Feb 22, 2010by tracey Comments

I’m not yet done with my rant on women and their health. I got some very mixed responses to my “go get your heart checked” command yesterday.  I know I can be bossy.  I’ve been bossy since I was two.  The only person who could confirm that is Blake, and well, he’s not around to do it.  But the truth is when I’m right, I’m right and I’m right about this.

I was at my gym this morning, like I am every morning, and I asked some of my friends, all over fifty, have you ever had a complete cardio work-up?  Most of them looked down at their EXHALE socks and said, “Well, not really. I should, but I’m OK.”

It’s sort of a bullshit response, but hey; it’s your life.

My friend Donna and I are the only ones I know who are completely nutty about check-ups.

Some people say I’m obsessive compulsive, could be, if so, there are worse things. I’m not a sociopath.  So I’m tidy to a fault and insist on knowing what’s going on with my body and sort everything going on around me.  I like order in the world and I like ordering it myself.

For years I was a full-blown hypochondriac. I come from a long line of them. For decades not a week went by when I didn’t think I had some form of cancer or another.

It started with Marcus Welby M.D.  and kept on going from there.

Whatever the disease of the week was, I had it. I was the only eleven-year-old girl who tried to get out of gym with the excuse of  “I may be coming down with prostate cancer.”

Years of therapy helped, but it went on far too long.

Before the web arrived, and every hypochondriac could spend days on things were a little easier.

DO NOT, DO NOT ever go on It says things like, “Hang Nail, possible causes, lymphoma, MS, , early signs of stroke or dry skin.”  It’s the scariest website online.  It’s like porn for hypochondriacs and If you were not a hypochondriac before visiting the site, you will be after.

But before that there was the Mayo Clinic book of diseases. I had this for a while during my first marriage. I used to read it every night before bed, and as I turned out the light I was convinced I had whatever disease I was reading about. By the time I got to Lupus, my ex took the book and threw it out.

I’m amazed he didn’t chuck it at Alzheimer’s, he should have, he would have had every right to.

I always thought the name of my autobiography should be called DOES THIS FEEL LIKE A LUMP TO YOU?

But then eight years later I was partially cured, and that my friends is the opening act to the meat of today’s blog.

It’s about other tests women should have every year after a certain age.  And the bigggie in my book is, every year when you get your mammogram you should get a pelvic sonogram, interior and exterior. JUST DO IT.

Why? Because it’s the only way to catch ovarian cancer early.

Now, I know doctors give you the  CA- 125 and TVU blood tests.

The problem with that test is while it can point you in the right direction, it’s far from perfect. It has many false negatives and many false positives. Neither result being constructive to healthy state of mind or health.

I know this, as the first time I had it, it came back a false positive.

I had this great doctor in LA. His name is Ed Liu; he is one of my all time favorite docs. In fact he is all through my book BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HOT PLACE.

There, I got that in for today.

I loved him so much he remained my doctor even after I moved here. Finally last year when I stopped going to LA every six weeks I had to let him go. I miss him. I love you Ed!!!

But Ed had me during the peak of my hypochondrical phase, poor Ed.

For some reason ovarian cancer always made me nervous and I constantly thought I had it.

At one point after Gilda Radner died of it, I went running in to Ed and said, “I think I have ovarian cancer.”  He said “Why?”

I said – “Gilda Radner died of it.”

He said – “I never knew me you were related to Gilda Radner”

“I’m not.”

“Then why would you think you have it?”

“I don’t know, she’s funny, I’m sort of funny. She’s a girl.”

So to put my mind at ease he gave me the CA- 125 test and it came back positive.  Shall we say put my mind at ease it did not?

Now Ed knew me really well, he had delivered Taylor, he had seen me at my worst, he knew this would both send me into orbit and I would most likely arrive with a sleeping bag and camp out at his office until we figured it out.

But Ed is calm, and he said, “look, I’m not worried about this, I’m not ignoring it, but the same day your test came back positive so did four other patients; all of you young, none real contenders, I think something happened at the lab. So we will wait two months and retest everybody.”

Those were a swell two months. Blessedly the net wasn’t up and swinging and the Mayo book was gone. So there was a limit to how much I could torture myself, and those who came in contact with me.

When I had the test retaken it was negative, mine as well as the other women. I never had that test again.

I refuse when it’s offered.

Bernard Kruger explained it’s not as good a diagnostic test as it is a marker. Bernard is an oncologist.  Once people have the disease it tells you where you stand. But it can be hit and miss in terms of telling you you  have it. Call me obsessive compulsive hit and miss does not work for me under those conditions.

So you can take it, but if you really want to find out what is going on get a sonogram.

Fast forward six years I’m in NY, I have a doctor here I hated, we will call him Dr. Snarky, he hated me too, which made life hell and made me run back to Ed.  But someone had to deliver Lucy as Glenn was not up to the task. In fact Glenn was one of those fathers who would have preferred sitting outside with a cigar while I was giving birth and had some leggy nurse arrive and say, “It’s a girl Mr. Horowitz.” He didn’t get off that easily.  He missed about five hours of labor but I made him arrive for the guts and gore.

A year after Lucy was born I started having back pain and went online and diagnosed myself yet again with ovarian cancer.

