It’s late June, a golden-blue day wrapped in soft, honeyed rustles hinting at untold promises and glories of the summer at hand. My small children are gliding into a friend’s home, their goodbye kisses and laughter floating through tousles of hair. The sparkles fade to dust, swallowed by a mean swath of darkness. It dives fast from an unseen cloud that seems to hover only in my space, as my husband drives me to the hospital. The grimy mass fuddles my sight, blocks the sun, drenches my thoughts in dread and fear. It’s a known entity, this cloud: a singular menace called the MRI breast biopsy.

Inside the hospital, the MRI prep-area smells of metal and medicine. Glassy air turns my fingers purple, and my jaw stiffens into a jittery semi-clinch. The nurse struggles with a faulty IV needle as bright-red streams spill from my left arm, sending my stomach into an unstoppable churn. My kind-faced radiologist peeks in and moves fast to help stanch the blood flow. I grab a bit of his calm and make it my own. The nurse wraps me in warm blankets and beckons a colleague. With ease, he slips a new needle into my unwounded arm.

With the nurse, the technician and the radiologist, I drift into the MRI lab. The nurse and the tech help me climb atop a narrow table, jacked up to give the radiologist access to me from below. We begin the sordid process of positioning my body. I lie on my stomach, facing the ground from an opening in a circular headrest. My torso shifts into a veritable vise, where it’ll be hostage for an hour. Both of my breasts are smashed against waffle-like grids.

The table inches me into a hole that feels smaller than it looks. I’m at the center of a massive, doughnut-shaped spaceship: the MRI machine. I shift in and out several times, while the tech snaps pictures to help the radiologist gauge precisely where to insert the needles and perform the biopsies. It’s a pivotal part. Without accurate images, the placement of a needle could be off, rendering inaccurate results. Inside, the maddening clatter of magnets is a welcome distraction from the searing screams of my crushed ribs. Never before have I wished for larger breasts. I do now. Better to torture fatty breast tissue than unforgiving bone.

Soon the radiologist plunges needles into my breasts at awkward angles, to numb them. The suspicious tissue in my left breast is burrowed deep, so he uses the maximum dose of the numbing agent. Scarier needles swoop in later, sounding like bike tire pumps. They suck out my tissue. My sternum seethes. My blood flows, and the radiologist warns the nurse.

I see nothing. I feel everything.

My arms, outstretched like Superman’s, fall into a sea of pins and needles. Warm blankets still swaddle most of my body, but the icy claws of the lab press in hard. In minutes I’m pushing myself up from the table. The nurse and the radiologist clamp down on my breasts, driving back blood clots.

Soon I’m in a wheelchair, heading for the mammogram lab, to get more pictures of the torture I just endured. When the mammogram is done, a nurse bandages my upper body into an Ace corset and places tiny cold packs against each breast.

I realize I’d been riding an adrenaline wave. It breaks, leaving me awash in pain and hunger. I eat.

I go home to hugs and peals of joy: my babies.

I sleep.

When I’m awake again, I know. I’m not taking another lap around that monstrous circle of hell. Cancer or not, I’m finding a way out.

Read the rest of this story at my Huffington Post blog.

  1. I am currently struggling with this decision…I learned that I was BRCA2 positive when I was 25. I had a lumpectomy when I was 30 (benign)…just had another biopsy this week (age 40, also benign). But now I’m thinking more about the mastectomy option…was hoping you could tell me how it went after your surgery? I can’t seem to find any follow up online.

    Thank you.

    • Dear Candy,

      Thanks for writing. I did write a follow-up piece after my mastectomy. Here’s the link:

      I’m almost a year out from my surgery, and I feel great–emotionally and physically. In every way, it was the wisest move for me. The experience of losing my mom when I was young has influenced me perhaps more than anything else. So when I was faced with the disease that took her too soon, and I had the chance to fight back with force, I seized it. As the mother of two young children, I felt it was the most responsible thing I could do. I was blessed with an incredible medical team and an extremely supportive troop of friends and family. Double-mastectomy surgery, as it turned out, was far easier than the spate of MRI- and mammogram-led biopsies I endured beforehand.

      Medicine and technology are quite advanced with regard to breast-cancer-prevention surgeries. From anesthesia to surgical superglue instead of stitches to the post-mastectomy wraps and bras available to the massage specialists and exercise regimens, there are many supports and conveniences. In the weeks before my surgery, I made sure to stay well-hydrated, and I focused my workout regimen on my core and upper body. These efforts helped immensely in my recovery. I didn’t experience searing pain in the first weeks post-op, but a dull discomfort for a few days, something of a burning sensation along the surgical cuts. That sensation quickly dissipated. I have regained a good deal of sensation in both breasts, and I continue to regain more as the weeks pass.

      I’m always happy to talk about my experience and the thought process that led me to my decision. If you’d like to email me directly, you can reach me at [email protected], and we can find a time to talk. I hope this has helped you some.

      I wish you all the best as you weigh your options.

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