Early Detection – Delaying Mortality


In the world of cancer, a land 1 in 3 people will visit in their life time, the stage at detection determines whether it is a minor nuisance or the close of life. There are only four stages.  I was diagnosed at the fourth stage otherwise known as metastasized, advanced, systemic or end stage cancer.  None of the stage IV descriptors are meant to sound good.  But early detection, now that is good.

February apparently is early detection month – this is my contribution to that effort.  (It is also black history month – African-Americans are disproportionately impacted by cancer in this country mainly due to less access to medical care.)

Ovarian cancer is known as ‘the silent killer’ but most cancer functions silently.  Abnormal cells start growing, are not evicted, create a mass, travel around and at some point they get big enough to create a secondary problem.  Big enough is often too big.  There are over 2000 forms of cancer and trying to be on top of all of them is hard for the best of the oncologists. So how to detect early with out moving towards hypochondria?

While my expertise is limited to my form of cancer, I have found tremendous commonalities exist.  Unless you have a huge tumor grow fast and protrude from your body, usually the easy ones to treat, you are looking for subtle symptoms.  Now let me describe subtle – it is not the discomfort in your big toe or a passing stomachache – subtle here is about persistence.  For ovarian cancer if you have any issue in your abdominal area that you note for 11 days out of a calendar month, well, it’s time to make an appointment.  Those 11 days do not need to be in a row.

Now odds are your doctor will pooh-pooh you especially if you are younger.   I was allowed to leave my first appointment with a lung approaching collapse that was dismissed as bronchitis despite the fact that I felt fine, I just couldn’t breathe.  The aide who checked me out tried to console my wasted visit with a “better safe than sorry” mantra.  The next week I was in the emergency room, barely able to walk, talk let alone breathe leading to an emergency tapping of my chest cavity that removed liters of cancerous fluids.  No, don’t expect your doctor to decide you have an issue.

If you want early detection you are going to have to work for it.  Calendar what you feel, know your family history, push the medical community.  And if it ends up being nothing leave with joy in your heart.  Your job is to check fiercely and then let go.  I had my symptoms for at least six months prior to emergency diagnosis. It is hard to find a photo from that time where I am not holding my stomach.  The discomfort was modest but persistant. Every woman lives with occasional symptoms that make up a gynecological cancer – so the trick is duration not severity.  It is hard knowing that you could have been caught at an earlier, survivable stage.

Testing for cancer is not easy with so many different cancers to be found and defenitive diagnosis requiring surgical probes.  There are simple blood tests but they need to be matched to the cancer being pursued.  And a positive blood test sets off much more intrusive testing.  Doctors have good reason not to seek out cancer casually.  Breast exams are an example of progress but they yield a high percentage of false positives leading to stressful, invasive follow ups.

So then again, you just might want to hope for the best and instead apply early detection to fiscal matters.

I am not known for careful administrative control of my life.  The first time I filed taxes I sent them to the wrong state.  That state was grateful and insisted on keeping them despite the fact that I really owed the amount elsewhere.  This experience may or may not have influenced my conclusion that the less I attended to financial matters the better.  I coped by trying to minimize my exposure – I spent very little.  It served me well in management because I avoided expenses and made checks and balances very, very simple.  I ran organizations from age 23 on and was known for this effective but odd style. This month I got my comeuppance.

When diagnosed, I relocated for easier access to services that can be found in a city in the hopes of prolonging my life.  My small town credit union account became my savings and I opened a new credit union account near to my new home.  My new account handles my bills.  I peer in monthly to conduct business.

Every time I tried to peer in to my old account, though, my password wasn’t accepted or the test questions were too obtuse for me.  What was the name of my last dog?  My dog just died after 16 years – which last dog?  And was it all lower case?  By then I had tried too many times and was locked out.  I could never get in.  Finally I vowed to make it happen, hung on the phone for personal guidance, got into my account and thought ‘holy shit!’  I fast dialed the teller back and said something is very wrong.  In fact, in the last month my account had been blatently hacked – check after check was signed by this dude, Brandon DeWeiss, from his checkbook, with his address in Gresham and his signature. And yet my account was paying for it.  To the tune of thousands of dollars.  The fraud teller assigned me, while very nice, had a changing story of what I was liable for. First it was anything beyond the last 30 days, then it was the far more dire liability for any fraudulent check not caught in the last 24 hours.  So, am I supposed to check my account daily? And when did banks start cashing checks with out looking for any sign of relevancy?  And when did that lax attitude become my problem?  My account is now full restored after a few days of deep stress.

So I guess early detection is a good rule for life. I am not sure that I am the best to guide anyone further along that path, though.

The photo shared here just won an award.  It reminds us that beauty lies everywhere.  In this photo you see ovarian cancer.


2 responses »

  1. Thank you so much. I know you hear that a lot, but I truly found your journey heartfelt and much needed. My older sister has stage 4 uterine cancer that has now spread to her kidneys, spine and base of her brain. She, is looking at it as a death sentence. I am trying to get her to look at it as live like everyday counts. I had blood clots and born with a very rare blood disorder, so I am not without that expiration date being dangled every year. I told the doctors I was supposed to die at age 2, I am sick of being told I will die. So on my 34th birthday, I celebrated my last “so called death date” by enjoying my life. I want you to know I appreciate knowing that “we” are not alone. I sent everything to my sister to maybe give her a light of hope right now. She needs it.

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