Why You Should Go to the Doctor When You Notice a Lump

Today I got a rather shocking group e-mail from a friend about a recent development in his life. I’m really grateful that he shared his story, and I asked him if I could post it on my blog so it might benefit you as it benefited me. He asked to remain anonymous, hence the lack of accreditation.

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One month ago today, on August 15th, after a surgical biopsy, I was diagnosed with stage IIA Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. Luckily, it was caught in an early stage and it is a highly treatable form of cancer with a very high survival rate and a good long-term prognosis.

After spending the last month undergoing tests of all kinds, the initial diagnosis was confirmed last week and tomorrow I begin a 6-month long cycle of chemotherapy at the NYU Langone Medical Center. It is a terrific facility and I have an excellent support system of friends in New York and my job has been extremely helpful and flexible so everything should be fine here.

I was originally going to keep this news private because I really don’t want this to become a major part of my identity and am not looking for sympathy/pity/etc. And while I still have the desire to keep this private, it’s not realistic to ask the few people who do know already to bear the burden of my secret, nor is it realistic to hide this from people in New York who will see me in the next 6 months.

Another reason I’ve decided to make this public is because of how I came to be diagnosed. Earlier this year, sometime in February, I noticed a swollen, painless, lymph node near my collarbone. After a month or so, it didn’t go away so I went to the doctor, who said it was probably nothing but to get a precautionary ultrasound. I got that done, and though they also thought it was nothing they suggested a surgical consult. Keep in mind that this was 6 months ago.

I dilly-dallied and procrastinated (obviously) and life got in the way. Baseball season started. I traveled a lot. I began a serious relationship. My sister got married. The lymph node wasn’t getting any bigger. These were all excuses as to why I didn’t bother following-up. But mostly, I just didn’t want to.

I finally met with a surgeon in July, who told me that it was probably nothing but that he recommended doing a surgical biopsy, which I obviously did not want to do. I was also going out of town again, so I put off scheduling it until August. I had the surgery (which kind of sucked) and then got the diagnosis shortly thereafter.

I feel 100% healthy and have felt 100% healthy this entire time. Without getting the biopsy, I never would have known. If I hadn’t been somewhat proactive, this thing would have kept growing and spreading until the prognosis became worse and until I finally manifested any symptoms. It could have been years. On the other side, if I’d been at all diligent and followed up quickly, I could have had this taken care of by now and before it spread at all.

So let me implore all of you (and all your friends and family members) to GO TO THE DOCTOR and to follow-up on things and not ignore them because they might be scary or uncomfortable or inconvenient. I’m not saying to become a hypochondriac or that every little bump is cancer (for example, Hodgkin’s is diagnosed in just 3/100,000 people per year…so the doctors were right, it probably was nothing. Just not in this case.) but please, please make sure that it’s nothing. I know myself, and I can easily see an alternate scenario where I ignored this for a lot longer. And that’s the thing — ignoring it wasn’t going to change anything.

I know this stuff is scary and it’s easy to put it in the back of your mind, but it does no one any good. Men are notorious for not going to the doctor when they know something is wrong, not getting annual physicals, etc etc. and I was exactly the same way. DON’T DO THIS. PLEASE. I obviously will not be neglecting doctor visits for the rest of my life. Okay, sermon over.