The lights were warm, the music was loud, my voice carried over the speakers and back into the monitor.
I was on stage. Home. Free.
But, today, I’m avoiding the stage. Trying to stay ahead of the cancer stage by having my ovaries checked every six months. Though the actual appointment — meaning, the time that my bare @ss makes contact with the rough, white paper covering the exam table — is only but a few minutes long, the process of preparing for my cancer screenings for my ovaries starts months prior.
I’m no fool.
I have a 60% risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Depending on stage of discovery, the 5-year survival rates of ovarian cancer are not great.
And, I’m writing this knowing that some of my friends who read this blog have ovarian cancer, have a loved one with ovarian cancer, or are trying to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.
I’m writing this from the waiting room of my oncologist’s office as I sit across from a woman, her bones weak from treatment, confined to her wheelchair. Her partner lovingly holding her hand. I imagine her — before the scarf she wears on her head — with long, beautiful, auburn hair that once matched her eyebrows. I imagine her getting ready for a night out, brushing her long hair, putting on her lipstick and gloss, and having the energy to dance the night away.
I’m writing this as another one, dressed in a smile that was probably powerful than her chemo, greets the women at the front desk. Affectionately. As if she has been here for years. Wondering if her departure will signal getting better. Or simply moving on.
“Because being scared is not the same as being afraid.”
I fear ovarian cancer.
When my former student, Stephie, emailed me to tell me her mom had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I fell to my knees. Prayed for an early diagnosis. Hoped for strength. Wished for peace.
Struck by the knowledge that I held the power to avoid it. To not even be diagnosed. Guilty that I had a choice. Ashamed that I hadn’t made it yet. Embarrassed to face those who wish they knew what I knew. That I knew I would get cancer — someday — and that I have the chance to avoid it.
For me, staging isn’t about survival rates. For me, staging is a mic, a guitar, and a kick ass band of friends.
My fear begins the moment I leave my doctor’s office — six months before today.
“Looks good, Liza. See you in six months,” my gynecological oncologist says at each visit.
I breathe a sigh of relief.
To get that result, she puts me through a battery of tests.
Manual examination. And, yes, it’s as graphic as you already imagine it to be. Parts of me are pushed, prodded, expanded, poked, and squished — all in an effort to feel any abnormalities of my ovaries. Yes. They are very, very. Very. Thorough.
Take whatever you are imagining, and make it about 100x more uncomfortable.
Blood is drawn to check my CA 125 levels. Elevated levels means that there could be growth on my ovaries.
But, I know the alternative. The alternative to my discomfort and fear is chemo, radiation, wondering whether or not tomorrow is promised.
I haven’t quite let on to you, friends, that I’ve been having some concerns “down there.” Been some strange pains, even stranger bleeding, and just not feeling quite right.
Most non-BRCA folks would think (rightfully so) that it’s just menstruation coming on.
Me? No. I must — in order to stay one step ahead of cancer — believe that it’s early signs of ovarian cancer. Knowledge + hyper precaution = my only chance of beating this.
On today’s menu: a biopsy. A thin strawlike contraption is sent up into my uterus to take a sample. Wait, no, two samples. She wasn’t happy with the first. Insertion, pinch, cramp, swish of the tissue in the clear, plastic vial.
“All set with the biopsy, Liza. I am now going to do the manual exam. Did you schedule your ultrasound? You really should try and get your ultrasound done today so we can get a better picture of what’s going on in there.”
Thanks, but no. I’ve reached my limit of things being jammed into me.
Minutes later, I’m back up, dressed and heading out for my blood work. CA 125 again.
Then, shuffle off to the Patient Scheduler to set up my next round of transvaginal ultrasounds, CA 125 panels, and a 6-month visit for another manual exam. Poked. Prodded. Pushed.
“December 5th at 11am, Liza,” says the scheduler. “Have a great July 4th, Labor Day, birthday, start of school, Halloween, and Thanksgiving. See you in the winter!” she jokes.
I wonder, how much longer my stage will be simply musical?
Peace, love, and staging,