down. There was a prop for my head and two little boxes to put my boobs in. They put “markers” on my nipples. I thought it was literally a marker, but I would find out later they were stickers. Then they slid the table into the MRI machine. They propped my hand up so the IV wouldn’t come out and the contrast would easily be able to enter. At this point, I thought the Valium might have kicked in a little or it was just pure relief the needle part was over.

I was set. Over a speaker, I could hear the technician say “Are you ready? Take a deep breath and hold as still as you can. The first session will take 30 seconds.” For 30 seconds, I held still. The noises were loud but bearable. Of course, the moment someone says not to take a deep breath, that’s all I wanted to do. When the noises stopped, I was able to take a deep breath and adjust slightly. Then the next session started. I believe it was 4 minutes. Then 8 minutes. Then they put the contrast in through the IV. It felt slightly cool, but nothing uncomfortable. Some people say they taste metal. I tasted a slight sweetness after the MRI was over. The MRI cycled through another course of 4 and 8-minute sessions. 30 minutes later, it was over. I was being pulled out of the tube and sitting upright. My glasses were placed on my face and the ear plugs were removed. The IV was removed and I was sent on my way to the next waiting area for my mammogram.

The mammogram was just a bunch of boob squishing between sheets of plastic. But this is where I realized there were stickers on my nipples and not just marker. I laughed and pulled them off for the technician.

Afterward, I was dressed and sent to a waiting room where the radiologist came to visit me. She said initial reviews of my scans and mammogram showed NO SIGNS OF CANCER! Whooo.

When I got back into the waiting room, Robert was nowhere to be found. I sat on the couch and waited for him. He had been outside taking pictures.

On our way home, we stopped at Landmark Diner, an old favorite restaurant of ours and had breakfast. I pounded at least 6 cups of coffee. I have been saying this for YEARS, but they really need to increase the size of their mugs.

Coffee at Landmark
Pounding coffee at Landmark Diner

By the time we got home, it was close to noon. I set up my computer and started working from home since I wasn’t able to drive for the next 24 hours due to the sedation. I felt fine and really believe the Valium didn’t do much for me. Robert says I was acting a little loopy though. He took a video of me at the diner, but I was being my usual self!

And that was my day! I got another call later in the afternoon saying my scans were all clear!

Next Steps

I scheduled my follow up appointment with my surgeon after completing my pre-surgery checklist that included:

  • Calling my insurance company
  • Meeting with the plastic surgeon
  • Getting an MRI and Mammogram

Next time, I will fill you all in on the plan. Teaser: no surgery scheduled.

If you have had MRIs, was my experience similar to yours? What do you struggle with during an MRI or other medical procedure? What kind of tips can you give me for dealing with my medical anxiety?

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2 thoughts on “MRI Am Scared: What to Expect During an MRI for BRCA Management

  1. I have many irrational fears… small elevators, planes, getting stuck on a roller coaster etc.. needles are not one of them. I actually watch the needle go in and the blood drain. I think it is neat. BUT- the getting in the tube portion of the MRI – is way worse and I have only been ankle deep. I am impressed at your calmness with that. Go to your happy place!!

    Like

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