Cancer survivors, or loved ones of cancer victims, what were the first signs there was something wrong?

If you’re comfortable sharing, what was the “Oh shit, better get this checked out” moment?

My brother was an over-the-road truck driver. He had a nagging pain in his right knee.

Driving all over the USA it can be hard to make scheduled doctor’s appointments. So he delayed. Eventually saw his primary care doctor on a trip back home. Doc figured it was from overuse from driving so much and gave the usual recommendations to rest, ice, compress, and elevate the leg as much as possible.

Six more weeks went by with no improvement before my brother made it back to the doctor. Doc ordered and x-ray. And it was an Oh Shit! result. Osteosarcoma. Bone cancer.

Many rounds of chemo, an amputation, and an unsuccessful surgery to try to cut metastases out of his lungs later my brother passed away, about 4 years after diagnosis.

For me, there wasn’t one. I had ambiguous findings on a routine mammogram. I felt fine, had no lumps or skin issues.

Comedian Tig Notaro found a lump on each side, so she figured that she could ignore anything symmetrical. She was wrong.

Why do you ask?

My, “Oh, shit” moment was when I felt a lump–a large, immobile lump–in my breast. It had probably been there for quite awhile because it was so far north, it was off the breast proper, which is why I didn’t find it during monthly breast exams. Turns out breast tissue goes way the frick up there. Went in for a diagnostic mammogram. The tech was polite but cool until she was leaving the room, when she patted my shoulder and said sympathetically, “God bless you.” Oh, shit moment number two.

My brother felt ill and went to the VA. After much hemming and hawing he was diagnosed with prostate cancer at about 59. Still felt bad, the VA was in no hurry to treat. Kept going back until they discovered the prostate cancer was kidney cancer. Had the kidney removed, got a bad post-op infection. Died a couple years later in his sleep, no autopsy done. Consensus was a heart attack.

My sister had a mammogram that turned out badly. Same year, she had her thyroid removed because it was so large she was having trouble swallowing. Endocrinologist was reluctant to do the surgery - “I guarantee it isn’t cancerous!”. It was.

Other sister had a lump on her leg. Doctor said, “oh, it’s just a fatty tumor.” Until it turned out to be rhabdomyosarcoma. She had her leg amputated.“Oh, we took it above the knee to make sure we got it all.” Her month-out followup visit showed metastasizes to her lung.

My mother had me 3 weeks early and a hysterectomy for uterine cancer once I was born. She also had breast cancer - a rare lump that was poking out, rather than internal.

My father was a non-smoker who had lung cancer. He had a cough, which killed him.


I was 51 (2013), got motivated to get in shape. Lost 55 pounds and exercised a bunch and felt marvelous. I decided it was a good idea to get a routine physical, which I hadn’t done in years, see if there was anything else to work on like cholesterol or whatever.

Blood work came back, my GP sent me across town to a urologist who saw me the same day, which really gets your attention. I sat in the waiting room, he finally came out, said “How are you?” I said, “You tell me, how am I?” He says, “I think you have cancer.”

It took four years of biopsies to finally get a prostate cancer diagnosis. I had surgery in early 2018, now two years later my bloodwork is good but I get to bite my nails the rest of my life. The cancer has about a 50/50 chance to come back after 10 years. As I understand it, a recurrence can only be “managed”, not cured. Recurrence would be in my bones, lungs, brain.

My wife was extremely exhausted all the time. She was losing weight, but she had weight to lose, so we didn’t think twice. She’s not a communicator, so when the exhaustion and just all around feeling awful finally became too much for her, she agreed to go for a Colonoscopy. She had a tumor that had been growing at least 5 years. It ended up spreading to her lungs. Now numerous surgeries, over 100 rounds of chemotherapy, and targeted high dose radiation later, she is cancer free since February. She is one of those people in the medical field that never wants to see a doctor.

PlantLady - welcome to the Straight Dope! I’m glad your wife has reached a fantastic milestone and wish you both well.

Same thing happened to me, just over 3 years ago.

My brother had a sudden seizure around his 56th birthday. He went immediately to a neurologist who diagnosed a brain tumor, glioblastoma multiforme. Immediate surgery followed by chemo. He died about 15 months after the seizure.

Sorry for your loss.

