Kenneth Allen, diagnosed at 38

I have always been active in the EMS/Fire community. My mother was the coordinator of San Francisco’s first Emergency Medicine School, and my father was a firefighter at Rescue 2 in San Francisco and also became a medic. I’m a child of EMS and Fire, and I think I absorbed some of the lessons while in utero.

Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I was in peak physical condition, working out 5-7 days a week to best perform my duties as a firefighter in San Jose, California. I ate low to no carbs or sugar and was really trying to sleep well. If I hadn’t been in ideal shape prior to being diagnosed with cancer, I don’t know if I would have noticed the subtle changes that came about. I began waking up with an ominous feeling that something was wrong in my body. I experienced vivid dreams, unexplained anxiety and a sharp pain in my eye. Then, I began having heavy, long-lasting nosebleeds. They were the last straw that broke my reluctance to get a check up. I immediately contacted my physician.

Be your own advocate, push until you have a diagnosis and a treatment plan. Become your own hero.

The first thought that flashed through my head as the blood began to spill out of my nose was, “Not yet, I’m too young.” I am somewhat intuitive when it comes to my mind and body, and even though I felt hinky about something, it’s hard to go to a doctor and ask for a CT because you’re having vivid dreams that end with lights and blaring sirens. Any doctor worth their salt would say that I’m dreaming about the job and refuse to order an expensive diagnostic like a CT or MRI. The nosebleeds, however, gave me evidence that there was something potentially wrong, and the leverage to seek extensive testing. While the doctor initially believed it was allergies or weather causing the nose bleeds, I insisted on further assessments, due to the danger of cancer for firefighters.

An Ear, Nose and Throat doctor found a large unilateral growth in my sinus and ordered a CT on the spot. The results came in two days later: a golf ball-sized growth between my eyes, growing into my right orbital bone. The sharp pain I had felt months before was the right orbital bone fracturing, as the tumor advanced into the space behind my eye. Because it was between my eyes, I had an 11-hour cranial surgery, which required exacting surgical work. Following that, I had six weeks of radiation.

Today, I am cancer free and have been working hard to stay that way, as well as to help other firefighters remain healthy. The best advice I have is to listen to your body. It will tell you when something is wrong. Know what healthy is supposed to feel like, so that you can tell when it’s abnormal. Be your own advocate, push until you have a diagnosis and a treatment plan. Become your own hero.

Symptoms

  • unexplained anxiety
  • sharp pain in eye
  • heavy, long-lasting nose bleeds