JOURNAL: Before the diagnosis

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Once my friends got over the shock of hearing I’d been diagnosed with cancer, they asked me two questions. What caused it? And what made you go to the hospital?

The first question I cannot answer with certainty, so I tell them: “Somebody has to get cancer. I guess my number just came up.”

But I can answer the second question with great certainty.

Shortly after my wife and I moved into our new house in Gray in February, I began to experience pain in my sternum. I have never been one to run to the doctor with every little ailment. In fact, until April 9 – a day after my 33rd birthday, I didn’t even have a primary care physician.

Besides, the day we moved into our house the well pump quit and I had to buy a pick axe to dig into the frozen ground to unearth the well cap. It was labor intensive, but it saved me about $300 and the mess of having a machine dig it up.

Days later, we had friends over. One of my closest childhood friends jabbed me in the chest with a closed fist late in the evening. It was a cheap shot for sure. Perhaps either or both of these instances were the cause.

But as the days turned to weeks, the pain grew to be unbearable. I couldn’t sleep at night, since every time I moved, a sharp pain pierced my chest. When I sneezed or coughed, it felt like someone was stabbing me with a sword.

At the same time I developed a severe case of eczema. Neither I, nor the physician’s assistants at local walk-in clinic, thought this was related to the chest pain. But, as it turns out, excessively itchy skin can be a symptom of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which is what I was ultimately diagnosed with.

On a Friday in mid-March, I went to a walk-in clinic to be evaluated, since it would be a month before I could meet with the doctor I wanted to be my PCP. After drawing some blood, the physicians told me I was likely experiencing inflammation at the joints where my ribs meet my sternum.

Essentially arthritis. I never bought that diagnosis.

They told me to take Ibuprofen and Tylenol, a total of five pills every four hours, four times a day. I stopped that regimen after one day, since it made me sick to my stomach.

That following Monday, I went back to the walk-in. They took a chest X-Ray and gave me the same diagnosis. Arthritis. This time they gave me steroids and sent me home.

Not long thereafter I finally met with the doctor who would become my PCP. He bumped up my appointment when I explained the situation. Baffled at first, he ordered more blood tests, which produced nothing conclusive.

It wasn’t until my lymph nodes became swollen did they order an initial CT scan, which radiologist said produced “very concerning” results for lymphoma. 

A more detailed CT scan revealed that the pain I was feeling was being caused by a lymph node that had attached to – and eaten through – my sternum. The doctor said my sternum will heal after successful treatment.

When viewing my CT scan with my oncologist, I asked how much bone had deteriorated. He pointed to the right side of sternum and said “the white color is bone.” He then pointed to the left side, which was dark.

He didn’t have to say anything.

Sidebar Elements

Beginning today, I will include a photo signature with each blog post to document the physical changes I will likely experience throughout my treatment.