I think the universe is trying to tell me something.
A few weeks ago, my oldest sister (the one who was the catalyst for all of this BRCA stuff) called to tell me she was having some trouble. “I just spent the last two days lying on the floor,” she said. It was so bad that Gavin (her 5 year old) had to get her some lunch from the refrigerator, and he brought her a piece of square, plastic wrapped cheese. She couldn’t move, she was in pain, and she was relying on her son to take care of her, in the best way he knew how.
We were on the phone as I was driving to a prayer service for one of the students who passed away. He had been diagnosed with leukemia just a few weeks prior to his death. He was an athletic, happy, strong, funny, smart young man who thought he was just experiencing some side effects of being a competitive athlete. He had complained of back pain for more than half a year. A blood test months later revealed he had cancer.
After I told my sister, and after I dried away my falling tears, I began to laugh uncontrollably as I pictured my sister laying on the floor with a piece of Velveeta stuck to her forehead, cleverly placed there by her distracted son who was more interested in his iPad game than his Mom.
“Back pain?” she said. She grew quiet.
Oh, sh!t. Yes, back pain.
The messed up thing about ovarian cancer is that the symptoms are so benign that they are left unnoticed. These symptoms can include (but are not limited to) bleeding, bloating, cramping, gas, pain during intercourse, constipation, lack of energy. Most women find these symptoms to be very familiar. And, though I used to freak out about every little bump, lump, or pain in my breasts, I never once worried — even post-BRCA knowledge — about these symptoms each month.
One of the other symptoms is back pain.
My sister’s back pain eventually subsided with the help of some muscle relaxers, and as soon as she could get up to dial a phone, she made an appointment to see the gynecological oncologist. Turns out, she had a cyst. Undetected. As she was laying on the ground, prior to my story about my student, she just figured she had pulled a muscle carrying her 1-year old daughter up the flight of stairs. (NOTE: tests came back fine — not cancerous).
Just last week, I ran into a friend who had been following my journey online. After polite greetings, she came closer to me. “I feel like I can tell you this,” she whispered. “I have been having a lot of pain, you know, down there. And, I thought of your blog. I know you don’t write a lot about your ovarian cancer risks, but it got me thinking I should go and see someone about it. So, I did. And, guess what? I had a thing there that they ended up having to biopsy. The tests just came back this morning, and it was non-cancerous. But, I just think it’s so weird that we happened to see each other today!”
I walked away thinking, “Hmmm.. in less than 2 weeks, three totally separate incidents have made me think of ovarian cancer.”
Then the fourth hit.
I had been away for a few weeks while at school, and I was back at work catching up with a colleague. She told me she was worried about a friend of hers who was having some bleeding, post-menopausal, and she was taking her to see the doctor. “We’re not sure what’s going on, but we’re guessing it’s a cyst or something.”
Then the fifth.
I had gone through my Facebook account and deleted more than 600 “friends” from my list. I post a lot, and I just figured I’d keep the ones who I heard from, thinking that the other folks were just there and not really engaging with me.
The other day, a “message” was in my box from a student who had long graduated:
Hi Liza! I know we haven’t been in touch over the years, but I’ve been following your blog and your journey. I wanted to let you know that I’ve been going through some challenges, too. They found a large cyst on my ovaries recently, and I had to have really risky surgery to have it removed. I thought of you and all the words you honestly wrote about how hard it all was.
That was when I knew it was time. It was time to get back on the road again. The first leg of the journey was to reduce my risk of breast cancer. And, I did that. I reduced my risk from 90% to 1%. Then, I hung out at the Rest Stop for a long time. I ate at the restaurant, shopped in the souvenier store, people watched a little bit, sat out on the bench, and even filled up my gas tank. But, it’s time. It’s time to get back out there and fight for my life. It’s time to focus on living. It’s time to get off my @$$, get back in this fight, and gear up for the next round. It’s time to face my risk of ovarian cancer — my 45-60% genetic risk — and have the surgery.
I admit. I’m scared. Being present in my Marathon B4 Mastectomy journey took a lot out of me, and of course, gave me a lot as well. These past 7 months have been a long, long, long road to recovery, one that I am still very much driving on. I am still in physical therapy, still feel weak and timid in my chest muscles, and still feel stinging at my suture site time and again.
But, I’m also scared of the intensity of being so devoted to learning and exploring what it will mean to remove another set of my body parts: my ovaries. Removing my ovaries changes the nature of my body. The actual nature of it. My hormones will change, my body will change, and I will go into surgical menopause. It means another surgery, another recovery, and another set of understanding about what this all means: What does it mean to remove your body parts to save your life?
And, so it begins.
Yes, I’ll be doing the marathon thing again. In fact, my first official race is this Monday. Yes, I am freaking out. I’m not sure what possessed me to register for this race back in March. Maybe I thought I’d be ready. Maybe I knew myself better than I imagined. I knew that this is what I’d need to get me going. This is what I’d need to believe in myself again.
On Monday, I’ll be running a 10K.
I’ll be back on the road again. Seeking strength, sanity, and courage to finish what I started.
Peace, love, and always welcoming a good playlist, cooler of snacks, and good company on this trip,