Today, I underwent a brain MRI.
During the past several weeks, I’ve been experiencing a pulsating sound in my left ear. At first, the sound reminded me of ocean waves, a kind of swooshing. But the noise gradually turned to pounding in beat to my heart. I’ve been losing sleep and have become gradually more concerned that what I’m experiencing might amount to more than tinnitus.
Both my oncologist and ENT recommended that I have a brain scan to rule out one of three more dangerous underlying causes: cancer metastasis to the brain, a brain tumor, or a restricted blood vessel. While I feel pretty normal aside from the pounding, I learned a long time ago–when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 29–not to dismiss the possibility of an unexpected, and statistically unlikely, health crisis.
A less frightening possibility, my doctors tell me, is that I am having a physical reaction to extreme stress. The past few months have been difficult, between issues with my brother and my parents’ medical challenges. Plus, my oldest is leaving for college next year, and though she’ll be attending the same university where my husband and I teach, her high school graduation marks a major milestone that’s filled with equal amounts of joy and sadness.
As I lay motionless in the MRI machine for 40 minutes today, being careful not to shift my head, my mind drifted in two directions.
I murmured several Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s, and just talked to God about bringing me to this point. At 29, following my cancer diagnosis, I wasn’t sure I would live a full life. I was petrified and felt completely isolated from those my age who were living healthy, normal lives. A lot has changed since then, and I’ve come to understand cancer as just one aspect of who I am and what I was meant to do with my time on earth: to write about the experience of facing a serious illness and to do all I can to help others facing the disease.
I also thought about Woody Allen’s movie Hannah and Her Sisters. In the film, Woody plays a character who experiences a sudden hearing loss in one ear. His doctors send him for one test after another, and Woody leaps to the conclusion that he must have a brain tumor. He panics.
Even when the doctor reports that he’s absolutely fine, that nothing serious has caused the hearing loss, Woody’s character suffers an identity crisis. Who is he, and what will happen to him when, one day, his life does end? I’ll leave the outcome of his search for meaning to readers who want to watch the film. As the noise surrounded me inside the MRI tube, though, I thought back to the questions posed in the movie–and the humor that came out of the experience. Hey, 40 minutes is a long time to hang out in a noisy receptacle!
Every unknown is a little bit scary. There’s something different about the possibility of the unknown affecting your brain, though. Maybe it’s just that I think and write for a living–I’m an academic through and through–but I feel as though I might lose my soul if something were to happen to my brain.