by Mary Mullen

“This is the panic button. Just push this if you need to come out.”

Why would I need a panic button? What could possible go on in an MRI machine? I was much more concerned about being able to stay still.

“Headphones. You have a favorite station?”

“Something with pop radio.” I wanted something upbeat like what the young, blond women with blunt cuts and stylish black dresses play when they wax my eyebrows. I get waxed because I have the same wiry-Irishman eyebrows as my father. I get MRIs because I have the same dense breasts as my mother. They found her cancer early. They found her sister’s cancer late.

I thought the radio sounded like a nice idea—drown out the loud, oppressive machine. But after a brief announcement, the song that blasted over the ear phones was “Wake Me up Inside” by Evanescence and Linkin Park. Maybe the technician has a good sense of humor? Is that what they play on pop radio? What happened to Madonna? What happened to Beyoncé? Where is Whitney Houston? Well she died tragically in a bathtub a few years ago. Now I feel really old. But I know what’s on the fucking radio. I wondered if this was a panic button level offense. Poorly executed goth-pop seemed like a panic button level offense to me.

Dense breasts. It sounded like a good thing. Who would want unsubstantial breasts? Loose, saggy, lacks. I liked the diagnosis, even if it did little for the optic realities.

Lumps. There were lots of small lumps. “We’re pretty sure they are cysts.” The plan going forward would be one breast MRI a year, alternating with mammograms every six months. This was to go on forever, as far as I could tell. Because you can’t keep cancer from coming, but you can try to catch it before it’s gone too far.

The man on the phone insisted it would only take a half an hour. He failed to mention the IV and the contrast dye and the part about not being able to move a muscle for thirty minutes. And he definitely didn’t mention the radio stations I could choose from or indicate that good music was hard to come by or that kids these days have terrible taste. He certainly didn’t tell me that every year, year after year, I would hold my breath at his direction, so he could get a clear shot of my chest, then feel the cool dye leak into my arm before another round of images would be taken. And I’m pretty sure I would have remembered if he had told me that I would hold my breath again later, when it was quiet, and I was at my desk, waiting for someone to call and say it all looks good, we’ll see you next year, you don’t have cancer. Not yet.


Mary Mullen is a writer and policy analyst living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She was a finalist for the 2016 Indiana Review Half K Prize, and her short essays have recently appeared in Entropy and Storm Cellar.

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