Cancer Survivors Are Sharing Their First Cancer Symptoms, And As A Hypochondriac, I Am Calling My PCP Immediately

Cancer Survivors Are Sharing Their First Cancer Symptoms, And As A Hypochondriac, I Am Calling My PCP Immediately

Reddit user Wise_Organization_78 recently asked, "Cancer Survivors of Reddit, what was the symptom that convinced you to see the doctor?" As a hypochondriac, you better bet I read every response. Here are some of the little-known symptoms people had.

1."Worked at a summer camp in college, and a 10-year-old asked me, 'Why yo neck so big.' When I got home for the summer, I told my nurse mother the story, and she actually agreed my Adam's apple looked enlarged. Turns out it was a tumor."


Man in green shirt touching his throat, looks uncomfortable, possibly indicating sore throat or discomfort
Catherine Falls Commercial / Getty Images

2."My speaking voice dropped over an octave over a period of a few months. My ear hurt all the time. No matter what I drank, I constantly felt like there was something stuck in my throat. I was eating Benadryl every few hours, convinced it was allergies. Eventually, I was so hoarse that I could hardly do my job. It turned out to be vocal cord cancer. Laryngeal. I'm now two years cancer-free! I did come out with a very 1940s-Hollywood-leading-lady-voice-meets-Janice-Joplin. I actually kind of like it. And I very much like being alive."


3."My dad is one of those unhinged people who does ultra marathons. During a 100-mile race, he sent a picture of his poop to my mom (to piss her off). He thought it looked odd because of all those gels/gooey things you eat during races. My mom showed me. We basically had to hold a gun to his head to force him to get a colonoscopy. It was stage 4 colon cancer — the freak beat it. This was a decade ago."


4."None. I went in for a hernia operation. When I woke up, there were a bunch of doctors standing around me, looking concerned. They said there was a complication. When they went in, they noticed my appendix was about to explode, so they took that out instead. I thought that was a good idea and asked when they could fix the hernia. They looked at each other and said the appendix looked a little weird, so they sent it to the lab and they'd get back to me. Turns out it was appendix cancer."


5."My Britney Spaniel started digging into my breast and sniffing aggressively. She was right."


Dog lying on a purple mat with people standing nearby
John Moore / Getty Images

6."I was told I had an ovarian cyst at 32. My doctor said he would do a needle aspiration to shrink it. Then he later said — after that procedure — that it was the type always to come back, so he did surgery to remove the cyst. A few months later, he said the cyst was back, and I needed to have the ovary removed, so he did that surgery. Each time, I was told it was not cancerous."

A short while later, the town I lived in had a news story featuring a new doctor the hospital had hired, a gynecologist. My dad insisted I see him. I felt it was ridiculous since I had been told three times it was not cancer, but he was so worked up and worried that I set an appointment. I was surprisingly told to come that week on a Friday. ... He had me come inside his office and told me he would be performing a total hysterectomy on Monday morning and then collect samples from my abdomen. ... I was dumbfounded and asked him what he was talking about as I knew I didn't have cancer. He said, 'Oh no, you do for sure. I have wondered where you have been for months. I told your doctor after I read the slide in the hospital that you had a very rare form of ovarian cancer, and because he did a needle aspiration, he may have allowed cancer cells to escape.' I think my original doctor messed up and kept trying to correct the problem without telling me he messed up. I am now 61 and have been cancer-free for almost 30 years."


7."One afternoon, I finished peeing, and afterward, looking down, I noticed the water had a pink tint. No pain, nothing. I went to a local urologist who set up some simple tests. My left kidney was completely eaten up with cancer. Except for that pink water, there were no other symptoms. I had surgery and have had no more problems."


8."I was in bed and reached across my body for the covers. As my arm slid over my right breast, I felt a lump but then told myself it was cold, so I was just feeling my nipple. The next night, the same thing happened, so I spent a few minutes exploring it. I had just had a clean mammogram four months prior. I made an appointment with my primary care doctor to have it checked. She asked where I felt the lump, and I told her to check it out and tell me where it was. She found the same lump. A diagnostic mammogram saw nothing. Ultrasound found it, and they took a biopsy. That was just over six years ago. I had a lumpectomy and radiation. My oncologist did an Oncotype test and determined I didn’t need chemo. Ngl, I teared up when he told me that. I try to encourage everyone I know, even men, that it's important to do self-exams. You need to know how your breasts feel so you can notice any changes. Mammograms may not catch everything."


