The Final Symptom

I think the story of how someone finds out they have cancer is a crucial one.  Life literally hangs on this thread of detection.  Looking back, the symptoms that led me to my diagnoses are painfully obvious, but that was not the case while I was experiencing them.  That’s the thing about hindsight.

The Final Symptom

The emergency room doctor stood at my bed side. “Your blood count numbers are extremely low.  Your red cells, white cells, platelets… all are low and we’re not sure why. You’ll need to stay so we can run some tests.”

As she spoke, her eyes darted to the bruises on my hands, and I saw a look of concern.  In that instant I knew.  I’d seen this all before with my mother’s leukemia years ago.  Symptoms, once viewed in an isolated manner and explained away, suddenly melted together to form a deadly diagnosis in my mind.

I looked back at the past few months and all the signs came rushing forward.  I thought about the times I berated myself for being out of shape.  Walking from the bedroom to the kitchen included a stop to lean on the counter and catch my breath as my heart raced.  For weeks I’d opted to sit on my bed and work from my laptop, rather than climb the stairs to my second floor home office.  I’d hiked the Grand Canyon a few years earlier, yet now my twelve carpeted steps seemed insurmountable.  I researched nutrition and switched to a plant based diet, knowing my habit of filling up on meat and ignoring fruits and vegetables probably wasn’t helping.  Since I had a history of anemia, I started taking iron pills and a multi-vitamin.

There were other signs too, like the tiny cut on my finger that took far too long to heal.  And the day I noticed how pale and yellow my skin looked, and made a mental note to spend more time outside.  While bathing, I discovered a large, unexplained bruise on my leg and wondered when I had bumped myself.  In hindsight, as a whole, these symptoms screamed, “You’re sick!  Get help!”  But, I’d always been healthy, and it never occurred to me that anything was seriously wrong.

The final symptom, came on a Sunday.  A month prior, I had suffered through a very heavy menstrual cycle and I remembered my older sister telling me it was normal and she had gone through this as she approached menopause.  Now, four weeks later, it was that time again, and I was losing too much blood.

I texted my sister, “Please call me, I’m getting scared.  This can’t be normal.”

I needed her to explain once more what the women in my family went through at this time in life.  As I waited for her call, the realization that I should go to urgent care began to sink in and I headed for the bathroom to shower.

The hot water washed away any energy I had left and as I stepped out my legs began to buckle.  Before collapsing I caught a glimpse of the pale body, white lips and sunken eyes, looking back at me from the mirror.  For a fraction of a second, time stood still, and I truly saw myself.  I saw how sick and scared I was, and the image burned itself into my memory.

In the coming weeks, I’d think back on that moment often, as it was the moment that saved my life.  It was the symptom that would not, could not, be ignored.


22 thoughts on “The Final Symptom

  1. Pat Marlatt

    Linda and my thoughts are with you . Linda and I are two old ladies and we have dealt with two of our kids having cancer . It sucks some times but you can get through this . You are strong and keep focusing ahead . Your trailer is there waiting, and the journeys you have planned are also waiting . We send you our hugs . Pat and Linda


    1. Hi Pat and Linda. Thanks so much for commenting. I’m sorry to hear your children have dealt with cancer too. It seems so much more prevalent than it was years ago. I’m glad your following my journey and I appreciate the kind words and hugs!!


  2. Harvey Stanbrough

    Beautifully and frightfully written, Sara. Thank you. I hope this might help some others catch the signs of trouble early. You are such a beautiful, giving person. Know you have love coming your way from every direction at one time.


  3. Linda Artley

    Dearest Sara, This was so beautifully written. It goes to the raw feelings probably more than one of us has experienced when this and the other things start going wrong. I ignored as well and it very well could have been something much worse but turns out I got the A instead of the C….Asthma! But with all the coughing and choking day and night I did get worried. I did not want to talk of my trivial condition other than to say that it was when you got your diagnosis that I decided to not accept the first diagnosis but to search further to get not the answer I wanted but an honest and true answer. Guesses are not good enough. So, I’m fine and you have already touched my life and I thank you for that. I know with your writings that you will most certainly touch others in an even bigger way. Love you, beautiful lady. ((((((((HUGS))))))))))


    1. Linda, your post is so important. I think we all explain away symptoms from time to time because they often resolve themselves. I’m glad you looked a little deeper just to be sure, and I’m glad it turned out to be asthma and not cancer. You’re such a dear friend! Love you!


  4. Sarah Fitzgerald Jones

    Oh my Sara, We talked about the vegan diet thing etc… Im so glad you sought help when you did. You are one amazing lady and I love you tons ❤ x x x


  5. Kristin

    The way you tell your story just burrows right into my guts. I can picture everything you write so clearly that I just ache when I read it. I hate to read the next blog, but I need to know how you’re doing. Dang it. You realize this will be a novel some day, right? 😉


  6. Pat (Patricia) Reynolds

    Thank you Sara for sharing your life changing experience with us. You are indeed a Very Special Lady and I know you have the strength to beat this insidious disease. I agree nobody should ignore any changes or symptoms in their bodies, thank goodness I didnt. You are indeed a very gifted lady and I for one am so glad you came into my life, I have so many new friends around the world. I am sending you all the Love, Prayers and Hugs I can muster for you. Love you Beautiful Lady. XXXXXX 🙂 ❤ ❤


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