Stretching my legs between flights to Philly this week, I enjoyed the chaos of Chicago’s O’Hare airport. I might have endured more than enjoyed but as a colleague taught me years ago, why not pretend it’s all fun, and so I imagine these treks as the start of vacations, including the airport chaos. I walked past a series of five-foot by three-foot posters. There is little blank wall or quiet space so why it is I stopped at this one spot, I don’t know. But I stopped. And stared.
In front of me was a more than life-sized photo of the playwright and comedian Jenny Allen encouraging us to “Be Brave. Ask questions.” The public service announcement goes on to explain “I had abdominal pain and periods that weren’t normal for me. Menopause, I thought. But no, I had uterine and ovarian cancers. If you have symptoms lasting two weeks or longer, be brave. Go to the doctor. Ask questions.” The poster then promotes Inside Knowledge a link that apparently gets to the trickier details of identifying gynecological cancers.
There I was, full sized plus, promoting understanding. It even looked like Jenny and I might share the same hair stylist. An outtake of her one woman show “I Got Sick Then I Got Better” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TaEPW9Mo7Vc resonates many times over – especially the default way people need to emphasize how good you look as if to prove they don’t need to navigate the trickier terrain of finding out how you are coping with your cancer diagnosis.
This poster is great. It stopped me and I hope it stops many others who might be trying to understand their bodies in the face of menopause and other vagaries. But nonetheless, I was discomforted by the word brave. Would bravery have helped? I don’t think so.
Maybe, maybe if I had had any accurate information on ovarian cancer symptoms, I might have gotten into the doctor earlier. Such information could have allowed me a diagnosis of stage 3 versus stage 4 (the worst). And maybe, maybe being reminded to be persistent and pushy (two adjectives often ascribed to me, as is the word brave) could have also allowed a stage 3 diagnosis. But stage 3 in ovarian cancer is mighty terminal, just like stage 4.
The premise of early detection annoys me. Your internal organs are just that – internal. Until our science and medicine evolves, it is tricky to detect early the usually asymptomatic start of cancer. Early detection of these cancers almost always involves luck. (Remember, breasts jut out allowing exploration.)
I admire Jenny Allen, I appreciate this poster and even the silly full-page advertisement I found in a People Magazine earlier this year of two beautiful women putting on disguises to show just how tricky ovarian cancer is to identify. Bravo. Getting information out is always a valuable step. To me the best information to share is that ANY symptom that a person has for more than two weeks in a calendar month needs to get explained because that could most logically be a symptom of cancer on the move.
I flew out of O’Hare and into Philadelphia in the early hours of a new day. It was a beautiful night for my walk from the train station to my guest condo. The downtown skyline to my left was even more gorgeous than usual and it took me a few blocks to connect that the pink tube lighting of skyscraper rooftops was a nod to Pinktober – the month for breast cancer awareness. I did not remember to feel my breasts for possible lumps but it was a lovely sight.