We tend to think of cancer as something so scary that it should be easy to know when something is wrong. We imagine lumps and bumps and growths - things we think we would notice as cancer right away. These Reddit users are showing the world why cancer goes undetected for so long so often.
One Reddit user asked: Cancer survivors of Reddit, when did you first notice something was wrong?
A lot of them seem so ... normal.
I was scratching my balls and felt a hard knot. Froze for like ten seconds, panicking internally, thinking it's definitely cancer then remembered that cancer is actually pretty rare and it's far more likely to just be a cyst or something. Went to the doctor anyway because I'm not an idiot.
It was cancer.
- I did not get to keep the ball. They have to look at it under a microscope to determine the specific type of cancer and for that they usually slice it up a bit so there wouldn't have been much to keep anyway.
- The knot was rock hard and attached to the testicle, inside the sack and maaaybe a tiny bit more sensitive than the testicle normally is, otherwise completely painless but your mileage may vary. In some cases the tumor will start growing inside the testicle causing it to swell, in others the testicle might even shrink. If it's soft and squishy it's probably not cancer but still have it checked if you're worried. A simple ultrasound can determine if it's a solid tumor and requires further attention.
- If it comes and goes it's also most likely not cancer. Cancer will generally only get bigger without treatment.
- They do offer you a prosthetic replacement, although I refused because I heard it can be uncomfortable in some situations and I don't notice a difference anyway.
- You can still have sex with one ball. The remaining testicle takes up the workload of the removed one. I'm not infertile and don't have testosterone problems but that can happen in some cases.
- I was 21 when first diagnosed and 22 when I relapsed.
- Treatment didn't cost me anything because I live in a country with universal healthcare.
- Checking regularly is good but don't overdo it. Generally once a month is enough.
- Testicular cancer is rare as it accounts for roughly 0.5-1% of male cancers.
A Second Opinion
Felt like sh!t all the time. Fatigued constantly and losing my physical strength. Finally went to my family doctor who said it was just aging. Went for a second opinion and they found high cancer markers in my blood test. Spent the next few months going back and forth to various specialist while they tried to pin point it. Finally turned out to be both lymphatic and testicular cancer. I was very lucky. I lost six lymph nodes and a treacherous left testicle and came out of it clean after having to do very little treatment. But with what I went through (and what I spent!) I have a new respect for people who survive more severe forms of cancer.
A Twinkle In Your Eye
For me it started with my eyes in my late 30's. Felt perfectly fine otherwise, but my eyes would have these weird all-over "flashes", kind of like what you see after you stare too long at the sun, especially when I was moving from dark to light places (like waking up in the morning, or turning on a light in a dark room at night). Got my eyes checked, doc said my retinas had some severe "high pressure areas" and it might be the start of macular degeneration. I got some new glasses and went on with life figuring this was just going to be my new normal.
Thank f*cking god I had a routine yearly doctor's exam scheduled about 2 months after that. I felt 100% fine other than this weird eye thing, but the routine blood work came back so bad my doctor actually threw the first results away, saying it had to be a lab error. Second results came back even worse, and they sent me to a cancer specialist. Rare type of bone marrow cancer.
They caught it early, and its highly treatable with a 95% chance of living a relatively normal life afterward. But if they hadn't, I'd have been in critical condition, maybe dead, within a couple of years. Turns out my system was so overloaded with cancerous white blood cells that my blood was thick like potato soup. It was blowing out the veins in my eyes, which resulted in those "flashes". They went away after about the first 2 weeks of treatment.
GO TO YOUR DOCTOR REGULARLY.
Randomly ended up so sick i was bed bound for a month. Got every test for the flu/cold/viruses they could think of. Ended up getting an ultrasound on my stomach; they saw a mass while doing so and also scanned my pelvic area. Turned out to be ovarian cancer but luckily for me it was contained in the football sized tumor attached to my right ovary, which i obviously didn't know was there. Month later i was cut open, had it removed. Minus one ovary and the constant fear it'll come back later and I'm cancer free. For now.
Ewing's sarcoma, diagnosed at age 12.
The first time I remember noticing it was during a volleyball game. I spiked and landed and felt a sharp pain in my left thigh.
I ignored it and it would bother me on and off for a few months. I was trying not to let my parents worry, because my older sister has CF and was going through a rough patch. I was limping most of the time, but occasionally it wouldn't hurt at all.
