As a firefighter, I have always been an active person, jogging and working out regularly. I’ve also always been really in tune with my body, going annually for check-ups with my primary care doctor. Because of this self-awareness, I knew right away that something wasn’t right when I started experiencing discomfort in my lower right abdomen.
Even though it was just discomfort and maybe a 1/10 on the pain scale, I kept going back to my doctor. This went on for two years. I was sent for ultrasounds, and nothing was found. I was referred to a gynecologist who said it was from a hernia, which I didn’t have. At a total loss for who to see next, I decided to leave it be.
A few months later, I had a change in the discomfort and a constant feeling of needing to use the bathroom. Then, there was blood in my urine.
I was sent for an ultrasound and the tech found something. We had a lengthy talk about firefighters’ increased cancer risk. The tech had no idea. I was then sent for a bladder scope with the urologist. I came out of sedation and was told by the doctor that I had cancer.
My doctor actually apologized for not catching it. He said bladder cancer was something he would look for in patients who are 70-80 years old, not someone my age. I had to educate and bring awareness to my doctor, who didn’t know that firefighters have a greater risk for cancer. In fact, firefighters are 18% more likely to develop bladder cancer than the general population. When caught at Stage 1, there is a 69% survival rate for bladder cancer and survival rate drops to 6% when diagnosed at Stage 4.
My advice to others, especially firefighters, is listen to your body. We know when something is off or wrong. Be an advocate for yourself and educate your doctors about firefighter cancers. Get screened yearly and change your habits if needed. Decon, decon, decon. Protect yourself because no one will do it for you.
- discomfort in lower right abdomen
- frequent urge to urinate
- blood in urine
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FREE Online Learning for Firefighters
The platform includes our 3 Steps Detect training along with 10 short lessons covering topics such as compiling your medical history, identifying and tracking symptoms, and how to prepare for doctor appointments. Firefighters can access the platform by clicking the link below.