During treatment last year, I had a couple of really bad headaches — high fevers, vomiting, and pain behind my eyes so bad I couldn’t bear to look at anything. While my oncologist and I both figured that these were a side effect of treatment and of me overdoing things, she recommended we get a brain MRI just to be sure and to have a baseline in case of any future issues (I also have a history of headaches, and in fact had an MRI four years ago which was all clear). The only problem was that as of this summer, I still had tissue expanders that contained metal, and an MRI would have pulled them right out of my body. I figured neither my plastic surgeon nor I would appreciate that, so we delayed the MRI. I could have gotten a CT scan, but I’m allergic to CT contrast and so getting one of those requires steroids and Benadryl in advance. Not worth it.
One reason we didn’t think anything was going on in my brain and there was no rush to scan me is that my headaches come and go. If there’s a tumor or anything else in your brain, apparently the headache is going to be constant at best and more likely worsen over time. Still, because I had maxed out my co-payments on insurance this year, we decided to do the MRI after my exchange surgery in mid-December just to be sure.
I fully expected the call to say “your MRI came back all clear,” and it ALMOST did, but then they said “there is a 2 mm nodule that we don’t think much of.” Of course I needed to know why they didn’t think much of it, so I made an appointment with my oncologist to review the scans and the report. The “nodule” is in an area where a solitary tumor would be unlikely to develop, and it’s so small that neither of us could even see what the radiologist saw. Then again, that’s why he’s the radiologist and we’re not. So, the plan is to do a follow-up MRI in 12 weeks just to be sure it hasn’t grown or anything like that. Otherwise, it’s not something we need to worry about. The nodule is also too small to be causing my headaches so it’s just one of those random things.
Interestingly (to me), treatment for my type of breast cancer no longer calls for these kind of scans as a regular follow-up once your active treatment is over. My doctor says it’s because it causes patients unnecessary anxiety and that any return of the cancer would cause symptoms as soon as they could see it on a scan anyway. While I suspect that insurance companies have something to do with this change in “standard protocol,” I suppose I can see the wisdom in it. My oncologist said she will get a scan approved any time I think I want one, so we’ll see. I’m still slightly uncomfortable not getting completely checked out every year, but I’m glad they’re keeping an eye on my brain for now.