Several years ago I attended an event sponsored by Oprah. The day was focused on women's health and well being, and it culminated with a speech by Oprah that continues to resonate with me. In her address to the audience, she suggested that the universe whispers to us, guiding us on our path, and if we ignore the whispers, we may eventually be hit on the head with a brick that forces us to evaluate our lives and possibly to change paths.
Consumed by my work and my life as a twinmom, I have been ignoring the whispers, and last week, the brick struck. It's a long story to tell so that the raw emotion comes through; I've written that version in a journal for my daughter to read someday. It's a story for her because it's a story for all women who need to learn to listen to their bodies and attend to proper medical care, both preventative and reactionary.
To summarize that long story, which spans three weeks of my life, I spent a full week wondering and another full week worrying that I might have ovarian cancer. The middle week I spent in bed consumed by pneumonia. The pneumonia became the easy problem as I listened to my doctor tell me they had found something on my ovary, something that needed to be evaluated further. My heart sank. My stomach twisted. My mind went to all the things that would need to change in my life if cancer was the diagnosis. "Having it all" battled with "having a life" as the seemingly "not possible" became a possibility.
I found out about the cyst on a Friday morning. I went for an MRI on Tuesday, still coughing from the pneumonia and hoping that I could mind-control my lungs for the 45 minute tests. For those who haven't had an MRI, the technician has one rule: don't move. Movement makes the images unreadable. I made it through the tests, and then I began waiting for the phone call.
For three days I waited, my stomach in knots, my phone my enemy. Due to several unfortunate coincidences, I was not able to track down the results until Friday morning, when I received good news that ruled out ovarian cancer. I'm still investigating the cause of pain that sent me to the doctor in the first place, but my family and I are breathing easier.
It was a rough week for me, but also for my husband, who was solid support for me, and for my mom, who came to help with the nanny transition (did I mention I had a new nanny starting this very week?) and making all house-related stress disappear, and for my dad and brother, who must have felt very much on the outside but very much invested in the outcome. I'm tearing up now as I think about their own fear and grief, which they never once let me see.
This brick that hit me, the possibility of being really sick, of having to give up some of the things that make me tick, caused me to evaluate all the stresses in my life. Being "pneumonia-quality" sick at the same time inspired me to make some changes. My body is telling me something, and I need to listen.
I try to impress upon my doctoral students that a researcher's greatest resource is herself, her time and energy. Researchers must constantly assess the level of this resource, balancing the needs of the study with the needs of the individual. I am currently doing this life audit, and I'll be rebalancing twinlife on the tenure track. Most of all, I want to start listening to the whispers and avoid the pain of a brick in the future.