A local teacher, Melodie Picco, shares her story to show the importance of MRI in so many of our lives.
Because life as a busy mom, wife, and teacher felt full and sometimes hurried, any worries about the dull, constant ache in my chest was pushed aside. At 43 I was considered too young for regular mammogram screenings, but nagging uncertainty led me to my family doctor and a mammogram was scheduled.
Breast tissue density is different for everyone. Mine in particular is quite dense, making tumours difficult to detect, so the first mammogram revealed nothing. I knew my body though, and with the encouragement of my husband, I requested a second mammogram.
At this appointment, I met Ruby Manese, a mammogram technologist at Victoria General Hospital, who listened and acted on my concerns with care. The mammogram, an ultrasound, and multiple biopsies were performed that same day.
On February 13, 2020, I was diagnosed with “invasive ductal carcinoma,” a form of breast cancer.
Due to my dense tissue, an MRI with contrast was required to locate the tumour. I remember being in the machine, hearing its loud bangs, ticks, and hums, and feeling overwhelmingly thankful for this technology. It is because of MRI that I am choosing to share my journey: I believe there is not one person on Vancouver Island who doesn’t know someone who has needed or benefitted from MRI.
My MRI results were read by a radiologist and sent to surgeon, Dr. Allen Hayashi—who kindly made me feel heard and valued as he discussed my treatment options. A surgery date was quickly set.
As a Junior School teacher at St. Margaret’s School, I have a strong connection with my students. To ease their concerns ahead of my surgery, I tried to empower them to be mindful of their own physical and mental health. I remember sharing ‘if there’s ever anything wrong, maybe you’re really sad, something hurts, or you’re not feeling right, reach out and talk to someone. Pursue it until somebody listens.’
I underwent surgery on March 27, 2020 at Victoria General Hospital. Afterward, Dr. Hayashi described the tumour—which I hadn’t been able to physically feel—as an “ice cream scoop” sized, four centimetre mass.
About a year later, my oncologist found a lump during a routine checkup. Questions spiraled as I wondered what the future held: will I be able to cheer on my beautiful, confident daughter at her soccer games, and graduations? What about my husband—would he be left to walk our puppy or travel the world without me?
MRI cleared away our family’s fears. This amazing technology was able to definitively scan through the dense tissue, providing clarity: I was healthy. Three years later, following 22 radiation treatments, continued daily medications, and a second related surgery, ultimately, I am cancer free.
Medical imaging has had a deep impact on my treatment and mental health. In supporting the Victoria Hospitals Foundation, we can ensure MRI technology is accessible to all who need it, so people like me can know what their lives might look like beyond diagnosis.
After all, it is because of MRI that I will see my daughter graduate, I will travel the world with my husband, and I will continue to support my students. MRI has given me the gift of time: time to love, travel, teach, and give back.
—Melodie Picco, grateful patient