Facing Down the Cancer Machines

Whether routine or not, those MRI and CT scans force a last-minute pep talk.

I feel enormously lucky and grateful for my husband and friends who gave me the information needed to make good choices when I felt overwhelmed — and for physicians who’ve been treating me since last January (and who will, God willing, be treating me for a long time to come).

These people don't help to overcome the anxiety-provoking, nerve-wracking experience of stepping into a room in the basement of a large hospital with technicians and nurses you’ve never seen before, as everyone waits for you to "take off everything to the waist, including your bra." That’s the line I’ve heard, oh, I don’t know, 200 times in the past year. Of course, it could be worse. I could be told to take off everything down to my socks. Or even worse, I could be told nothing.

I write this because even when I feel strong, capable and able to handle what’s coming my way, I still get shaky. Anxiety is hardly restricted to the first time of anything, and ongoing cancer treatments certainly put that into stark belief.

Today I was "measured" for the start of radiation treatments. I didn’t actually get any radiation other than that of a CT scan. It was merely a step to make sure the radiation oncologist could plan my treatment perfectly and that the technicians and nurses would be able to recreate my pose each day.

Yet my stress level was so elevated driving to the hospital that I wondered for the 1,000th time about what would happen if I just walked away.

I gave myself the pep talk about all the reasons to go forward — about how brave I am, about how brave all the people in the waiting room are, about how my doctors are the best and about how lucky I actually am.

And I am lucky. I know that. A few years ago, or even a year ago if I’d stayed with my original doctors, I would have been in a very different situation than I am now. But nervousness and fear don't care much about any of that.

There are a lot of things to be scared and anxious about, even if you leave death off the list. Remind me sometime to make that list for you ... or maybe not.

If anything can personify my anxiety, I would have to choose the large, imposing and impersonal machines that populate my hospital’s basement — the CT scanners and MRI machines. I know they should not be feared, but sometimes it’s impossible to not be a little irrational. This is one of those times. The MRI machines "talk" to you and tell you when to breathe and the CT scanners spin around and whir.

They watch me closely and let the technicians, radiologists, oncologist and all the doctors in the room know what is happening inside my body. But they don’t tell me anything except to take a breath and hold it.

So that’s what I do. I walk through the doors, strip down and simply hold my breath one more time.