A few months ago, during a particularly busy time at work, I needed to be creative with how I was spending time with my children and fulfilling my responsibilities in the office. I ended up bringing my son’s little Princess Pull Out Couch to my office, and I set up a pillow, blanket, and sheet under my spacious desk and let my little buddy snore quietly while I typed away at reports, performance plans, strategic initiatives, and evaluations. I admit, it was sort of sad — knowing that my son and I would rather nap in bed at home than on the industrial carpet in my office. But, life doesn’t always work out that way, and I made the best of it.
Even after work slowed down (for a moment, of course), I kept the bed in my office. And, eventually, word got around that I had a napping area; other parents would let their kids sleep on the couch, and it just became known that my office was the place to be!
But, today, I was the one laying on the floor. Curled in the fetal position and doing my best not to break down in tears.
Earlier in the day, I had felt a dull pain in my lower left pelvic area. My appendix was removed back when I was a kid, so I knew I could rule that out. I don’t have any allergies, and it didn’t feel like it was coming from my stomach.
“Shit,” I whispered silently. “I bet it’s fucking ovarian cancer.”
Now, I’m not one for swearing — usually — but that’s what flew through my head, shot through my heart, and burrowed its way into my gut. From there, the pain radiated.
“I’ll be right back,” I told my staff who had just settled in for our weekly meeting. The bright-eyed graduate intern had just arrived for his first staff meeting with us, and I looked more like the girl in the Exorcist than I did a competent, intelligent Director.
I took a walk down the hallway, gripping the wall along the way. Breathe, Liza. Just breathe.
I smiled and made it back to the staff meeting, nodded my way through reports of programs, luncheons, staff selection processes, and student concerns. When I got up from the conference table to check something from my computer, I was paralyzed in my chair. “Oh, god. I can’t move.”
I mustered up enough strength to make it through the meeting, all the while thinking, “This is it. I’m done. Ovarian cancer caught up with me.”
No sooner did our meeting end did I pull out the Princess couch and collapse to the ground. My lovely assistant director, ever the devout Christian, began praying. “A Dios, por favor protegerla.”
To help ease her anxiety, I sat up from the Princess couch and crawled my way over to my computer. “Ay Dios! What are you doing, Liza?” said Jacqueline.
“Just …. one …. more…. email… before … I ….. go.”
Pain never stopped me before.
My staff got me to call my doctor’s office, which of course left me on hold for 6 solid minutes even after I said, “I’m in really terrible pain and curled up on my office floor.”
“We are very busy here. Go to the hospital,” the receptionist on the other line said.
For the record, that’s exactly what to say when you don’t want me to go the hospital.
So, naturally, I didn’t.
Jorge showed up at work. I stubbornly drove myself home as he followed behind me. I painfully inched my way out of the car and into my bed. And, a Snickers bar later, I was asleep and letting the painkillers set in.
Here’s the thing: Truthfully, hours later, the pain has dulled. It could have been — could very well be — nothing. Honestly, nothing. It could be the time-of-the-month or mid-cycle ovulation. Dang, it could be bad chili. The point is, when you are BRCA positive, your comfort zone is cancer. Should I be concerned? Yeah. I should. But, what sucks about living with an absurdly high genetic disposition to cancer is that it’s never NOT an option. It’s always the first place my mind goes to, even when it’s just the time of the month.
I’m sure it’s nothing.
But sometimes, your mind just goes there.