Afraid, Acted Anyway

Posted on: March 31st, 2017 by

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True to my word, after I pressed the Publish button on my post on March 3, I picked up the phone and made an appointment for my brain MRI.

Prior to that date, I had been stalling. At several points I had frantically told myself and friends and my psychotherapist and anyone who would listen that it was well within my rights as a patient to refuse this medical procedure.

Everyone agreed that I could refuse the brain MRI.

My fear-besotted mind agreed. MRI machines were the enemy. Case closed.

It was at the height of my fear that I was teaching the powerful memoir called I am Malala: the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai. (If you haven’t yet read it, it is an amazing book.) Here was a young Pakistani teenager who advocated for the education of girls — even with the Taliban running rampant in her area of Pakistan — and risked her life to get her message across: that girls needed to get an education. Given the book’s title, the following is not a spoiler alert: the Taliban shot her in the head, but she lived. (Post-memoir, Malala continues to advocate for education for children worldwide.)

Re-reading this book got me re-thinking about courage. Not the kind of courage that has its usual mass appeal: the brave, stoic warrior who is superhero-personified. But the kind of courage that is real to me — being afraid, being petrified, being terrified. And acting anyway. Despite the fear. Despite the horror.

That’s what Malala did. She was scared that the Taliban would throw acid in her face as she walked to school. She was terrified that she and her family might be killed. But she acted anyway.

So I thought about Malala’s courage, and I about-faced. I knew I had a post to write and publish, as well as an MRI to schedule. After all, if Malala could face the likes of the Taliban, I could endure a stinkin’ MRI.

So after I hit the Publish button, I found myself on the phone with the scheduling department. As luck would have it, an appointment was available a week later, at 7:30 p.m. I didn’t like the idea of being at the hospital’s Center for Advanced Care at night because many of my ICU memories are of struggling at night at the adjacent hospital. For me, nighttime at the hospital is eerie.

On MRI day, a good friend picked up my daughter for a sleepover, and another good friend drove me to and from the MRI. I had unsure traction, like someone navigating the slippery road ahead during a snowstorm.

I was petrified. I was lost in the haze of fear. But there I was, getting the brain MRI to the tunes of the Rolling Stones, thinking that I ought to have my head examined, and smiling with the irony of it all. Xanax helped conjure up courage. But truth was, despite the Xanax, the technician’s soothing voice, the warm blanket, and hearing the Stones’ “Emotional Rescue” (the irony was not lost on me here either), this I know:

I was still afraid.

I tried to stay as still as possible amid the whirring and banging sounds of the MRI machine, staving off claustrophobia and feelings of suffocation.

Despite my terror, I was courageous. I was afraid, yet I acted anyway.

I couldn’t stare down fear, but I stared at it. And that was enough.


Do you get scanxiety?

Are you able to alleviate scanxiety? If so, what techniques do you use?

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12 Responses to Afraid, Acted Anyway

  1. Elissa had this to say about that:

    Kudos! Terrific job facing your fear and fighting your way through it! I’ve read Malala’s book and loved it, too.

    I’m weird with scanxiety in general. I don’t consciously feel it, but after my results come back I can feel myself relax, without recognizing that I had been tense beforehand.

    That said, I kept putting off my first colonoscopy out of fear. My intestines were ripped open when I was seven, and although the chance of a colonoscopy-associated perforation is remote, it can be catastrophic. A chunk of my abdomen was removed, so I had no idea what if any complications my colon would provide. Turned out the surgeon who did my lumpectomy also does colonoscopies, so I quizzed him during one of my follow-ups. He reassured me. I already trusted him and he already knew at least one part of my body, so I used him for my colonoscopy. He said afterward that I was “a bit twisty,” but nothing he couldn’t handle.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Elissa,

      No wonder you were scared to get a colonoscopy! You endured such trauma when you were seven. I think it’s wonderful how your surgeon did a great job, and that you tapped deep within your courage bank to trust him.

