#whyteal…..the one where we need to get LOUD

I first met her twenty-eight years ago last month.  We were all just getting to know each other, and I remember thinking how lovely and graceful and grace-filled this dear lady was.

She was my roommate’s mother.  I met her at the beginning of our freshman year.  She was beautiful inside and out.

And she fought a battle no one should have to fight.

Ovarian cancer.

Last night my dear friend shared this information on her Facebook page.  This month is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.

pic of ovarian cancer info

After I posted this on my own page, another friend shared that her Mama had also battled this giant.  She too fought a valiant fight, only it wasn’t enough.

It wasn’t detected early enough in either case.

My friend, in describing her mother’s experience, called ovarian cancer, “the silent cancer.”

Really?

How many women, do you think, go in for their annual physicals right on schedule, put their feet in the stirrups, do what we do, get the call a few days later that all is clear, and think “Well, everything’s all right then”?

(It’s okay.  Stick around, fellas.  You need to know this too.  Whether it’s your Mama, your sister, your best friend, your girlfriend, your wife, your daughter–you need to know too.)

Note to self.  Pap smears test for cervical cancer.  Not ovarian.  Not uterine.  Cervical–that’s it.  It is my understanding that there’s not really a test to detect ovarian cancer.  According to the American Cancer Society, “The 2 tests used most often to screen for ovarian cancer are transvaginal ultrasound (TVUS) and the CA-125 blood test,” but no medical professionals recommend routine use of these tests for screening.  They are not definitive enough apparently.

Really?

Do we have people working on this?  Please tell me yes.

As I thought about this today, I remembered a book I read years ago.  “Cancer Schmancer” by Fran Drescher.  I loved her in “The Nanny” and thought she was a comic genius–her timing and facial expressions and that accent.  Love her.  I read the book because of her, not because it was about her battle with uterine cancer.  But it struck such a chord in me that it is still in my library.  Without pulling it down to quote her, I can tell you the one thing that has stuck with me all these years–

Take care of you.

Be a good advocate.

You know your body.  Don’t take “no” for an answer.  Or “it will be okay.”  Or “you’re just…..”

You know when something’s off.  Push until someone hears you.

She so believes in empowering women to educate themselves and be good advocates for their health that she started the Cancer Schmancer Movement, whose mission is to “…..shift the nation’s focus from just searching for a cure to prevention and early detection of cancer in order to save lives.”  You can read her story here.  It took two years and eight doctors before she was finally diagnosed.  She is thankful to be a survivor and wants there to be more.

Shortly after our Princess was born almost ten years ago, I could tell something was wrong.  I wasn’t sure what, but I just knew.  I went to the doctor where we were stationed at the time.  I remember going in, worried, anxious, hoping he could tell me something–anything–that would let me know it was going to be okay.

Which he did. Tell me something, that is.  This doctor and his wife had six children.  (It was a small community–you knew things.)  I had just given birth to my second child a few months earlier.  He listened, looked at my chart, and turned to me and said, “Oh now, you’re just new Mama tired.  It will pass.  You’ll see.”

Patronize me, will you?

I pity his wife, I’ll just tell you that right now.

This was not new Mama tired, and my body kept telling me that.  I pushed through and we moved and shortly after we got settled, I scheduled another appointment.  Again, I told my story. A new doctor.  A young one.  I don’t know how many children he had, if any, but he didn’t say I was new mama tired.  (Smart man, I’d had enough by this time.)  After running different tests-he was more persistent, thank goodness–he discovered I had a thyroid issue.  He prescribed some medication, and I was on my way to feeling better.  That part was almost immediate–I had been heard and I wasn’t crazy.  There was something wrong.  It had just taken several months and me being “pushy” to find that out.

Something beautiful happened when my friend shared the information above last night.  I shared it on my Facebook page in memory of her sweet Mom, not knowing if anyone would even read it.  It was late, and you just never know who reads what.  Today some of my friends–none of whom know each other–commented, encouraging each other to take care of themselves…..to seek information and push until they get it.  Friends reached out with loving sympathy and with gratitude for facts and stories shared.

That right there.  That’s what we need more of in this world.  Sisters looking after sisters (because we all are, you know–color and class and nationality and religion and state of our kitchen sinks all aside–we are all sisters).  Sisters empowering each other.  Holding each other accountable to take care of ourselves.  To celebrate with when the numbers come back really good, and to hold hands or offer a shoulder or listen and make soup or milkshakes or cry with when the numbers are not.

Tonight I’m thankful for brave women who gave it their all in the face of giants like ovarian cancer.  I’m thankful for their daughters, who carry their stories and encourage others by educating and listening.  I give thanks for women like Fran Drescher who pave the way for us to have the courage to speak and not worry about being called “pushy” or “bothersome” or whatever.  Speak out.  Be loud.  Take care of you.  If you even think something is off or wrong, get thee to a medical professional.  Now.  Keep going until you find one you trust.  Who listens and hears you.  And stand tight and strong with your sisters.

Most of all, tonight I am thankful for all of my sisters.  Who are always there when they are needed most.

Y’all take care of yourselves.  You men too.  And take care of each other.

Love to all.

 

 

 

Childbirth is Easy…..or Crazy Things Doctors Say

Jan Steen "A Doctor and His Patient" (1625/1626–1679) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jan Steen “A Doctor and His Patient” (1625/1626–1679) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It has been just over a week since I sat with this sweet person I love and heard one doctor and then another tell her, “Well, I hate to assume you’ll need to have a c-section.  Especially after you’ve had such easy births.”The first time, my ear twitched and I replayed it in my mind.  Did I really hear what I thought I just heard?

