A journalist friend of mine covered the 2013 January Brisbane floods. She was working for a radio station and just prior to Christmas half the staff at the station resigned. A couple went travelling overseas, one transferred interstate and two were poached by other radio stations. She remembers asking the boss if he was going to put on more reporters before Christmas. His response was, “We’ll be right. Nothing ever happens over January.” The rest, as they say, is history – the city filled up with water. Straight after the Brisbane floods, ex-tropical cyclone Oswald battered northern Queensland. The depleted crew of journalists left at the radio station found themselves working night and day, covering two natural disasters. My friend was doing rolling shifts, meaning sometimes she only got a break of 12 hours between clocking on and off. For example, she’d work from 10pm to 6am and then return to the radio station for the 6pm to 2am shift. After about a month of nonstop work my friend started to cough. In fact, everyone in the radio station was coughing. She also noticed that small cuts and scratches on her hands were taking forever to heal. Remember, my friend was frequently out in the flood waters talking to people who had lost all their possessions in the floods.
My friend’s father was a diabetic and she became convinced that she too had developed diabetes. Slow healing is a symptom of diabetes. Eventually she went to her doctor who did a series of blood tests. The results came back within a week. My friend had glandular fever – hence the coughing – she also had cytomegalovirus (related to chicken pox) which can cause tiredness and a sore throat. She concluded that the whole office was probably infected as they shared her symptoms and never stopped coughing! My friend was at least relieved to find she didn’t have diabetes. I think she should have gone to the doctor much earlier. She disagrees and says she would have kept working regardless. She had to keep providing the public with information on the floods. I think if she’d listened to her body and seen the doctor earlier, then she wouldn’t have spent time worrying that she was a diabetic!
Are you good at listening to your body?
Do you have good body self-awareness? I can tell you another unusual story about someone with poor body self-awareness. I knew a woman who got to six months pregnant before she realised she was having a baby. Her friends and family doubted her when she said she didn’t realise her condition. I never doubted her. Fifteen years later this woman went to the doctor’s suffering pains, extreme tiredness and general ill health. She was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer and died within three weeks. Her family and daughter were of course broken hearted. I think this woman had an extremely high pain threshold and very limited body self-awareness.
What are the body signs we should not ignore?
In this blog and my next I want to look at the signs from our bodies we should pay attention to. I do not want to cause you alarm, I just want you to be cautious and body-aware. As they say, “it’s better to be safe than sorry”. For this blog I’m going to begin with the Big C. In the next blog I’ll look at symptoms for a raft of other diseases.
Cancer is a group of diseases and I’m sorry to say that some cancers have no symptoms. The signs really depend on what cancer you have and how advanced it is. If the cancer has spread, signs do appear all over the body.
If you lose around 5kg without even trying you need to head off to the GP for a check-up. It may be that you are stressed or just super busy and you’re forgetting to eat. However, cancers of the pancreas, stomach and oesophagus can cause unexplained weight loss.
An elevated temperature is very common in cancer. Almost all people with cancer will have a high temperature at times, especially if the cancer is impacting on their immune system. High temperatures are symptoms of blood cancers including leukaemia and lymphoma.
The woman I wrote about who died just three weeks after being diagnosed with breast cancer was always tired. It was an absolute struggle for her to get out socially. Often her friends invited her to coffee dates or the movies and she’d decline and go home to sleep. If you suffer from fatigue that never lifts, please go for a check-up.
Pain can be an early warning sign of testicular and bone cancer. Ongoing headaches can indicate brain tumours, while back pain can alert you to colon, rectum and ovary cancer. I’m not telling you to panic, but to take care and listen to your body. Unfortunately pain often indicates the cancer has spread.
In Australia, skin cancer is common and we know to keep an eye out for changes to moles and any other changes to normal skin, including flaky skin. Any wart, mole, or freckle that changes colour, size, or shape, or that loses its sharp border should be seen by a doctor straight away.
Skin cancers can look like sores that refuse to heal. A long-lasting ulcer in the mouth could be an oral cancer. Sores on the genitals can also be a sign of a cancer.
Changes in toileting habits
Constipation, diarrhoea and other changes can indicate colon cancer. Pain when weeing, blood in the wee, or changes in how much urine you pass can be a sign of bladder or prostate cancer. Again be safe, not sorry and see your GP.
I don’t need to tell you that any unusual bleeding or discharge is not a good thing. Coughing up blood can indicate lung cancer, while blood in feces can be a symptom of colon cancer. Abnormal vaginal bleeding can be a symptom of cancer of the cervix or lining of the uterus. Bladder or kidney cancer can manifest as blood in your urine.
Lumps and bumps
Some cancers appear as lumps under or in the skin. I’m talking breast and testicle cancers. Lumps or thickening of the skin can be both early and late signs of cancer. Don’t panic, there might be an innocent explanation, but don’t delay either. Go to your doctor and get it sorted.
Indigestion or difficulty swallowing could indicate cancer of the oesophagus, stomach or pharynx.
Hoarseness or persistent coughs
Hoarseness can be a sign of cancers of the voice box or thyroid gland. Lung cancer can first appear as a persistent cough or you might have glandular fever like my friend or just a pesky cough.
Like most symptoms I’ve run through, they are usually caused by something other than cancer, but I just want you to be overly cautious rather than discover you have an advanced illness. It’s always better to nip these things in the bud!
ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.