I was a busy college student, working a summer job and getting ready to start my sophomore year when I first noticed a hard lump in my lower abdomen the size of a golf ball.
Looking back, I probably should have been alarmed. But I wasn’t. After all, I had just come through puberty—there had been plenty of drastic changes to my body over the past several years, and none of them had been anything to be alarmed about. Plus, the lump didn’t hurt so I figured I’d take a “wait and see” approach.
Added to this, I was a pretty shy, modest kid. It would have been outside my comfort zone to bare my stomach to anyone—my mother included—and ask, “What is this?”
Summer ended and I went back to college on the other side of the country. And the lump got bigger. Now it was a tennis ball. But I was joining a coed fraternity and studying and having fun—I thought I was too busy to go and get help.
I would completely forget about the lump during the busy days. At night I would lie in my dorm room and poke at it and try to remember if it seemed bigger than the night before.
By the spring it was definitely bigger. In fact my whole stomach was hard. In my bed at night I knew something was wrong. But during the day I would put it out of my head. At night I would think, “maybe I’m dying?” I would also think, “maybe this is normal? Maybe I’m just gaining weight and this is how that feels?”
And it still didn’t hurt. No pain at all. I would try to imagine going to a doctor and explaining that I didn’t have any symptoms except this hard stomach. I was embarrassed. What if it was nothing?
And then one month I got my period and I just never stopped getting my period. It went on for week after week. I finally had the “symptom” I’d been waiting for. I was off to Health Services for help with this strange period.
When the first doctor did the exam he figured I was pregnant. I don’t think he really believed me when I said I was pretty sure that wasn’t the case. An ultrasound revealed a very large ovarian tumor. It filled my entire abdomen and had pushed organs aside. That was why my period wouldn’t stop.
I ended up flying home for surgery. The tumor was a “borderline” cancer so the surgery was followed up with frequent exams. My prognosis was good. I was lucky, this story could easily have had a different ending for me. My borderline cancer diagnosis is a long way from the terrible diagnoses that many people have to hear.
Anyone reading this might think I was just crazy. Maybe I was. But I swear I was a smart kid too. I had two things working against me: I was embarrassed and I had grown up believing that you went to the doctor when you were sick. And I didn’t feel sick. But honestly, deep down, I had known that something wasn’t right.
I’ve always been very embarrassed about this story. But it’s an important one. Delaying seeing a doctor means that cancer has more time to grow before treatment begins. It is important to see a doctor when something about your body doesn’t seem right—whether you have to fight through some embarrassment or not.
- hard lump in the lower abdomen