We’ve all heard the cliche....”Listen to your body because it’s trying to tell you something.” I can’t begin to tell you how true that is. The first time was in my early 40’s. My period came every 28 - 30 days like clockwork. It started becoming irregular, like every 2 weeks. I monitored it for two months marking the calendar then armed with the information, made an appointment with my PCP. They did an ultrasound and found a complex cyst on my ovary. More tests revealed it was benign and I was asked how I wanted to proceed. My question was, “Can this turn into cancer?”. The answer was, ...”quite possibly”. I then decided since I was done having children that I no longer needed my reproductive system and to have a complete hysterectomy. Best decision I’ve made.
The next 20 years I only went to the doctor when absolutely necessary. About 4 years ago, I started having pain radiating from my arm, going up my shoulder and settling in my chest. It wasn’t constant. Just on occasion. When it started getting more frequent, I started marking it on my calendar and keeping track. Then I started having episodes where my eyes felt like one eye went up and the other went down making it impossible to focus and making me nauseated. I made my first doctor’s appointment in years and explained to the doctor (PA) what was going on. Between the chest pains and the eyes, I was sent to get a stress test and visit an ophthalmologist for the vision issues. Both tests were fine. In the meantime, I was put on cholesterol meds.
Year later after still having issues, I go back because I’m still having the issues, only now the episodes of the arm, shoulder and chest pains are more frequent and the eye going out of focus was so bad that I had trouble walking 5 steps to get to the bed to lay down. I was so nauseated, clammy, had trouble breathing and felt like throwing up. I was totally incapacitated and felt like I wanted to die. Imagine had that happened while driving. That one scared me so much I went to the ER where they said I had low blood sugar. Went back to see the doctor. The first doctor had transferred. I had a new one and when I showed up she sent me to get the same stress test and to see the ophthalmologist again. I told her the previous doctor already did that. She informs me that she’s starting all over. So the stress test is fine, and I saw the same ophthalmologist from the last time and he said everything looked good. I said well maybe I have a tumor then, jokingly. He said “maybe” and that imaging would be the next step.
I did have a head MRI which only revealed that I had a really bad degenerative spine in my neck that I knew I had for over 20 years. I started to think that maybe that was now the source of all my issues. It all made sense and I was sent to a spinal doctor. I opted for no intervention since it wasn’t bothering me too badly. Next thing that happened was my hands were feeling arthritic and my knees hurt. My fingers were misshapen and really bothering me so I made another appointment. For someone who didn’t see the doctor in years, I was certainly seeing my fair share recently.
My daughter was nearing graduation as a Respiratory Therapist and was down visiting. I told her that I had an appointment with the doctor because I thought I had arthritis. I flailed my hands in the air and she looked at them from across the room and said, “OMG mom, you have either COPD or lung cancer....you’re fingers are clubbed”. I didn’t know how to respond, so I just said, I’ll let the doc know what you said. Two days later, I did let doc#3 (doc #2 was out for maternity leave) know what my daughter said and she ordered xrays, not only for my hands, but my chest as well. I got a peek at them while talking to the tech and saw the mass. That kind of cinched it for me. I knew. I was driving home when doc#3 called me and said the radiologist just paid her a visit and we need to run scans ASAP. More doctors, scans, tests, and biopsies followed. My journey has presented a lot of regret. Regret that I wasn’t more proactive. Regret that I didn’t insist on an xray “just because” I was a smoker. Regret that it took 2 years for a diagnosis. Had I been diagnosed sooner, would I have been a stage 1 or 2 instead of 3? Would my lymph nodes be cancer free ? Would I have had a chance for a cure?
Besides the nagging and persistent feeling of regret, I must also count my blessings. My daughter was a professional student. So many schools and pursuit of different degrees in the last 12 years but she had the right knowledge at precisely the right time to get me diagnosed....I’d say all that tuition paid off. My husband decided to go back to school and took a class on molecular biology and what luck...his professor was a cancer researcher. We’ve incorporated fasting and keto as well as the traditional therapies. After nearly 2 years of chemo, surgery, chemo/radiation and immunotherapy, my treatment so far has brought me to NED. Never give up the fight. Never give up hope. New treatments are being developed and going to trial all the time. I thank the Lord everyday for this time. No one knows you and your body like you do. Pay attention. It can save your life.
Each month, KRAS Kickers is pleased to present a Survivor Story. These are the journeys of cancer survivors that have graciously offered to share this part of their lives with us to provide an awareness of community and hope to our readers. None of us are in this alone, and we all have a story to tell.