9."No symptoms. It was my first mammogram. When I got home after they confirmed it, I still couldn't feel the lump; it was too deep. Women, go for mammograms."


A healthcare worker assists a patient with a mammogram
Helen King / Getty Images

10."When I was six, I had cold/flu symptoms. Mom took me to the doctor, and they said that's what it was. My mom convinced them to do blood work because she felt it was something else. It ended up being leukemia, and we were lucky to have caught it early. Still alive over 35 years later."


11."I was putting on my bra one day and felt a lump the size of a golf ball. I freaked out and went to the ER. They did an ultrasound and said it was nothing but would schedule another ultrasound in two days. I did that one, and they said it was nothing. A couple of days later, my doctor called me because she saw I had them done. She didn't trust the results and sent me to a breast assessment center. They did a mammogram and said that they would schedule a biopsy. They did the biopsy a week later. It was cancer. Within a month, it was the size of a softball and in my lymph nodes. Aggressive chemo, a double mastectomy, and a year's worth of maintenance chemo later, I'm good. February 2, I was six years cancer-free."


12."I had a bit of pain in my nuts I was ignoring, and then my friend's golden retriever jumped up to greet me and hit me right in the sweet spot. That hurt more than it should have, and I went to the doctor that week. He sent me for an ultrasound, and there's nothing like having two women collaborate to ultrasound one's testicles. Doc removed the offending nut, and since it was cancer, I had four weeks of abdominal radiation. All cured 28 years ago."


13."I was 15. I noticed an article about how to spot skin cancer in Seventeen magazine, and one of the example photos resembled a beauty mark on my right shoulder. I brought it up to my mom, who brushed it off and told me I was fine. At the time, my family doctor was someone I had seen often due to other chronic mystery health stuff (which I later figured out in my twenties). We went to him as a follow-up for that chronic issue, and at the end of the appointment, I asked him about the mole. He told me verbatim, 'You are ok, that's nothing to worry about. Your mom is right; go home and put some lotion on it, and you'll be fine.'"

"I was 20, and I began having a weird itch on my shoulder. I thought maybe it was my new clothing detergent because I have sensitive skin, but after a week or two of trial and error, I didn't see any changes. I saw my mole was inflamed (I assumed from the itching) and decided to keep an eye on it. Every day for a week, the shape changed slightly. At first, I thought I was losing it, but I took photos to keep track. On the last day, I stepped out of my shower and looked in the mirror to see blood. It had started to bleed without much reason to. That night I made an appointment with a dermatologist, and within another seven days I was admitted to oncology. It was three weeks before my 21st birthday. Turns out I had stage 4 melanoma. It took the top doctors in my state four years, three surgeries, a two-year-long experimental infusion treatment, regular radioactive PET body scans, and every ounce of hope I had in order to come out on the other side. I'm very lucky to say I am just under six years in remission and counting. Had my doctors caught this earlier, the cancer would not have migrated, and it could have been one surgery to be done. The treatment for removing skin cancer early on is fairly simple and regularly successful.

Listen to your children. Listen to your patients. Listen to your gut. If something doesn't feel right, that is probably because it isn't. Get checked often and wear sunscreen."


A stack of magazines with visible cover featuring a celebrity, on a counter
Chris Weeks / WireImage via Getty Images

14."My little brother was having night sweats — like, soaking his bed, bad — and terrible pain in his pelvic area. The ER kept sending him home for like a month and thought he was a drug chaser due to his age (mid-20s). His blood work was all jacked up, and they still wouldn't take him seriously until his wife (who was a nurse at the hospital) forced the issue, and then they found part of his pelvic bone eaten away due to acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He's now three and a half years post-bone marrow transplant and traveling to Germany soon to meet his life-saving donor later this year."


15."I'm not a survivor myself, but my daughter (age eight) is in the long-term maintenance portion of recovery from leukemia. Leukemia is a blood cancer, so bruising is generally one of the first signs. My daughter started having mosquito bites turn into bruises the size of softballs. So the morning she woke up at four years old with black and blue legs and arms from playing outside on the swing set the night before, we knew we had a problem."


