My story begins when I was 31 years old and doing great for a guy my age. I had a nice apartment, was the marketing and design director for a thriving company, dating a terrific woman, driving the car I always wanted and was preparing to go back to school to earn an MBA. I was healthy and living my life as if it would go on like that forever.
But over a few months, I had some strange health changes. I had some very bad migraine headaches, a dizzy spell in a restaurant that left me on the floor unconscious for several minutes, incremental weight gain, and small skin rashes and sores in my armpits that came and went. I wrote it all off to stress and the fact that my roommate had recently obtained a cat (to which I’m allergic). My energy level plummeted. After work, I hit the couch and couldn’t do much more. The increasing number of herbal remedies, vitamins, and energy boosters I took didn’t help. I can’t explain how strange I felt and couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong.
Seven months after I first started feeling different, I went in to see my doctor. He told me to remove the cat immediately and return for a long overdue regular checkup, which I scheduled for a few weeks later. By the time I got to that checkup, I was having trouble breathing at night and the skin rashes were more frequent. My doctor tested me for the AIDS virus, scheduled an appointment with an immunologist, and told me to take Benadryl to keep the symptoms at bay. I ended up eating those like candy! The immunologist found nothing unusual except an abnormally high allergy to cat dander; I moved out of my apartment and away from the cat. But the “allergy” symptoms persisted, and I began to feel worse.
Finally, when I developed a severe pain in my lower abdomen that would not go away with Ibuprofen, I was referred to a surgeon, who listed about a dozen things that might be wrong with me. Nobody ever mentioned cancer. When I went for a second opinion at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the surgeon looked at my x-rays and CT results for 30 seconds and said “you have a mass in your abdomen the size of my fist.” He gave me another list of what that mass could mean and mentioned cat scratch fever. At this point I still never thought about cancer and no one had uttered the word. But by then, I could not stand up straight, had pain in my lower back and neck, my arms were sore, I had trouble breathing at night and sleeping, I had rashes and hives coming and going all the time. I had digestive trouble, couldn’t be intimate with my girlfriend, couldn’t exercise, and I had very little energy.
The biopsy proved what I knew–that something was very wrong with me. I was right! I did not have cat scratch fever, or a hernia, or diverticulitis. I had a progressive cancer in my lymphatic system that would need radiation and chemotherapy treatment immediately.
It was tough news to hear but I felt relieved that I was not crazy and that I finally knew what I was up against. My hope is that with more awareness – from patients AND the medical community – we can identify cancer symptoms earlier and get people to go the doctor regularly. Just because, it can save your life.
- migraine headaches
- a severe dizzy spell
- small rashes and sores in armpits