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Ignorance Is Not Bliss – Do Not Ignore Symptoms of Disease or Illness

One of our patients, a 50-year-old man, was recently diagnosed with cancer.

Matured couple love hugHis situation isn’t only the inspiration for this blog post, it was in fact his idea. Because it hammers home what he always says – listen to your body and take action when something isn’t right.

A survey a few years back found that 40 percent of men will ignore a symptom and avoid seeing a doctor until the symptom has either become unbearable or progressed to the point where they now fear they have a serious medical condition.

But here’s the thing. The symptom of a serious medical condition can be quite subtle and easily missed. The symptom itself doesn’t have to be serious for the medical condition to be. With just about any medical condition – diabetes, heart disease, hypertension or even cancer in its many forms – early intervention is key.

Take our patient.

Around the beginning of December, he noticed a lump under one arm. Over the next few weeks, it got bigger and more uncomfortable. He felt sick like he had some kind of virus – obviously not unusual during cold and flu season. So he assumed that lump was just a swollen lymph node because that’s what lymph nodes do when you are sick – they swell as they become battlegrounds for your immune system to fight off the infection. After a week or two, after your body has won the battle, lymph nodes throughout your body will return to their normal size.

Surprising test results

Only this one hadn’t by new year’s. So he got it checked. His family doctor ordered an ultrasound. The result left little doubt that this lymph node was cancerous. He was promptly scheduled for biopsy surgery to have this lymph node removed and analyzed. The assumption was that this was likely a relatively easily treated form of lymphoma – a cancer of the lymph node.

But much to his surprise, and that of his doctor, the lab results came back as melanoma – a skin cancer. It had already spread, or metastasized, under the skin to this lymph node. Until this enlarged lymph node, he had experienced no other symptoms.

He is currently undergoing further tests and will soon begin treatment to make him cancer-free. And we certainly do wish him all the best for a full recovery.

Now, where would he be if he had not acted on this symptom?

The cancer would have likely continued to spread to other parts of his body. The further cancer spreads, the tougher it is to treat and the less likely the patient is to recover.

Your life may literally be on the line

So, men (and women too, if you are inclined to the same behaviour), take this for the wake-up call that is. A symptom is a warning sign – it may be nothing, or it may be something. But you don’t know until you get checked.

It really is time for us all to abandon those outdated stereotypes that call for a man to suffer in silence, to toughen up and shrug it off. Or for a woman to run herself ragged and ignore her own needs for the sake of everyone else.

If you are a spouse, a parent, someone who is valued for the contributions you make, you owe it to yourself as well as those who depend on you and look up to you to make your health your top priority.

Why? Only a healthy you can continue to be that fantastic person, that giver and doer, which you take pride in being.

Being fit doesn’t make you bulletproof

Don’t be lulled into false security by thinking that you are somehow bulletproof just because you eat right, exercise and do all those other things that we blog about here. You still need to pay attention to those warning signs.

Why? Our patient did all those things, too. In his early 40s, he began exercising regularly and eating healthier. He lost weight, got his blood pressure and cholesterol down to where it should be and got a new lease on life.

But still, he started this year with a cancer diagnosis. You can do everything right and still end up in the crosshairs of a serious disease. But he will tell you that he would much rather face this cancer battle as the man he is today than as that out-of-shape and an overweight fellow on blood pressure medications that he was seven years ago.

Sometimes a symptom shouts and sometimes it whispers. Either way, it’s always in your best interest to pay attention.

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