Is it Normal or is it Cancer?
We have all been there. You're in active treatment or maybe even NED (no evidence of disease). One day you feel a strange pain and your brain goes into overdrive. Is that normal or is it cancer?
For so many of us, the symptoms leading up to cancer discovery were small and mistaken for something normal, so of course, a twinge here or stiffness there immediately has you wondering.
My strange bladder cancer symptom
For me, severe hip pain is what brought me to the ER and led to my diagnosis. Now, any time I feel soreness in either hip or lower back pain I can't help, but pause and worry. Even worse, when I had a lymph node pressing on my sciatic nerve, the sensation was like the worst hamstring cramp ever.
Well of course after a good day in the gym I end up sore, however, my brain jumps to conclusions instead of remembering that soreness, stiffness, weird little pains can sometimes just be completely normal.
So, how do you work through the panic, while also being mindful that as a cancer patient, all "weird" things should be noted? Here's my approach.
You know you best
First, I want to make it clear that you know your body best. You know your red flags, and what cannot wait. If you experience severe pain, a high fever, unusual ostomy output, discharge, rashes, or unusual fatigue, you should immediately put in a call to your care team. And if there is something that is really concerning you, big or small, there is absolutely no shame in contacting your team.
New or unusual symptoms
So when I experience a new or unusual symptom the first thing I do is take note. Any time I have pain or notice something out of my normal I make a mental note.
The 24-hour rule
If it's severe or big enough I'll even write it down. Then I have a 24-hour rule. I go about normal life and self-monitor. If any strange symptom lasts more than 24 hours I'll send my oncologist a note and see if they are interested in doing a check-in.
Doing this has helped me remind my brain not to panic when something out of the ordinary pops up. By telling myself we are going to wait 24 hours I know that I have a game plan, but I am not going to fixate on the symptom for the day.
Fear and strange symptoms
I think the most important thing to remember is that fear around strange symptoms is completely valid.
Once your life has been changed by cancer you will always be hyper-vigilant regarding your health and incredibly aware of your body. We all know our "tells", the things that are immediate red flags, and what we can wait on. But that does not take away how scary and exhausting the newfound body awareness can be.
Being attuned to your body
Being so attuned to our bodies can be helpful and supplemented with an open line of communication with your medical team can lead to quick diagnoses and stop small issues from becoming big problems.
Just know that as a cancer patient, you are part of a large community that "gets it" and we all ask ourselves the same question constantly, "Is that normal or is it cancer?" Tell us about your experience in the comments below, or share your story with the community.
How long did it take to get diagnosed after your first symptom(s) appeared?