And then a second doctor came in and said basically the same thing.

I had the most amazing high school math teacher, Miss Bell, who taught my Daddy, my aunts, my uncle and my cousin before me.  She was intimidating and wonderful all at the same time.  When you gave her an answer that was obviously way off track, she’d move her glasses on her face, give her head a shake, and say, “Do what?”

When I heard those doctors, I pulled a Miss Bell.

Excuse me?

And yes, both of these doctors were men.  I’m not a man-hater at all, but in the philosophical words of Taylor Swift, I say to these men doctors, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

Childbirth, easy?  Dude (sorry, that sounds disrespectful)…..Doctor Dude, you don’t have a clue.

First of all do the math.  (Sorry for the TMI here, but obviously there’s some that don’t get it.)  Something this size (picture my finger and thumb pretty close together) has to increase to something this size (about a fist, right?) and then something this size (grapefruit) has to squeeze through it, all while your body is trying to convince itself to turn inside out and your brain is on fire.

What. on. Earth.  Easy, my big toe.  Natural, okay.  But easy?  Never.

I remember a discussion of childbirth on a sitcom many years ago–“Murphy Brown,” I’m pretty sure it was.  It has stayed with me and that’s all I could think about last week.  I think I have this right–I apologize if I’m off.  (I looked and looked and I can’t find the story verbatim.)  If I recall correctly, Murphy was stressed about having her baby.  It was either in discussing an epidural or a c-section that she moaned and said, “I want to have this baby naturally.”  And someone, don’t remember who but she had sense and sass, said something like, “Honey, unless this baby comes out of your ear, it’s all natural.”

Exactly.

Thus my frustration with the doctors pushing for a “natural” childbirth (because it’s been so EASY) rather than a c-section.  It’s great if it can happen, but this baby was breech and Mama was in labor.  I had been trying to relieve the anxiety about a potential c-section for this sweet Mama, and they had to come in and start it all over again.  I had two by c-section, neither by choice, and it was fine.  None of it was easy, but it was all okay.

My own OB/GYN whom I have known for eighteen years now (oh how it has flown) once mentioned to me that if I quit drinking my sweet tea I would  be able to lose some weight.  Dude.  Excuse me, Doctor Dude.  I just told you I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, and the tea is decaf.  What will you have me give up next?  Chocolate?  Naps?  Not gonna happen.  A friend asked me why I didn’t change doctors then and there.  Eh.  He’s a good guy.  He tries.  But he just doesn’t get it.  He don’t know what he don’t know.  And I pity him for that and he knows it.  We laugh it off and move on.  Besides, he delivered my oldest.  That’s a bond I can’t easily let go of.  So I call him on his ignorance from time to time.  It’s a great relationship.

I saw a doctor once who wanted me to come back three days in a row to have my blood pressure checked.  With my children in tow.  Umm, yeah, because that won’t skew the test at all, will it?  All I could think was “aren’t you precious?” and “won’t the bp monitor at CVS do just as well?”  Then there was the time I went in and saw a new doctor about what I suspected was pinkeye.  Cooter was little and in a stroller sitting next to the exam table where I sat. When the doctor caught sight of my little guy there, he stayed as close to the door as possible.  He would not come close and look at my eye.  At all.  In a moment of mischievousness, I asked him to come and look at something that was pulling in my finger.  (In truth I had not worried much about it before, but I seriously wanted to see if he would even walk two steps away from that door.  He finally gave in and did.)

Not all doctors say or do crazy things.  I had one doctor who, in the face of what could have been interpreted as heart issues, talked to me, the whole person–body, mind, soul, and spirit.   She talked to me about fear and anxiety and worry.  And when she figured it would be okay to do so, she shared a bible verse with me.  Crazy?  No.  I still carry that moment with me today.  That day she gave me control over what was happening to me.  In a mind over matter and stepping outside of myself to see the big picture kind of way.  Another doctor, many years ago in my previous life, was treating me for something that was very likely stress related.  It wasn’t what he said, it was what he did.  He listened.  And he heard me.  And then he reached over and kissed me on the top of my head and patted my shoulder.  He had known me a long time and he knew the situation at home.  In some situations that would not have been appropriate, but in that one it was comforting and it spoke volumes to me.  He knew, he understood, I wasn’t crazy.  In that moment, the healing of my spirit began.  And I eventually became strong enough to do what I had to do to make my life better.

They’re not a bad bunch, doctors.  I appreciate them.  I trust them.  For the most part.  But I also use my brain, my common sense, and my voice.  I learned from a dear friend who is living with MS that you have to be a good advocate for yourself.  And for those you love.  No one else will be.  In her book “Cancer Shmancer” Fran Drescher talks about her over two years and eight plus doctors journey of undiagnosed symptoms before she was finally diagnosed and treated for uterine cancer.  She had to be persistent and a good advocate for herself.  So yes, I trust them, but they are human.  I was particularly fond of one pediatrician who told me, when I took Cooter in because he was having regular leg aches, “I can’t find anything, but I want you to keep listening to your Mama voice in your head.  That’s the best tool we doctors have.”   I wanted to hug him.

And in the end, I guess that’s really what I want out of a doctor.  To be able to trust him or her, to have confidence in my doctor, and to have a relationship–but most importantly I want to feel heard and that I’m an important part of the team handling my care.  Yeah, it doesn’t matter where the paper hanging on the wall came from, as long as his or her heart is in the right place.