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My First MRI Made Me Reflect on What It Means to Be a Woman

Thursday, August 18, 2022

By Steph Early

I lie on the MRI table, robe open, face wedged tightly into the U-shaped cradle. Beverly, the nurse, asks if I am okay. I say yes, but it’s complicated. I am tired and nervous, and still reeling from the recent news that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade. It’s been a particularly interesting week to be a woman.

Beverly and another nurse take my tiny breasts and sandwich them into the plastic compartments. The sheer act of the nurses handling my breasts reminds me of how small they feel compared to before, before babies and breastfeeding. But today I don’t care about their size, only that they are clear.

It’s my first MRI. My mom’s early breast cancer diagnosis at age 42 has labeled me high risk, which, according to my doctor, warrants a lifetime of rotating mammograms and MRIs. She advises it’s better to catch anything at stage 0 or 1. Beverly the nurse’s voice returns to ask if I would like to listen to music.

“Sure,” I say.

“Pick a Pandora station. Pop? Classic rock? Country?” she prompts. I pick country, which seems light and happy. I could use light and happy.

It’s 2:15 p.m. on a Monday. I managed to fit in this appointment between back-to-back work meetings and picking up my two- and four-year-old girls from school. I also had to squeeze the procedure into the very narrow window of time between my last period and when the next one is expected to start.

Suddenly classical jazz sounds better than country.

When Beverly places the giant headphones on my ears and tells me she is going to turn on the music, I change my mind. Having never experienced an MRI before, I naively think I will not only be able to hear the music, but maybe I can multitask and get in some much needed and often neglected meditation.

Beverly adjusts the headphones and walks away. As she leaves to change the station, “The Piña Colada Song” starts playing. It cuts out momentarily, and I hear Beverly’s voice in the headphones.

“We are about to get started,” she says. “Are you ready?”

“Yes,” I say. I sing along with the song in my head. A wave of emotion washes over me, and I feel the tears well up in my eyes. I keep humming with the song. How many times have I heard it? It reminds me of when I was young. At the beach. In a bikini with perky, assuredly cancer-free boobs. This makes me cry even more.

I lie in the MRI tube and think of what it really feels like to be a woman in this body. The bikini body I once wished was thinner but that I’d now kill for. The motherly body that endured two unexpected C-sections and gave me two beautiful baby girls. The body that I pray won’t betray me with any malignancies.

The MRI ends. I get in my car to leave, NPR playing news of the ensuing turmoil from the Supreme Court decision. Halfway through the drive home my phone rings. My results are in: all clear. I am cancer-free.

I go home, but I still feel betrayed.


Steph Early is a mom of two daughters and a writer living in middle America. When the sun goes down, you can find her tucking in her tiny humans before curling up in bed with a good book.