Tales From the Tube: My Life With Scans

The rhythm of my life flows between quarterly benchmarks.

That’s the average amount of time I get between each scan (3 months or so), the latest of which happened last Tuesday. (Spoiler alert: it was all clear!)

I endured PET/CT scans for the first two years of my life with cancer, but now go through MRI’s instead. The switch to MRI’s was done in an effort to limit my exposure to radiation.

How ironic: the scans done to detect signs of cancer could actually one day cause cancer. I try not to think about that. After all, when the fateful day of a scan arrives, there’s so many any other things to think about.

I loathe everything about scans.

The suspense of not knowing what will be found, the actual process of scans, and the waiting. Oh, the waiting. Physically, I usually feel great and healthy going into scans, but my brain reminds me that my body usually provides no indication of disease. It’s a hard thing to wrap my head around, so I do my best not to.

I used to let my fears fester before each scan. I’d go over all the possibilities of what may be found lurking within me. Would I be afforded another 3 month chunk of freedom? Or would the results be devastating? I have experienced both outcomes. “Expect the unexpected” has become a personal mantra, as well as focusing on positive thoughts, rather than negative ones.

Here’s how I’ve tried to tame the anxious beast in my mind that worries each scan will be the one that plunges me back into being a patient.


I eat and drink as much as I can, while I can. I have to start fasting around six hours before a scan, and sometimes much longer than that. I try to make sure I’m satiated enough to not come out on the other side completely ravenous. I drink a ton of water as well, which makes me feel better, and also helps facilitate easy blood work.

Stay busy. As busy as possible, actually. Last week, I was so preoccupied that I had barely a moment to focus on the scan. The fuller my to-do list and calendar are, the less room there is to sit into the pre-scan anxiety.


Comfort is king, and I’ve developed a go-to uniform for scanning. The appointments tend to be quite long, so there’s no sense in trying to be anything but comfortable. Some scans require me to change into a hospital gown (or pants, most recently!), but I’ve learned to come prepared, so I can hopefully scan while wearing (mostly) my own stuff.

The “one size fits all” pants I was given for the first time at my last scan.
  • Hair: Always down, with zero accessories. Lots of elastics and clips contain metal of some sort, which is a no-no. Plus, scans involve a lot of laying on your back, and it’d be uncomfortable for me to lay on any sort of up-do.
  • Leggings: Good old fashioned leggings with no buttons, zippers, etc. are a must. Just pure, stretchy comfort. As pictured above, however, I was given a pair of hospital pants for the first time last week. Again – expect the unexpected!
  • Socks: The hospital provides grippy-bottomed socks which are also pictured above. When I’m not wearing those, however, I prefer my own comfortable footwear, always with socks (hospitals are freezing cold!).
  • Undergarments: This bra is my favorite, and works perfectly for scans. There’s no underwire or clasps, so I always get to keep it on.
  • Jewelry: Leave it all at home. No metal in the tubes!


The drive to the hospital is between 30 and 40 minutes, and I try not to start any negative conversations along the way. I’ve learned that asking “what if…” is an unnecessary can of worms that doesn’t need to be opened.

The results will be what they will be, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Having a personal advocate/caregiver is a must for me. My only job is to be the patient – I let someone else handle all the details. I also try to make sure I’m in a good place with everyone in my life. If the news ends up being bad, I need to be able to fight cancer, and nothing else, with everyone I love on my side.

At some point in the day, I cry. It has happened when the IV is being put in, when a nurse offhandedly said something about how I’m too young for all this (there’s no perfect age for cancer!), and when I’m on the couch once I’ve gotten home. Never sure when the tears will hit, I’ve just chalked it up as part of the process. The emotional release is necessary and cathartic.


The process of getting a scan takes about two hours. Here’s how the process goes for me:

  • Prep:
    • Change into my final, tube-ready outfit
    • Have an IV put in, blood drawn
    • Drink 2 bottles of abdominal contrast liquid (disgusting, especially on an empty stomach)
      • Spend 30 – 45 minutes drinking it all, then another 15 minutes or so to let it digest
  • Get into position:
    • Strapped onto the table outside the MRI tube
    • Arms overhead
    • IV hooked up to some lines
    • Earplugs in
  • Scan:
    • Into the tube I go for a little under an hour of scanning
    • MRI machines are LOUD (hence the earplugs), and they’re also quite tight, but thankfully I’m not too claustrophobic


  • Close your eyes.
    • This is especially helpful for me to maintain my focus within, not on what’s going on around me.
  • Count your breaths, and make them long and deep.
    • My MRI process involves being instructed to hold my breath multiple times, for long periods of time, which can start to make me feel panicky. Regaining control of a long, steady inhale and exhale in between the holds has become very helpful.
  • Speak up if you’re feeling uncomfortable.
    • With my arms overhead, one of them usually falls asleep in the process. It can be unpleasant (and painful), but thankfully in one of my hands I get to hold a squeezy ball that signals the tech to pull me out if I need a break.
      • When I get more contrast injected into my IV towards the end of my scan, I usually begin to feel quite nauseas. This is especially terrifying when I feel as if I’m about to vomit inside of a tiny tube which is only a couple inches from my face. Knowing I can speak up helps put me at ease.
  • Focus on the impermanence.
    • It can feel like the scan will last forever when you’re in the midst of it. There’s no clock, and your sense of time gets a little warped – almost like a sensory deprivation tank. When I focus on how I’ll be back on the couch wrapped up in a cozy blanket before I know it, I can manage it all a bit better. Like everything, the scan is a temporary, passing ordeal.


I used to have my scan and see my doctor all in the same day (with a few hours in between), but they changed the protocol a few months ago. Now I have to wait a couple of days to find out my results, which I’ve learned adds an extra challenge to it all. As I mentioned above, staying busy is paramount during this process, and I welcome any distraction that reminds me to keep living, despite not knowing what may happen.

On the day that I do find out, I try to make sure I have something relaxing/pleasant to look forward to when I get home, regardless of whether the news is good or bad. After all, if I find out something bad was found, there is nothing that can be done about it that day. I can’t get ahead of myself or the ball of anxiety within me starts to unravel.

I can only tackle what is on my plate this very day, so I focus on only making sure I understand the results of the scan, then indulge in some self-care or happy activity.


Scanning is a necessary part of the cancer process. It’s not something I can look forward to dropping from my life anytime soon, so I have learned to accept it. If I focus on the things I can control, scans become more of a temporary inconvenience rather than an obsession.

When I get the “all clear” after a scan, I dive back into life with a vengeance.

There are adventures to be had, goals to conquer, and life to live. I always aim to return to the tube knowing that I didn’t waste a second of my time outside of it. So far, that approach has served me quite well.



Betsy Brockett was diagnosed with Mesothelioma at the age of 28, and continues to thrive despite the challenges that cancer has created in her life. Holding a degree in Art & Visual Technology from George Mason University, Betsy expresses herself through writing, photography, painting, pottery, and more. She is most often found cultivating, creating, practicing/teaching yoga, or simply enjoying the beauty of life.

No Comments Yet
  1. Betsy. I follow your experiences with awe and admiration. You are giving others who will follow in your footsteps such a gift of knowledge and hope.