One day I was walking downstairs at school and as I took a step I was blinded by pain, screamed and collapsed. By the time my mom got to school to pick me up it was barely a dull ache, but she said we should get x-rays just in case. This was around 5 months after the volleyball pain.
The results came back showing cancer. I started treatment immediately. 13 months of chemo, ~100 nights in hospital. Two years of physical therapy to lose my limp.
Pressure, Itching, Blood
August 1st, 2015. I woke up and felt a strange pressure in my chest. The night before I had picked something up and I figured I just strained myself. Didn't think much of it.
Until around November. I started getting itchy. Like, really itchy. Mostly on my legs, but pretty much everywhere. I always struggled with having itchy skin after a hot shower, so at first I didn't pay it too much attention, until it started getting annoying. I tried new shampoos and body wash, washed and changed my sheets, looked for bed bugs, lice, anything I could think of.
Finally, on March 31st 2016, a few weeks after my 21st birthday, I was just getting into bed when I coughed. Now, for context, I also suffer from frequent bloody noses. So I'm used to coughing and having a bloody nose.
But this time when I coughed, I felt blood coming from down inside of me, rather than up from my nose.
I immediately grabbed a cup and started coughing up blood into it, right next to my girlfriend in bed. I managed to tell her to call 911, and I threw myself into the bathroom.
And there I was, holding on to the sink for dear life, coughing up more and more blood. I couldn't stop, every time I tried to catch my breath I would feel a tickle and have to cough, sending more blood out. That bathroom looked like the elevator from the Shining by the end of it.
Finally, ten minutes goes by, and the ambulance arrives. I had basically made my peace with this world and was prepared to let go... but then the coughing finally subsided, and I could breathe again without coughing up blood.
Took a ride to the ER. They kept me for a week, poking and prodding me, doing tests. I almost got sent home with a diagnosis of tuberculosis. But finally they confirmed it was cancer. Stage four hodgkin's lymphoma to be exact.
Sounds bad and scary, but out of all the types of cancers known, this one is fairly easy to cure and has a high success rate of not reoccurring.
So, I did chemo for 6 months. That sucked. Finished in October 2016. I'm just about to go into my last post treatment check up tomorrow, and hopefully if everything is good I won't have to keep getting check ups every year.
Interestingly, however, I always had a feeling in my mind that one day I would get cancer. I can't exactly describe why I thought this, but I did. And it turned out to be true.
Everyone, go get yourself checked out. You do not want to wait to long and let things progress. Do what you can to have good health, because without it we are nothing.
Also, my girlfriend was such a fucking trooper. She handled herself and the situation incredibly well for how scary that must have been for her. Lord knows I would be terrified if our roles reversed and she was the one in trouble. I only pray I can handle things as good as her. If you're reading this, I love you and I am so proud you kept your cool!
Sense Of Impending DoomGiphy
I wish I had a better answer. I was pregnant for the first time and my gut was relentless, telling me something wasn't right. I didn't feel right. I brushed a lot of it off as pregnancy hormones but something just wasn't right. It caused sleep loss and anxiety, I went to ER at 9 weeks and was told i had a uti (now as a midwifery student my bacterial load was low enough that I know I didn't have a uti.) I went back around 10.5 weeks, again to my doctor at 12 and 14. I'd had a scan at 5 weeks and it was normal.
Finally at 18 weeks I went in to the emergency room again because I couldn't shake this feeling of impending doom. I got a resident for the first time and she just said that sometimes first time moms need to see their babies to shake worries. She sent me for an anatomy scan. Dead baby, mass of 'snowstorm' tissue. It was a molar pregnancy, placenta was massive and riddled with mutations. I was scheduled for a D&C. My follow up a month later was 5 mins with an ob who told me it "wasn't like the baby was term, you can have more babies. Wait a year."
Within days the sense of dread crept back. Three months later I joined an online support group for women who had molar pregnancies and found out I should have had twice weekly blood work and follow up scans to make sure there was no retained placenta tissue. By then the stuff missed in DC had taken over and metastasized. I'm lucky I found those women, they saved my life and my doctor filed a formal complaint against the incompetent ob that we trusted to do my care.
Just over a year ago, I had been increasingly tired and fatigued over a period of 6 months. I had also been dealing with lower leg swelling, to the point that I could barely wear shoes. I had been out with my mom and was so out of breath I couldn't walk the 100 yards or so into a grocery store.
I was admitted to the hospital with a hemoglobin of 4, and incredibly low thyroid levels. Fast forward a day or two and I start with what can only be described, without being gross, as an incredibly irregular period. I was scheduled for a uterine biopsy a few weeks after discharge and was found to have endometrial cancer.