16."I had a giant weird bruise that I had no memory of getting. It didn't convince me, but it convinced my roommate, who bullied me into going to the doctor. She probably saved my life."

"Since this is getting a lot of visibility, I will use it to raise awareness about another common symptom of either leukemia or other blood/platelet problems: Petechia rash. It doesn't itch and doesn't hurt, so I ignored it. It was all over my lower legs and feet. If you see this on your skin, get it checked out."


Close-up of a person's knee showing a large bruise, hands gently surrounding the injured area
Photoboyko / Getty Images

17."I got sick one weekend: fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes in my neck. By Monday, I felt fine. The lymph node on the left side of my neck remained slightly swollen. I didn't think much about it until months later when I had a persistent sore throat. It didn't hurt much, just like when you wake up after snoring all night. You get a drink of water, and the pain goes away. Except it didn't."

"So I went to an ear, nose, and throat specialist, who scoped me and said something was going on there, so he sent me for a scan. Then he sent me for a scan with contrast. Then he sent me for a biopsy, and I learned I had throat cancer.

After a few months of daily radiation treatments, chemo every other week, and one last scan, I was told the throat cancer was in remission. Yay!

But, I was told, something in my lower abdomen bore looking into. A couple of colonoscopies and a biopsy later, and I learned I had colon cancer. The throat cancer hadn't spread — it was just an independent development. The colon cancer was resolved with surgery. No radiation or chemo was needed.

I had several years of clean follow-up testing, and all was well.

... Moral of the story: GET IT CHECKED!!! If the doctor pooh-poohs it, get it checked by a different doctor. Ultimately, what you do is up to you, but if you want to see your children's graduations, walk your little girl down the aisle, and hold your grandchildren in your arms someday...just get it checked."


18."My vanity saved me. I had a lump on my outer left knee that I noticed if my leg turned a certain way. I saw my PCP, who took X-rays, thinking there was bone involvement. He sent me on my way and said that it was nothing unless it hurt me. A few years later, it had grown and was visible at all times. So, I got a new PCP and mentioned it. They again thought it was nothing. It was likely a cyst, they said. It didn't hurt. It didn't impact my walking. But it was ugly to me, and I think my legs are one of my best features. So, I insisted. She humored me and sent me to an orthopedic surgeon. He joked about how he never gets anyone going to him to get pretty legs. I again insisted. He humored me with an MRI. His tune changed when the imaging came back. I was sent to an orthopedic oncologist right away; there was no biopsy before since all tumors just need to be removed. Initially, the primary biopsy during surgery said it was benign."

"They plucked it out. It was a tumor the size of a walnut. The full biopsy showed it was malignant sarcoma. I had to go back for a second surgery to resect the whole area. My oncologist says my vanity saved me and tried to give me the prettiest scar he could!"


19."I had a fever of 102 to 103 for four days straight, extreme exhaustion, and then I started having terrible night sweats. I've already had two heart transplants, so I'm pretty used to toughing it out when I'm sick. I waited for four weeks to go to the doctor. The first doctor couldn't find anything wrong with me and said to take Tylenol for the fever. I had a weird feeling, so I booked an appointment with my old pediatrician, even though I was 19. After five minutes of looking at me, he felt my lymph nodes and down my spine and told me to go immediately to the ER. When I asked him why, he said, 'Just go.' It turned out I had tumors in my lymph nodes, on my heart, and it had spread to my spine. It was stage 4 Hodgkins lymphoma. My pediatrician saved my life."


Character in hospital bed looking at someone off-camera, scene from a TV show or film

20."Weight loss without a reason or without trying. Always get this checked out, please."


"A friend ... suddenly started to drastically lose weight, and he was a big guy. He kept insisting he felt fine, but I guess we nagged him too much, and he finally went to see a doctor. It turned out to be colon cancer. His doctor says they found it just in the nick of time. Another week, and it would have spread."


21."Thyroid for me. I went to my doctor for the first time in years for a completely unrelated issue. The doctor kept staring at me as I talked and then asked me to check my neck. It turned out that bulge in my throat was not my Adam's apple after all."


22."I had extreme fatigue. I'd sleep the whole night only to have roughly an hour's worth of energy in the morning before feeling wiped from doing something as basic as eating breakfast. I had chalked it down to just having a lingering flu since the fatigue, dull body aches, and overall feeling of malaise felt super familiar. Yup, I wasn't expecting cancer at all. ... It was lymphoma, but initial bloodwork didn't pick up anything 'alarming.' A more extensive panel was ordered —something obviously caught the attention of doctors that time, and I also underwent a CAT scan."


