If you're anything like me, when you notice something different about your body - a lump, a pain, a reaction - the first thing you do is pick up your phone and tap your symptoms into the Google search bar. There's a pause, a few seconds later wise old Dr Google looks down through his half-moon specs and responds with a myriad of possible causes and diagnoses. At this point you frantically skim-read the first page of results and are either:
a. reassured that it's just a minor complaint, or
b. panicking that death is imminent, or at the very least it's a depressingly debilitating or life-limiting illness.
What often happens next is that the common sense part of your brain shouts down the neurotic one, gives it a sharp slap round the face to calm it down, then you push it to the back of your mind and go about your day.
If the symptoms persist, Common Sense reluctantly listens to Neurotic Hypochondriac's frantic pleas until he eventually gives in with a sigh and an eyeball roll and books a doctor's appointment, just to silence the inner conflict that's preventing you from living in peace. Common Sense tells Neurotic Hypo he's overreacting, but he simply shrugs in response and gives a wry smile, knowing he's won the battle - this time at least.
But then life takes over - work is busy, home life hectic, and the doctor's appointment is forgotten. Common Sense says "the symptoms have subsided, it's fine." Hypo is unsettled, but sulks and doesn't push it. Time passes. The symptoms reappear. Intuition decides she needs to step in. She gives Hypo a nudge, who reminds Common Sense the appointment is outstanding, and another appointment is made... and cancelled. Something came up.
Eventually, you get to the appointment. By then, you've got used to the symptoms. Common Sense plays them down in the intimidating silence of the doctor's office - you're feeling ok today and besides, you have an important meeting to get to. "This is important too!" shrieks Hypochondriac, panic rising, but he's said this before and it turned out to be nothing, so Common Sense puts his hand over his mouth and drags him kicking and screaming from the surgery. Intuition is unsettled by this performance, but despite her concerns she silently retreats.
Some months later, something remarkable happens: all the inner voices agree. The usually dominant and pragmatic Common Sense finally admits he's been bullish and listens intently to softly-spoken Intuition; both agree Neurotic Hypochondriac's voice no longer sounds crazy but actually quite feasible, and all three drive you back to the doctor. He also concurs this time and you're promptly referred to a specialist. But instead of feeling a sense of happiness, relief and calm that everyone is aligned and in agreement for once, you feel something else entirely.
Because it's cancer.
Early diagnosis is key. For symptoms of cancer, click here.
This article first appeared on my blog, Life: A Bird's Eye View.