We attempted the conservative course of treatment as I'm only 32 and have not had kids yet. This was all fine and well until January when 2 masses were found in my uterine wall. Fast forward two months and an MRI shows that even on hormone suppression therapy, the masses were growing. I had a complete hysterectomy on March 29 of this year. One of the masses was 70% through the uterine wall. Luckily my lymph nodes were clear and I didn't need chemo or radiation.
Walking To Class
When I was walking to class one day in high school (I'm now 23) and my legs just gave out and I collapsed to the floor. Had to have a random student walking by help me to my feet, and even then I wasn't stable. I had been having weird symptoms for the month prior, but that was the one thing that really made me think that something was wrong.
Turned out to be a rare type of bone marrow cancer called POEMS Syndrome that only few other adolescents have ever had. At least that's what my doctors have told me.
Unfortunately, I've relapsed, but recent blood work has been looking really good so hopefully I'm back in remission soon!
No Childlike Energy
I noticed something was wrong since I was in 5th grade. I was always so tired compared to other kids. I didn't have that boundless energy kids are supposed to have, or at least I didn't feel like I did. I always felt glum, or dull. It was hard to sleep. Sometimes I felt too hot or too cold. I had unhealthy amounts of anxiety - my heart was pounding over the most stupid stuff. That spiraled into paranoia, which is just terrible for a kid to have to go through. The worst of it all was the brain fog. I struggled to concentrate and just THINK. It pissed me off to no end - why couldn't I just think of 'A' when I wanted to? There was so much mental noise and fog - almost like your head and ears are stuffed with cotton. For some reason this completely killed my confidence in myself. I felt like I just wasn't as good as the other 'healthy' kids.
My dad doesn't deal with health stuff. So I'd bring it up to my mom. She told me I was exagerrating, That it was because I was on the computer too much, ate poorly, and didn't sleep enough.
This routine went on until I was 16 or so when I finally got sick of it and mentioned it to my primary doctor during a checkup - and here comes my mom chiming in x y z above for why I felt the way I did. Doctor touched my neck area and felt a lump. Got an ultrasound eventually and yup there it was!
My mom caved and said that nodules run in her family - she's got more than a dozen! Nice to know. Also why nobody did a full blood test to see my thyroid hormone levels is beyond me. Apparently my sister and grandma (dad's side) are hypothyroid.
They wanted to 'watch' it for a few years lmao to see if it got bigger.
Finally at 18 I got things moving.
I got two biopsies on my left side since there was an obvious nodule- the first one not going well and they decided they wanted to do another. Whoever said biopsies are painless is a huge liar. The results were what I hoped, because I knew something was wrong with me. My parents didn't want me to have any surgeries. I feel like they wanted to pretend that nothing was wrong.
Finally, at 19, I had two hemithyroidectomy operations for what they found were papillary carcinomas - one in a calcified nodule and little 'granules' in two of my lymph nodes and the other side of my thyroid. I may need radiation later, but right now I'm avoiding it. I'm taking meds for the rest of my life - that's fine with me!
The surgeries were a month apart from each other. I was 19 at the time and right in the middle of college. It was really hard for me, considering that my family and SO at the time were nay sayers or straight up indifferent to me while I finally pushed for treatment.
In hindsight, I should have had them both removed in one operation. They told me I had the option the first go around, but I wanted to keep function if I could. How could I do it if I had no idea what was going on with the other side? They refused to do a biopsy on the opposing side during surgery - lame. They also knicked the nerves for my vocal cord during the first surgery, so I couldn't speak properly for 6 months and had to see a specialist for an implant to restore function if it didn't heal. Thank goodness it did. I sounded absolutely terrible - like those folk that have those voiceboxes. It hurt, speaking was a struggle. I sound normal now, but it's hard to carry on talking with the risk of sounding out of breath lol.
Now that I'm on thyroid meds- I feel infinitely better compared to before. I have a lot more clarity than before. I still have anxiety which is strange, it's like a reaction to things at this point. I hear it's a side effect of the meds. I'm working on improving my mindset - it's getting better. I sleep better.
It's hard to get your dosage right, but when you do it's like you feel close to normal again. I get off days pretty often, and don't feel well if I'm off schedule. HOWEVER I'm a heck of a lot happier now!!!
Also, my sister and mom got biopsies afterwards for themselves for nodules they have - 'just in case'.