It’s September 1, everyone! Time to do your preventative screening!
I encourage you all to perform your breast self-exam or schedule your annual mammogram, pap smear, skin check, colonoscopy, PSA test, or whatever it is you’ve been meaning to do!
Early in my cancer diagnosis, I would often be asked “How did you know to go to the doctor?” or “Did you have any other symptoms besides finding a lump?” Because early detection is of utmost importance with a cancer diagnosis, I wanted to point out a few of the warning signs I recognized as well as a few others that might warrant getting things checked out by your physician.
In December 2019, I had my annual OB/GYN appointment with a new doctor. She did a thorough breast exam as part of the usual routine and all of my test results came back normal otherwise. At that time, there was no palpable lump in my left breast.
In early February, I took a quick weekend trip to Seattle to see my bestie. I had worn a mask on the plane because the first whisperings of COVID were happening, but on my first night there I still had some mild flu-like symptoms. I took my temperature and had a low-grade fever. The fever broke by the next morning, but the rest of the day I had an annoying nausea – enough that it convinced me to buy a pregnancy test! Turns out, I wasn’t pregnant, thankfully!
Over the next several weeks, I would leave work and continue to have these feverish symptoms, but they would come and go. At one point, there had been a small rash over the area of my unknown tumor but that disappeared, too. It wasn’t until mid March that I felt the lump. To be honest, I was not a regimented self-checker, but I couldn’t miss it, and I didn’t wait long before making an appointment with my OB/GYN to get it checked out.
I want to emphasize here that when I got into my OB/GYN (who squeezed me in her usually packed schedule), she sent me for imaging and biopsy immediately. Not every woman under 40 with breast cancer has been this lucky, and many are told “you’re too young to have cancer” or “let’s just watch it.” I can’t stress enough that if you feel like something’s not right, you must be your own advocate. YOU have to be responsible for your own health. Get 10 other opinions if you have to, but find a provider who listens to you!
So, yes, looking back there were other signs that should have alerted me even sooner, but it was actually the cumulative symptoms (& my own intuition) that made me seek an appointment so quickly.
Here are a few cancer red flags you should be aware of:
- Unexplained weight loss (>10 pounds in a short period of time)
- Extreme fatigue that doesn’t improve with rest
- Fever (especially if worsens at night) or night sweats with no other sign of infection
- Pain that does not resolve with repositioning or medications, ALSO pain that wakes you up at night
- Skin changes (check out the ABCDE method to monitor your skin)
- Lumps, bumps, or thickening of the skin
- Unusual bleeding or slow-healing wounds
- Changes in bowel or bladder habits (slowed urine flow, blood in urine/stool, etc.)
- Difficulty swallowing or persistent indigestion
- Persistent cough or hoarseness
I’m not posting these warning signs to create panic, but to bring awareness. Many of the signs and symptoms listed above relate to other, more benign conditions too, so don’t freak out! I truly believe that the more we know our bodies, the sooner we’ll be able to recognize when something’s off.
Hope you’re all having a great week & taking care of yourselves!