Bob, a firefighter and EMT didn’t realize he had breast cancer until he was in stage 3.
He didn’t want to admit anything was wrong.
“It’s that bravado, ego. We don’t go, ‘Hey, my boob hurts.’ You don’t say anything about your body because it just feels like whining.”
He says he waited too long to have the pain in his right breast checked out. “I knew six months ago I had a problem. My nipple actually started to dimple.”
After that he felt a lump in his chest. Luckily his wife, who is a nurse, insisted he get checked out.
Bob regrets that he waited so long to get checked, and by that time his cancer had progressed to stage 3.
He’s now spreading the message that the breast cancer is not just women’s disease, and men should also pay attention to their health and get checked out if they feel something is wrong.
Bob wants to share what he learned with other men:
- Breast cancer CAN happen to men
- If you notice subtle and persistent changes in your health, don’t hesitate to share it with a doctor
Detecting cancer early can be the difference for effective treatment and survival. Learn the 3 steps that can help YOU detect cancer early:
1. Remember What Great Feels Like
You are the expert on your own health
Your awareness of how you feel when you feel great is a tool that you can use to recognize health changes earlier. This is step 1 to earlier cancer detection.
Cancer can reveal itself in different ways to different people. So it’s important to know your normal energy level, sleep patterns, weight, bathroom habits, motor control as well as what your skin looks like.
If your normal health changes and persists, then your doctor needs to know about it. Put it this way, if you don’t know where you started, how can you know how far you have come? If you don’t know how your health has changed, then your doctor won’t know either.
Being aware and benchmarking your health will help you recognize changes that may be signs of cancer.
To determine how you feel when you feel great, consider these questions:
- Your typical energy level – are you a high/low energy person?
- Sleep patterns – do you need 4, 6, 8 hours or more of sleep to feel rested? Do you sleep through the night?
- Weight – we all go through periods of weight gain and loss from time to time, but what’s your average?
- Motor control and reflexes – are you always steady on your feet? (this is not about athletic ability)
- Bowel habits – how ‘regular’ are you?
- Skin – do you have a lot of freckles or moles? Have they changed over time? Do they itch?
- Lump or bumps – do you have any on your body? Were they always there? Have they changed or grown?
By doing regular self-exams you are getting to know what is normal for you so that you notice changes in your health. These self-exams will help you ‘know your normal’:
If you think your health may be changing, but you’re not sure, use these tips to help figure it out:
- Use your phone to take pictures, make notes or use your calendar app to log how you feel each day.
- Track your energy levels, pain levels, a possible injury date in a journal or diary.
- If you are worried about a mole or skin change, take a picture of the spot with a pencil tip or ruler next to it, this will give its size and shape a point of reference. Record the date and then use it as basis of comparison a few weeks later – has it changed in any way?
Remember you can build awareness of your normal health by:
- Having regular physicals with your doctor to benchmark your health
- Doing regular self-exams
- Taking a moment in the morning or at night and think, ‘how do I feel?’
Now that you know how ‘great’ feels for you, use the 2-week rule.
2. Use the 2-Week Rule
When it comes to your health, 2 weeks is important. The 2-week rule is 15-40 Connection’s step 2 to earlier cancer detection.
Cancer often reveals itself as subtle and persistent health changes that don’t interfere with your daily routine.
You may think “it’s no big deal, I’m not going to overreact” or “it can’t be anything serious.” Yet, being able to spot the early warning signs of cancer, can dramatically increase your chance of survival. Know when to call your doctor by using the 2-week rule:
If you notice a subtle change in your normal health that lasts 2 weeks or more, it’s time to call your doctor and learn what is causing the change.
Imagine you have a cold. You are likely experiencing many subtle health changes including aches, fever and fatigue. But generally you should start to feel better after a few days or even a week. If you don’t start to feel better after 2 weeks, it’s time to see a doctor.
Or imagine you have pain or swelling due to a sports injury. If your injury is not improving after 2 weeks, find out why.
If your normal health changes and doesn’t improve after 2 weeks, it’s important to see your doctor.
Your best chance at early cancer detection is you!
Now that you have used the 2-week rule, make sure you are ready with all the details of your health changes to share with a doctor.
3. Share with a Doctor
Your best chance is YOU!
You are the expert on YOU! You know your body best and communicating what you know about your health changes to your doctor is Step 3 to earlier cancer detection.
If a health change persists for 2 weeks, make an appointment and go see your doctor. Taking action can lead to an earlier diagnosis and more effective treatment. Advocate for yourself by sharing what you know, and don’t let embarrassment or fear stop you from sharing all of your concerns with your doctor.
Be honest about all of your health changes. The more you share, the clearer picture your doctor can get on what is going on with your health.
It can help if you make a list of all the health changes or items you want to discuss. This will prepare you and be sure you don’t miss any detail (big or small).
When you visit your doctor, if he or she dismisses your concerns with comments like:
- "You're too young."
- "You're just over-training/working out too hard."
- "It's all in your head."
…and your instincts tell you this is not true, tell your doctor why you don’t agree and ask for help in determining the reason for your health change. If your concerns are still not taken seriously, you should get a second opinion.
Often you will get a diagnosis and treatment plan but be sure to ask your doctor how long it should take before you start to feel better. If that time passes and you don’t feel better, call you doctor and ask what you should do next. This will continue to help the doctor understand your health changes and what they might be missing. Be an advocate for you and your health. This might be the difference that helps you survive cancer.