Before my cancer diagnosis, I maintained a healthy lifestyle. I had never experienced any major health issues. I was in school and working a job I loved as a lieutenant in the fire service.
Cancer was not on my radar.
I began experiencing nausea, vomiting, and severe pain in the upper left area of my stomach. Given my background as a paramedic and the location of the pain, I thought it could be pancreatitis and immediately went to urgent care.
At urgent care, I was quickly diagnosed with food poisoning. No blood was drawn, no IV started. They didn’t even lay a hand on me. I was sent home, and the pain eventually went away.
A couple of weeks later, the pain came back. This time it began to radiate down my arm. Once again, my paramedic training kicked in and I wondered, “Could I be having a heart attack?” I went back to urgent care and was diagnosed with a shoulder sprain.
This made no sense. I had not been feeling well for weeks and had not been overexerting myself. I was sent home with a prescription for Flexeril, a muscle relaxant, and remained skeptical that this would resolve my issue.
As I suspected, the Flexeril did not work. I also noticed that I had been losing weight. Fortunately, I had a “meet the doctor” visit scheduled with my new primary care physician. During this visit, she asked me if I was experiencing any health issues. I explained my recent symptoms in detail. She ordered a series of tests.
Within a half hour of my blood being drawn, I received a call from her that I needed to head over to the emergency room because my white blood cell count was very high. In the ER, I was told my white blood cell count was 194,000. The normal range is between 4,000-11,000. My count was off the charts!
I was referred to an oncologist who ordered a FISH test to examine my white blood cells and it showed that the my blood cells had a genetic abnormality known as a Philadelphia chromosome marker, an indicator of chronic myeloid leukemia.
It took two months — from my first visit to the urgent care to my appointment with an oncologist — to receive my official diagnosis.
Thank God, I had the medical background to advocate for myself. Luckily, I was a candidate for a targeted chemotherapy drug, which allows me to control my disease. If my condition was left untreated, it would have eventually killed me.
My advice to anyone reading my story is to listen to your body. You will be the first to know if something is wrong. If something seems off, get it checked out. If you are not comfortable with the treatment you are receiving, get a second opinion. You need to fight for your life because sometimes there is nobody there to fight for you.
- abdominal pain
- radiating pain down arm