It's been five years since I finished treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. And I still look back on the months before my diagnosis and wonder why the heck I didn't take my symptoms more seriously. Then again, it's worth wondering why nobody -- not my partner, family, friends, colleagues, family doctor, or emergency room physicians -- acknowledged the severity of my symptoms.
I didn't take the symptoms seriously because they all seemed to make perfect sense. I had detailed and logical explanations for all the changes I was experiencing in my body. Those explanations seem ridiculous now, considering I know how serious my symptoms were.
With that, I present to you: my countdown of the top 5 scary cancer symptoms and the terrifying and ridiculous ways I explained them.
- "I'm biking to work and running and working hard. Sleeping for one and a half hours every night after work is what I need." (Read: Naps are so delightful, and I still sleep through the night... don't ask questions.)
- "Food used to be so delicious, but now I have no explanation whatsoever for why this piece of perfectly seasoned and grilled chicken breast repulses me." (This failure to explain this symptom makes it the most sinister.)
- "Who cares! I'm thin! People are noticing!" (I could pull down my jeans without unbuttoning them. No 25-year-old considers that a symptom.)
- "My asthma is suddenly recurring." (I found out after my diagnosis I never had asthma.)
- "I am out of shape." (I was training for a half-marathon. So, wrong.)
- "I am training too hard for my half-marathon." (Wrong again.)
- "I am talking too fast, causing shortness of breath during conversation." (Not sure that's a thing.)
- "My heavy messenger style purse worn during my daily bike to work is causing excess pressure on my neck and arm, forcing it to seize in the middle of the night." (My purse was not that heavy.)
- "I just need a bath to rest my sore back in hot water." (But you're still in pain after so, wrong.)
- "I pulled a muscle in my back." (Then why don't over the counter pain medications help?)
- "I sneezed too hard just now." (Sneezes don't cause that kind of pain.)
- "My poor posture and the way I sit at my desk is causing strain on my back." (YOU ARE UP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT SCREAMING IN PAIN. THIS IS NOT A POSTURE ISSUE.)
- presented altogether (i.e., weight loss on its own does not mean you have cancer) and
- were (as my oncologist always reminds me) persistent and worsening (guidelines I now use before concerning myself with any symptom).
It horrifies me to recall how much time I spent belittling and brushing off my symptoms (like weight loss). But it also reassures me to remember how seriously I started taking them the more serious they became (like shortness of breath, pain). While the possibility of cancer never even crossed my mind, my quality of life suffered so much that I had no choice but to push my family doctor to reconsider her first and second diagnoses. I didn't know it at the time, but my body was talking to me. Thankfully, I was listening.
So, the public service announcement in this post is: if you have a concern about a change in your body, ask your doctor. And if you have a list as long as this one of all the reasons you shouldn't be worried, make that appointment soon.