How Did You Know?

Since my diagnosis with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in August of 2020 I have been asked many times how I knew I had non-Hodgkin. The answer is I had NO idea.

Noticing some similarities

In 2013, I was diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer. Quite simply at one point, my PSA rose to a level where my GP referred to a urologist. I had almost no symptoms other than needing to get up 2 or 3 times a night for a pee run. Following surgery, it appeared that the prostate cancer was in remission. Several years later, a rising PSA suggested the possibility that some cancer cells had remained in the prostate bed and needed to be treated with radiation. I also learned prior to treatment that radiation might impact future urine control.

We skip ahead to early May of 2020 and I notice an increase in the number of times I'm getting up at night to go to the bathroom. At this point, I'm thinking the radiation was the culprit and that I needed to visit with the urologist.

As the weeks passed, my bathroom visits became more frequent and I began to experience a strange feeling that was radiating from just below my rib cage to the middle of my back. It was not dramatic nor did it seem alarming. In my mind, I was planning on making an appointment with my urologist in mid-July after returning from a 2-week vacation visit with my daughter in Virginia.

The pain intensified

Somewhere at around 11:00 PM on July 4, 2020, I began to experience significant pain that radiated from under the right rib cage to the middle of my back. The pain was so intense I asked my wife to drive me to the local emergency room.

During the 20-minute drive, the pain kept getting worse and I became convinced I was looking at the early stages of a heart attack. After being admitted, a quick check ruled out both heart and lung issues.

After describing my history with prostate cancer surgery, hormone therapy and radiation a decision was made to have me undergo a CAT scan to see if they could determine the cause of the pain. Around 4:00 AM, the emergency room doctor told me the scan suggested I might be facing a fully advanced case of metastasized pancreatic cancer. No stress with that announcement! It was not until I returned to Connecticut and underwent a biopsy that it was determined that I was actually facing stage 2 non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Within 3 days, an infusion port was installed, and I was undergoing R-CHOP chemo for the cancer.

Without the unexpected pain experience, I would have never been aware of the blood cancer. My suggestion is simple. If you are experiencing any type of increasing discomfort it would be wise and in your best interest to seek out medical attention sooner than later.

Trust your gut

I was fortunate to find my prostate cancer early thanks to a routine PSA test that indicated further investigation was needed. The same 'luck' occurred with my non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis. Deep down I knew something was wrong but chose to put off being checked for a couple of weeks so that I could enjoy my vacation with my daughter and grandchildren.

In my case, the blood cancer moved very quickly - unlike prostate cancer, which moves slowly. From the time of my diagnosis in early July, to my undergoing chemo on August 4th, I lost almost 40 pounds.

If you find yourself experiencing any type of increased discomfort or rapid weight loss, please visit with a doctor as soon as possible because cancer loves it, when you delay and say “Not now, I am way too busy.”

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