Two panels from a film or show with a man expressing he is tired to another person
Apple TV

23."I was getting constipated about every six weeks and was fine between bouts. Then, when I would mow my mom's yard (1.5 hours on the mower), I would get sore below my waist. I kept getting more sore over several months. I kept telling my husband that there was something wrong, but my symptoms were relatively mild, just persistent, so I procrastinated. Finally, I went to the doctor, and the second test she ordered was a colonoscopy. I was 49 and had stage 3 colon cancer. There were never any sharp pains or any questionable bowel movements. Nothing that screamed 'cancer.'"


24."For my wife, persistent UTI-like issues and frequent need to urinate. The doctor played it off as uti, but it continued. My wife pushed back and demanded further diagnosis. A couple of scans later revealed stage 2 colon cancer, which was putting pressure on her bladder. She had surgery within ten days and is going on five years cancer-free."


25."I had nagging abdominal pain like a pulled muscle that persisted for over a month. The doctor mostly ignored me for the first three visits. I had my gallbladder out for gallstones, but the pain persisted. Doctors said it was pleurisy — nothing to worry about. I finally got mad and took myself to the ER and said I had chest pain. The X-ray tech saw a faint shadow and asked the doctor if we could take another look. It turned out to be a baseball-sized tumor (that my chiropractor had said was a knot in a back muscle and had been doing deep tissue massage to treat): Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma. I am eternally grateful to that X-ray tech!"


Person with a nasal cannula, looking emotional in a dimly lit room
20th Century Fox

26."Had blood in my stool. I had to go poop more often. No pain or anything. One time, a lot of blood came out. I went to the ER and got a colonoscopy. Stage 4 colon cancer that had spread to my liver as a 31-year-old."


27."I was making my toilet look like a crime scene. I had just gone through first losing my mom, one year after that, losing my sister (two years older than me), and three days after that, my father. All three went to cancer. I ended up having 30 cm (1 foot) of my lower colon removed, then seven months of chemo. I finished December 27, and so far, so good. I have neuropathy (numbness in my fingers and toes), but it will hopefully go away. Half of my immediate family died within a year because they wouldn't go see a doctor."


28."I had a nagging cough, unexplained weight loss, and fatigue. I made up excuses about what could be causing them, which was a big mistake."


This was me. Kept putting it down to work stress, flu season, busy family life etc, because I kept telling myself it wasn't serious, it doesn't happen to women my age, until the lump appeared, and my skin changed around it.

I was so wrong. It does happen to women under 30, and it was serious.

Thankfully I'm okay now, with the help of the incredible breast care unit at my local hospital, but if I put it off any longer, it would have been a completely different outcome.


Two TV show characters in a hospital room, one lying in bed and the other standing with a concerned expression

29."I had what I thought was a wart/ingrown hair on my leg (right over the shinbone almost midway between knee and ankle). It wasn't growing at all, so I had ignored it for a long time. My wife convinced me to have it removed at this little place that did wart removal. They basically cauterized it off. It grew back about six months later. I figured it was just a persistent wart, but I was busy dealing with some other stuff at the time and figured I'd take care of it later."

"I was out in my workshop one day and accidentally cut it on the edge of something (table, tool, I don't remember what). Over the next few weeks, it started to grow and bubble out like a raspberry. I went to a dermatologist, and they did a biopsy. It turned out it was cutaneous leiomyosarcoma. They had to do an MRI to make sure it was, in fact, cutaneous because the subcutaneous can very aggressively spread if cut.

Fortunately, it was, although it was also sitting in the skin right over the shinbone, which presented an issue for cutting it out since there was barely enough skin to close the wound. I was able to get a great surgeon (a real egotistical jerk, but absolutely one of the best) who was able to do it without any skin grafts.

Also, there was the danger that if it was deeper than they thought (since the MRI could only show so much), they might have to amputate to keep it localized (due to the location). So I went into the surgery, not knowing if I would wake up with both legs or not.

Fortunately, again, everything worked out, and I have been cancer-free for five years now. I also have a really gnarly scar that looks like the stitch on a football."