So I went to see Dr. Snarky, as I was here and Ed was in LA. Dr. S sent sent me to get a sonogram.   Snarky he was and nasty too, but actually he was a very competent doctor.

So I went to get the test.

Wouldn’t you know it they found something?

It was explained to me as a benign cyst on my ovary.

But as doctors are always covering their bases, I was sent for an MRI, and several other tests, they all came back with similar yet oddly different responses, all benign but every description of whatever it was was different. I didn’t like that. It seemed like the machines didn’t know what they were doing or there was something else going on.

I don’t want to bore you with the details, but Bernard sat me down and said;  “Look I think it’s OK.  I have patients I would let walk around with this for a year and watch it, but you are not one of them.

I think he knew I would be calling him everyday torturing him. Snarky felt the same way.

Me on the phone every day was the last thing Snarky wanted in his life. Me on the phone everyday talking about my health is the last thing anybody wants in their life.

But Bernard said something I will never forget, he said-

“We can say what we want but it’s just a science, it works most of the time but it’s not perfect and until something like this is in a jar we never know exactly what it is.”

That’s all I had to hear. Out with the sucker.

I had my kids; I had two ovaries, an heir and the spare. I would just keep the spare.

So I booked an appointment to have it removed.

Since no one was really flipping out but me, we waited until the fall, this was around July.  I also think Dr. Snarky was going on holiday and didn’t want to be bothered.

We set the date, September 11th. seven-thirty am, Lenox Hill Hospital, first patient in.

I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t nervous.  “Bernard’s we don’t know what it is until it’s in jar” certainly tap danced in my head regularly for the month of August.

And on that morning as I walked from my apartment to the hospital all sorts of awful scenarios made cameo appearances in my mind.

I remember the morning being really clear and pretty and me thinking if this was bad would this be my last September 11th?

What if they were all wrong?

I loved the way the sun hit the buildings and the air was turning from summer to fall and all those romantic notions one can play back after an event, but they were real feelings at the time.

So I had my operation, and while I was asleep you all know what happened.

I woke up to Dr. Snarky hanging over the bed, saying you’re fine, it looks fine, it’s nothing, But Glenn on the other side saying there has been a terrible terrorist attack.

There were two other people in recovery along with me. We were the only patients who got in before the planes hit.

The nurses and doctors were all freaking out; they were turning the place into a triage unit at that moment as they thought they would need it.

I sat and watched the towers fall with a group of doctors who were openly verbal about how fearful they were of what they felt the day held.

I was the only person who could go home because I lived so close I could walk.   The others had to stay as the city was locking down.

So I went home and like everyone else watched the TV as our lives all changed in one way forever.

But the selfish lesson I took away and it sounds selfish in light of all the people who lost so much that day, is you never know what the future holds. As lame and simplistic and over used a phrase as that is.

There I was panicked for years over a fake scenario, on my way to have an operation to find out if my self-induced fear was going to turn into a reality. The only thought in my brain was cancer, death, and cancer, death.  I did in fact have tumor, not a cyst and nothing that any of the tests had said it was, the only thing that it was was benign.

But then there were thirty five hundred people who were not walking to the hospital to have a tumor taken out, they were checking their emails, drinking their lattes, reconfirming meetings, making plans for weddings, dinners, appointments in the future, and as they were sitting at their desks a plane came through the window. This is not what you think about when you get to the office.

So that really did get me to a place where I was able to let a lot of self-indulgent behavior go.

We have so little control and we worry about so many things that never happen.

You can argue I had reason to worry on that day, but something so heinous was in process everything paled by comparison.

And when I find myself going to that place I remember the people who died on September 11th and I remember where I was and I can regain my equilibrium and a sense of clarity.

Blessedly, I have been able to keep that in play (most of the time) all these years.

There is another story that is tragic but is a great lesson for hypochondriacs everywhere. In 2005 there was a very beloved breast cancer specialist at Sloan Kettering. I didn’t know her, I have no fake name, she did however treat people I know.

She was apparently an amazing doctor and an amazing woman. One day walking back to her office, (after visiting her aged mother) I remember every detail, anyway,  my guess is her office was full of patients all of whom had either had breast cancer then or in the past, all of whom were probably steeped in thoughts about their own mortality.  And while they were sitting there waiting for Dr. Petrek to get back and give them whatever information about their futures she held, she was struck down by an ambulette and died several hours later.

In her obit it talks about how in her career she had treated more than four thousand women. I imagine thousands are alive today, she is not.  She was fifty-seven when she died.

What’s my point?   Life is so random, live every moment. Try and be as happy as you can be while you are here. If you aren’t happy with something in your life- change it. This is a message I repeat to my freshman all the time.

It’s your life, you have control over the moment you are in, and you have control over the choices you make.

So try and make good choices and enjoy the moment.

If something is amiss only you have the power to fix it.

In terms of your health, you can get struck by a plane at your desk, or an ambulette on your way to save lives, but chances are you won’t.

Stats say the average woman our age will get past eighty and if you take good care of yourself and get yourself tested properly, vigilantly and don’t hide your head in the sand chances are you will get there and be in pretty darn good shape by the time you do.

Enough lecturing.

Have a great day.

Look both ways when you cross the street.

Once a mother always a mother.


for those of you who don’t buy the heart test thing