By: Fran Drescher
From: NBC News THINK- nbcnews.to/2tCbajo
Most doctors subscribe to the philosophy that, if you hear galloping hooves, don’t look for zebra because it’s probably a horse. But what this means is that medically if you happen to be a “zebra” — as I was — you’re at high risk of slipping through the cracks.
In my case, I had uterine cancer, but typically three out of four women who have uterine cancer are post-menopausal or obese. I was neither, so I slipped through the cracks. I was misdiagnosed for a perimenopausal condition that I didn’t have, and thus I wasn’t given an in-office endometrial biopsy that would have discovered the cancer when I first experienced symptoms. Instead, I was put on four different hormone replacement therapies, the last one of which nearly killed me because it had estrogen in it, which was like taking poison for my particular condition.
It took me two years and eight doctors to get a proper diagnosis.
My case isn’t atypical: Women’s cancers tend to mimic far more benign illnesses at their earliest, more curable “whisper stage.” For instance, women that have ovarian cancer — which is far more aggressive than uterine cancer — are really at risk of misdiagnosis because, at their cancer’s earliest and most curable stage, it looks just like irritable bowel syndrome. And, very often, those women will see and then be misdiagnosed by a gastroenterologist because the symptoms don’t seem gynecological. As a consequence of that, 85 percent of women with ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in the later stages. Of the 59 percent of women who won’t be diagnosed until the cancer has metastasized, over 70 percent of them will die within five years.
By comparison, the 15 percent of women who are diagnosed in the earliest stages of ovarian cancer have a 5-year survival rate of 93 percent.
This is why, through the Cancer Schmancer movement, we teach people that they need to recognize the early warning whispers of the cancer that may affect you and, when you feel like something is not right but it’s still easy to ignore or deny. That is exactly the time to go see a doctor. We try and reprogram people to say, This could be nothing, but it could also be something, so instead of ignoring it because I am too busy dealing with daily life, my family and work, I’m going to check it out so that, if it is something concerning, I can catch it in the whisper state when it is most curable. The whisper stage is the time when it’s easiest for someone to deny that they have something wrong, but discovering cancer at that stage makes it so much more likely that they can stay alive and well for their families.
Barbara Jacoby is an award winning blogger that has contributed her writings to multiple online publications that have touched readers worldwide.