My doctor told me last summer that they were going to run an MRI on my head. I did not know what to think. I was simply visiting my doctor, hoping for medication to treat the intense, prolonged headaches that I was experiencing at the time. An MRI was the last thing I expected. I have been privileged with great health my whole life — being tested for a possibly serious medical issue was a prospect I never wanted to entertain.
When I asked what they would look for in the MRI, I was told a list of possibilities. Yet the one word that stood out to me was “tumor.”
While my doctor informed me finding a tumor was not likely, the fact that there was any chance terrified me. It was something completely unforeseen, something completely perplexing, something so destructive that could be in my brain — one of the most complex and delicate systems in the body.
Even the word “tumor” seemed so foreign; it always felt like a concept that would never be directed toward me. It seemed so distant, certainly not in my realm of possibilities. That sick person could not be me.
I broke down upon arrival at the MRI facility. Walking in, I was angry at the friendly nurses who were possibly about to diagnose me with a cancerous tumor. I was scared of not fully comprehending what was happening inside my own body. I felt really, really alone.
I placed myself on the MRI bed, my body shaking uncontrollably. As I lay down, the technician told me a fluid would be injected through an I.V. in my arm halfway through the procedure that would “show all the little tumors” in my head. At that point, I was holding back tears, realizing this was impossibly serious.
My mom held my hand as the machine slowly moved me under the magnet. I felt its force penetrate my body.
Lying on the bed for 45 minutes, unable to talk while the MRI machine’s loud beeping and buzzing vibrated through the room, left me alone with my thoughts. It was one of the most isolating moments of my life. Being a practical, yet often dramatic, person, all I could think about was how my life was going to change when I found out I had a tumor: How was I going to tell my friends? Who was I going to tell? Would I go to school anymore? Were my dreams of college and a normal life no longer possible? The fact that this potential tumor was directly affecting me, instead of someone on television or even a relative, terrified me. With tears streaming from my closed eyes, I clenched my jaw and held my lips still in order not to ruin the exam.
Waiting for the results the following week was hellish. My head still ached, but I tried to stay as optimistic as a teenager who might have a brain tumor possibly could. Later, while my brother and I were watching a movie, I heard my mom’s phone ring in the other room.
“Hello, thanks for calling. Okay, okay. I see. Possible surgery? Is it common?”
I started to cry when I heard the word “surgery.” I thought my worst fear was coming true; I thought my life was changing irrevocably. I was sure I had a brain tumor. My brother tried to console me, saying we would find the best treatment for me no matter the cost. He made it seem all the more real and immediate.
My mom came quickly into my room telling me I was fine and had no tumor. I remember feeling shocked, yet confused, yet beyond overjoyed that I was healthy.
I would and could never compare my temporary medical scare over the summer to the constant fear someone diagnosed with cancer feels. I experienced the anxiety of testing for cancer and the feeling of a lack of control over my own body, but in no way did I experience the true and extensive physical and mental pain and terror of being diagnosed with cancer. I cannot define myself as a victim, only as someone who had a small, short-term dose of the emotions cancer can inflict on one’s state of mind. I cannot express fully how grateful I am for the positive results I received. Experiencing the emotional scare of the mere possibility of a cancer diagnosis illuminates a sliver of the multidimensional effects of this horrible illness. Cancer not only affects the physical body; it truly messes with your mind.