Cancer is a hidden danger for firefighters, and it’s so important for us to pay attention to our bodies and seek help when something seems off. That’s just what I did when, while recovering from shoulder surgery, I felt a golf ball sized lump in my groin area. I started to notice the lump while doing physical therapy with an exercise ball. I’m a paramedic as well as a Chicago firefighter, and I assumed that it was a hernia. Even so, I knew that I had to have it checked by a doctor.
My doctor ran blood tests, and everything came back normal. Still, she suggested that I get an ultrasound. The technician and radiologist both saw something on the ultrasound, and while they recommended getting it checked out, they were pretty passive about it. There was no urgency.
About three weeks passed, and the lump in my groin started to be really painful. I also developed back pain that was keeping me awake at night and was getting progressively worse. I reached out to a doctor who I knew through my work as a paramedic, and within 48 hours, I was in surgery for a biopsy. The biopsy was inconclusive, and I was referred to an oncologist who sent me for a PET scan. The scan showed 30 masses throughout my entire abdomen, from my pelvis to just around my heart. A second surgery and biopsy revealed that I had Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
After a grueling treatment of over 6 months that took both a physical and mental toll on me, I am happy to be doing well. I don’t like the word “survivor” because the battle continues and is not over. I prefer the word “fighter.” Even though I am healthy, routine testing triggers the fear that my cancer will return. But, I know the great power of early detection, and if I experience any health changes, I will be in touch with my doctor right away.
I knew that it would be a waste for me to have experienced cancer and not find ways to give back. I share my story often, especially with fellow firefighters, so that others may learn to advocate for themselves. You know your body better than anyone else. If things are changing that don’t make sense, it’s so important to tell someone. Early detection made a difference in my outcome. Being up front and honest could save your life.
- golf ball-sized lump in groin
- back pain
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.