What does cancer feel like?


The reason why I feel this is a subjective topic for me because it’s really hard to express exactly what cancer feels like and explain it to someone that may not understand.

What does Cancer feel like?

I’m going to start by telling part of my story. The hindsight part of what I remember 10 or 11 months before I was diagnosed. Leading up to my diagnosis date. Then I’m going to break it down into two different aspects.

First, for someone that might be a new patient trying to get a little bit of information and maybe this discussion is something that might help someone understand information on what might be going on with them.

And second, from a concerned person or caregiver standpoint, giving a little bit more insight and help wrap their head around what it is that their friend or their family member might be going through.

About 11 months before I was diagnosed

I came back from vacation in Florida and I went up to a little ski resort called Jackson Hole in Wyoming. The trip plan was to go snowboarding with a friend of mine. And we drove up and checked in at a local motel. We walked into town and went to the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. If you’ve been up there, you know what that is. It’s just a big o’l country western bar that is a staple of Jackson, Wyoming. And we proceed to have a beer and a shot of whiskey.

And I remember receiving the beer, taking a sip and thinking, this is really, really not good. This beer just didn’t taste right. I was confused because this did not really make any sense to me. Thinking to myself, this is really horrible. The king of beers is known for their born on date and their freshness of the beer and how it’s brewed. So I looked at it, the date was all good and I asked my buddy Neil, does your beer taste okay to you? And he’s like, yeah, let’s tastes fine to me. So I asked the bartender for another one. I ended up trying that one and it too just did not taste good.

That’s what I remember…

Feeling the change of what was happening in my body. But not knowing anything at the time.

That’s when I noticed things starting tasting differently. Everything became a lot blander. Nothing really was tasting good to me. At this point, I was aware of something but thought it was really weird and I didn’t have a clue on why it started. This continued through the summer and up to my diagnosis time. I lost a lot of weight but attributed it to the physical activity that I was doing. My work consisted of a lot of tree and logging because, at the time, the pine beetle was really causing a lot of destruction around the Summit County area. During 2009 it was a really hard time with the economy during the recession. And we were doing anything and everything we could to make a living at that point.

I was working really hard

And was incredibly busy, but I was losing weight. For the most part, feeling pretty good because I was kind of overweight, to begin with. Enough to realize that my knees weren’t hurting. I feel like if I kept going down that road and I didn’t go through cancer, there could have been some onset diabetes happening.

So in some sense, everything that was happening was good because I was losing weight. During this time, I was having these night sweats that were immense. I mean I was soaking my bed. It was tough to believe. Having to wash the sheets every day. I remember laying on the couch, just and feeling my heart rate start to skyrocket.

It would go up to one hundred and thirty just by laying there. I was becoming more concerned.

At this point, I knew something was going on. Fortunately, I had insurance. I went in for blood work sometime in July. It came back all pretty normal except for my white blood cell counts were high. I had no clue what that meant. But we decided to do another set of blood tests. I wasn’t in any hurry or anything like that. About a month later, the results came back. They showed an even higher increase in my white blood cell count. This is starting to peek the interest with my primary care doctor and the group of Physicians working here in Summit County. We decided to do one more blood tests. I got the results back the day that I went to the emergency room. This is when I started down the path to being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s.

And that’s what lead up to me going into the hospital.

During the time between all the tests, I was becoming really itchy. There was a point where I was at my fiance’s house and I just could not stop itching my legs and arms. I mean it was intense. Like it was really, really Itchy. It felt so good to scratch and I didn’t want to stop because it was that itchy. I have some scars on both sides of my elbows from where I just would itch until it bleeds. It scarred up over time because it just wouldn’t stop. Between the itching, the blood cell counts, food tasting bad, the weight loss. That was really the start of me getting to that point of figuring out what was going on with me.

I wasn’t feeling 100% healthy. And that’s what led me down the path. These were the original symptoms that I was dealing with as a pre-diagnosed cancer patient.

Once I was diagnosed is when all the relief came. Finally figured out what was going on. Understanding why things weren’t tasting good. Understanding the night sweats, itching and everything else. I didn’t feel horrible like I was dealing with the flu. I just wasn’t feeling good, an overall not feeling good. It was low grade. Being constantly tired, but just kind of making life happen.

As I look back…

I think my Hodgkin’s was attributed to stress and some poor lifestyle choices.

I want to share the perspective of a cancer patient or a possible new cancer patient. What I want you to know is it’s important to start paying attention to some of the signs. Are you are feeling tired? Are you are itching, and having really bad night sweats? Is the food your eating tasting alright right? Do you have hard bumps in your neck or your armpit? Even possibly in your groin.

These are signs that you might be having an immune system issue, which is possibly leading to lymphoma.

Keep an eye on these symptoms. If you’re not feeling good, if things aren’t, aren’t tasting right… My first signs were the taste of food and drinks. Feeling like they were not tasting as they should.

Looking back, that’s what helped me figure out what was going on.

For a caregiver or a concerned family member…

Here are a few signs that this is something you can do to help your friend. You can start by asking questions like if food and drink are tasting different.

Here’s a couple more questions you can ask…

  • Have you been feeling tired and lethargic?
  • Are you having a hard time concentrating?
  • Are you having night sweats?
  • Do you feel itchy?

These are some of the symptoms you’re asking about because as a concerned person, that’s what you do.

These are ways that you can understand what cancer can feel like, not only for yourself but for a person and a possible patient also. Please keep in mind that this is generalized and this is based on my own experience.

I want you to understand

This is what cancer can feel like. It’s just a lot of small health things that might be nagging in the back of your head and you might be feeling at the time. And just curious why these things are happening. If the symptoms are happening slowly or are getting a little bit worse each day and each week, each month, then it all starts to make sense to take it to the next level.

You begin this by figuring out why these things are happening. That’s when you start really getting involved with your doctor. The doctor will hopefully help guide you into the next steps that need to be taken. That could be blood work, a CT scan, and even some biopsies to help figure out what is going on.

About the Author

Todd Franzen is a Stage 4 Lymphoma Survivor. Living in Breckenridge Colorado

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