I didnt know recurrence worked
Dad had prostate cancer 5 or more years ago and “beat” it. A couple months ago he went to see the doc becuase his kidneys were hurting him while trying to sleep. They found it in his spine, ribs, lungs and liver. He’s home hospice now and will be lucky to finish the year.

Oh god, I’m so sorry K2500. Sending positive energy to your Dad, he’s in a tough place as are you :frowning:

My FIL (my gf’s dad) bit his cheek while eating. There was a little blood. We happened to visit a day or two later and he mentioned to me that his cheek was still bleeding a bit. I asked him if he had any unexplained bruises, and he did.

I told him that what he was experiencing wasn’t normal; his blood wasn’t clotting as it should. He saw his PCP who sent him to the ER for bloodwork. Within 24 hours he had a leukemia diagnosis. He died 18 months later.

When I was 39 I had a bump on my gum. Went to a dentist who sent me to a periodontist, who sent me to an oral surgeon who thought it was a cyst. Biopsy came back non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Which is odd because it is a blood cancer but was in the bone of my upper jaw. Chemo/radiation and have had no recurrence in 15 years.

My son was a healthy, fit 27 year old. Played hockey and soccer since he was 5. One day he called me at work and said he and his girlfriend were going to the ER because he was having sharp abdominal pains and thought his appendix had burst. I met them at the hospital, he had a CT scan, they brought him back in and we sat there and waited for the results. We talked and laughed about mundane things. A doctor came in and said he was glad that my son had come in. My son said - I bet my appendix is really messed up. The doctor closed the door and said that there was a large mass in his abdomen. In that second it felt like my ears and eyes weren’t working. My son started crying. He was scheduled for a biopsy the next day. Then we waited and waited. It happened to be the weekend of The 4th of July so we had an extra day to wait. We kept telling ourselves that we don’t know for sure that it’s cancer, it could be something else. We went to the clinic for the results - my son, his GF, my husband (his dad) and I. The plan was that I was going to go into the room with him. They called his name and he ran in by himself. So we all waited in silence. After a while a nurse came out and called my name. She said - he wants you to be with him. I went in, he was sitting by himself (the doc had left the room for a minute). He said - mom, I have cancer. He was sitting there in shock and kept saying - I can’t believe this. How can it be? It was a rare cancer, only about 200 cases in the country, usually found in young males. Desmoplastic Round Cell Soft Tissue Sarcoma - He was already at Stage IV. They don’t know what causes it. It had probably been growing for a very long time. After reading about it we started thinking about signs but those signs were common complaints that never would have alarmed anyone, including his regular doctor. He was constipated a lot and he had back pain. What athlete doesn’t have back pain? When you’re constipated you take some OTC meds and everything is ok. There are no early warning signs with this cancer so the tumors grow and grow until they start causing problems.

It was a horrible roller coaster ride for 2-1/2 years. He died at the age of 30.

Thank you. I didn’t mention that he died in 1999.

Meantime, best wishes for your cancer.

I spoke just yesterday to a friend who has a blocked bile duct (symptoms: shit colored urine, white stools). A biopsy was inconclusive. They will operate in two weeks, insert a stent, and carry out a definitive biopsy.

When she was a senior in high school, a classmate of DesertWife’s younger daughter had an ache in her forearm with no sign of bruising. After a week with no relief, they went to a doctor. Two days later it was diagnosed as bone cancer and had already metastasized. Three months later she was dead.

My father woke up one morning, and his skin had turned bright yellow. They did surgery to find out what was blocking his common bile duct. They were hoping it would be a gallstone. It was pancreatic cancer. At his age, treatment was just as likely to kill him as the cancer. A couple of months later, he was gone.

I passed the 50-year mark, so my doctor prescribed a colonoscopy. There was a lump in there larger than a golf ball. They initially tried to get it out with another colonoscopy, but they eventually had to do surgery to remove it, along with half of my colon, just to make sure it hadn’t spread.

[John Astin] But I’m feeling much better now. [/John Astin]

I’m so sorry.

My mom was just diagnosed with throat cancer last week. She thought she had strep, and her GP treated it as such but it never went away. So she saw an ENT who decided to take a biopsy just in case. We’re hoping she’ll have surgery next week.