30."My son (four years old at the time) had some leg pains off and on for a week, and later, he was just laying on the couch, not playing for a couple of days because he was tired. We thought it was odd that he wasn't acting wild like normal, so my wife took him to his pediatrician, and they took blood samples. An hour later, we got a call from the pediatrician, and they told us to pack a bag and go to the ER. We found out he had Leukemia after a lot more bloodwork. Three years later, he finished treatment. Recently, he started having bone pains again, and we found out he had osteomyelitis, but after more scans, they found out he had also relapsed. We're a few days away from his bone marrow transplant. Thankfully, everything has been going well so far."


31."I had a sore on my stomach, and whenever I had sun exposure, it would get red and itchy and then scab. I just thought it was an irritation, so I put it off. Every night I would have this recurring dream with someone telling me to go the doctor and pointing at the spot on my stomach. So, I made an appointment with my doctor and learned I had basal cell skin cancer. I was put on chemo cream that basically ate all of the bad cells away. My skin was like raw hamburger meat for a very long time after that. If it wasn't for that recurring dream, who knows what boat I'd be in today? Stay out of tanning beds — they are toxic and will give you skin cancer. That is a hill I am willing to die on."


32."I had an all-over itch that was unbearable and lasted for weeks. I also felt like I had the flu for the same duration. It was stage four lymphoma. I'm now several years into remission."


Person lifting shirt to show stretch marks on side
Iuliia Burmistrova / Getty Images

33."Unrelated to my cancer, I had a ganglion cyst growing to the size of a boba on my wrist. My mom was so grossed out she made me go to a doctor to get it removed. On the day of the surgery, my doctor had me get a chest X-ray for some reason, and I didn't come back until a long time after. He canceled the surgery and referred me to my oncologist. After my chemo and radiation, it disappeared on its own and hasn't come back. In hindsight, my oncologist noted these were big symptoms that should have prompted me to go to a doctor, but I didn't: I woke up in the middle of the night drenched with sweat, and my shirt looked like I had been standing in the rain. I had extremely painful and itchy eczema on my toes. I had chest pains because the tumor was growing and pushing against my heart."


34."I am 34 and cancer-free. I was diagnosed at age four, 30 years ago, with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. I had it for four years, with two relapses, until age eight, when I had full body radiation and a cord blood transplant. IIRC, I was actually one of the first 100 US patients to receive a cord blood transplant. The cord blood came from my younger brother, who was born a year earlier. My parents saved it, 'just in case.' The procedure was done in Minnesota, even though I live in New Jersey, since at the time, it was only one of two hospitals in the US that provided this service."

"As an undiagnosed 4-year-old, I was chronicly tired all the time and my joints ached. I still have a few specific memories from back then, when I was at a family vacation. My cousins of the same age were running around playing, and I just didn't have it in me. I just sat there watching, feeling fatigued. At a meal later, I just had lie down, and I lay in my chair with my head on my Mom's lap.

Initially, my parents thought I was lazy, but that was short lived. I think my pediatrician immediately knew something was not right and suggested a blood test immediately. IIRC, I think before being seen by anyone the leading thoery was I had mononucleosis.

Pregnant women of Reddit — Please donate your umbilical cord to save a life. It would normally be discarded as medical waste and doesn't cost you anything if you give it up to the public bank. More Information."


35."Irregular bleeding. My doctor ignored THAT. It progressed to pain and more bleeding. He ignored that, too. Then I couldn't pee. He didn't ignore that. It took him over two years to take me seriously. Stage 3C colon cancer. And seriously, fuck that doctor."


36."I had many symptoms I kept telling my doctor about, all of which were 'caused by my weight' according to my male doctor. What made them actually take notice and do the tests was when I started hemorrhaging at work and had to be rushed to the hospital. Go figure — it was uterine cancer, with 12 tumors, stage 3. Doctors don't listen when heavy women talk."


TV show scene with two characters, one holding a mug at a table, posters on wall behind

37.And finally..."One of my many birthmarks seemed to get lighter in color in the middle. Instead of being solid brown, it was like light tan inside. I got it checked out and it turns out I had caught stage 1 skin cancer so it was at the easiest treatment stage — just a rather large excision did the trick."


If you've had cancer, what was the sign or symptom you wish you hadn't ignored? Let us know in the comments!

Submissions have been edited for length/clarity.