      I’m glad the colonoscopy went well. xo

  2. Scott Johnson had this to say about that:

    Congratulations on getting there and making it through the MRI. The tiny space and the voice… Fear from concentrate, no additives needed. My first one was at the end of a day tests and being parked here and there for hours in the only cement wheelchair they could find painful enough to distract me and it STILL freaked me out being set into the machine.

    Haven’t had an MRI in a few years. My heart has so many patches they’ve stopped echo cardiograms and do CT Scans instead. CT’s for cancer too but using a different contrast solution. I like the technicians for heart and cancer and my cardiologist I can talk to but I won’t talk to oncologists, they make me feel unwelcome and helpless.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Scott,

      Thank you for the congrats. Yes, MRIs are unnerving, to say the least. I like the way you put it: “Fear from concentrate, no additives needed.”

      I’m glad you like some of the medical personnel. It’s unfortunate that your oncologists are so nasty bad.

  3. Rebecca had this to say about that:

    Hi Beth, I am sorry you had to go through this. I confess, I hate MRIs like no other scan (never got a PET so I am not sure about that one yet). Mammograms make me feel extremely nervous but this has a lot to do with the examination setup at my hospital. How each group of women in kept in a waiting room, then moved to another room, and then moved to another room. It feels like judgement day. And if we are lucky, we get to be free that same day. Terrifying! I usually take an Ativan the morning of these tests, but last year I said f&*^ it!and went in without it. I am due for my MRI in June but might move it to May to get it over with. I don’t like the experience one bit! One day I will write about why. It’s not just because of the fear of cancer.

    You did great, my friend. I hope your results are good and you’re able to have some sense of peace. xoxo

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Rebecca,

      Thank you for sharing your experience. The mammogram waiting procedure that you endure does seem like judgement day. Why do medical institutions set up the waiting arena that way? It boggles the mind.

      I don’t blame you for pushing the MRI up one month earlier. I, too, hate the experience of going through an MRI. For me, too, it’s not just about fear of cancer. I hate the loud noises and feeling like I’m shut in with no escape.

      I hope your MRI goes well. Thank you for your comment.

  4. Caroline Ronten had this to say about that:

    Scanxiety sucks. It will happen for a long time. But I can tell you I had to have a brain CT last fall because I fell. Every brain MRI/CT I have head has shown that I must have a brain somewhere but nothing bad has shown (yet).

    So the best advice I can offer you is deep breath, accept that your head will need to be examined and do not overthink anything.

    And ask your doctors for Ativan or something to get you through the day of.

    The most important is that you do not let cancer suck anymore life out of you. Hugs!

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Caroline,

      Thank you for your comment. I’ve done lots of relaxation exercises, and that, too, has helped me get through MRIs.

      You’re right about not overthinking things. Scanxiety is a true head game.

      I’m sorry you fell. Hopefully, you weren’t hurt too badly. Thanks for the hugs. I felt them!

  5. Caroline Ronten had this to say about that:

    For the rest of your life, you will be poked and prodded more than you ever want. But you can’t let it take over your life.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      True. I hate being poked and prodded, Caroline. I guess nobody really likes it. Luckily, I don’t let it run my life, but I know what you’re saying.

  6. Nancy Stordahl had this to say about that:

    Hi Beth,
    I’m glad you made the call and had the MRI. Fear is a powerful emotion, that’s for sure. I hope the results are good.

    I guess I’m sort of an oddball because I wish I could have an MRI or a scan once a year to check on things. I understand why this isn’t done without symptoms, but still…I do hate how noisy MRIs are though.

    It’s admirable that you faced your fear, made the call, went to your appointment and also wrote about it. Everyone has fears to face and hearing how you handled your fear will surely help others. Thank you, Beth. xo

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:

      Hi Nancy,

      Fear is definitely a powerful emotion, and I didn’t want it to rule me, as it has done in the past. Of course, fear is completely normal regarding breast cancer, but I have fears that spike out of control sometimes, so I’m grateful I seized the reigns and got the MRI.

      I understand why you’d want to get a scan once a year. Sometimes I wish for that, too, although my deepest wish is to never see a doctor again, which is unrealistic.

      Hang tough, my friend, and thanks for the well wishes.

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