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The Symptom That Made Me Take My Child to the Doctor Before Their Cancer Diagnosis

Editor's Note

This post is not meant to scare but to inform — please see a doctor if you have concerns about your own or your loved one’s symptoms. Early detection of cancer can help improve survival rates.

I cannot imagine a situation when a parent feels more helpless than having our children be sick and be unable to do anything about it. This is especially true when an illness can be life-threatening — like cancer.

I wish we lived in a world untouched by cancer or that we could at least protect our children from it. I have several friends whose kids have had cancer and friends who have lost their children to cancer. It’s not fair.

Some of my friends first took their kids to the doctor because of unexplained bruises, some because their children were suddenly getting extremely fatigued. Some of them feared a cancer diagnosis, but as the teenage daughter of one of my friends said as I sat with them at the hospital, “We thought I was going to get a prescription because I was low in iron. We didn’t expect cancer.”

We reached out to our community and asked parents of kids who have had cancer what symptoms they saw in their kids that led them to take them to the doctor.

It is important to point out, these symptoms do not mean you child will have cancer, too. But it is important to be aware of symptoms, as early diagnosis can make a big difference.

1. “My son, 8 years old at the time, was a little pale and not eating as much as usual. From the start of symptoms to diagnosis was only a couple of weeks. He had a tumor on his large intestine causing pain, which then also started bleeding internally (hence the paleness). We are 18 months off treatment now for Burkitts-like lymphoma.” — Amanda H.

2. “We took [our son] to the ER after he woke up with severe stomach pain. This was after about two weeks of on-and-off fevers, on-and-off vomiting that we had addressed with our pediatrician and seen her twice. Even the ER doctors were pretty certain he had a nasty stomach bug that just wouldn’t go away. Until they did blood work. Within an hour he was diagnosed with Lleukemia. Misdiagnosis is very common in the childhood cancer world. There is this belief that childhood cancer is rare, but in reality, it isn’t. Doctors need to be more willing to listen to the parents who are telling them things just aren’t OK. They need to not make the parent feel absolutely ‘bonkers’ for asking to do extra testing. Almost every parent I know was told it was something completely different and then within days, or weeks, the child was diagnosed with cancer. It’s the number one killer of children under the age of 15, and you can’t even find a pamphlet of it at pediatricians’ offices explaining what to look for. I’ll step off my soap box now. #kidsgetcancertoo.” — Pauline G.

3. “Swollen lymph nodes behind his ears. I noticed them one night snuggling before bed. I though it was a big bite but realized they were symmetric — both sides of his head. Checked the internet and realized they were lymph nodes. Gave him a bath immediately and looked for other swollen lymph nodes. Found them under his arms and his groin. Called the pediatrician the next afternoon. He immediately suspected cancer, sent us for blood work and chest X-rays. The next day we had conclusive results and were admitted to the hospital. He has T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia that had spread to his brain/spinal fluid but his marrow sample was only 20-percent cancer. Acute cancers are very aggressive so chemo was started within 24 hours of diagnosis. It was a whirlwind of treatment and side effects for the next year+, and we lived at our children’s hospital almost half our days. He is in remission but in active treatment until 2020. It’s a long, ugly road, and we have no choice but to travel it so we’ll do it as well as we can.” — Melissa B.

4. “My son was pale and tired. Like exhausted tired. He couldn’t move from the couch after I laid him there. He was a very active 4-year-old prior to that. Doctor did a blood count, strep, mono and flu test. His counts came back low, and everything else was negative. We immediately headed for the closest children’s hospital where after another blood test, the pathology report came back with blasts in his blood. He was officially diagnosed two days later with PreB ALL (leukemia)!” — Ruth S.

5. “My 2-month-old son didn’t make eye contract, was super light sensitive and wouldn’t blink when things got close to his face. We took him to the optometrist, flew across the country, received a cancer diagnosis and had his eye enucleated (removed) all within four days! Always follow your parental instincts!” — Chelsey B.

6. “When changing my 2-month-old son’s diaper, it always felt like one side was flexed. His stomach distended out a little that way occasionally. At his checkup that month, we only saw a PA and she said nothing seemed off to her. Probably just a fluke thing. By 4 months it was getting worse. We saw the actual pediatrician at that checkup and she said we should get an ultrasound. It ended up being a Wilm’s tumor on his left kidney. We did eight months of chemo, and he’ll be in remission one year in November. #noonefightsalone.” — Shari H.

7. “My daughter, 17 years old, started being unwell at Easter 2017. She had a period that just didn’t stop. Started losing weight — back and forward to the doctor. Thought it was hormonal. Blood tests, MRI on her pelvis. Only when I asked one of the doctors to feel her stomach, she was taken straight away for an ultrasound — tumor the size of a 7-month-old baby on her right ovary. Two days later we were at RVI Great North Children’s Hospital to be told our girl had germ cell cancer. We were there for two weeks — tests and first round of chemo. She had countless temperature spikes, line sepsis and an operation to remove her ovary. Thankfully, she got remission in February this year.” — Tracy S.

8. “I was diagnosed in 2012 at the age of 11. For a couple of weeks, I had been feeling sick and nauseous. Our general practitioner diagnosed me with multiple things such as gastro and tonsillitis as I had accumulated them due to a low immune system. Also had multiple skin infections. It wasn’t until the final day when we went to PMH that I had the major symptoms such as nosebleeds, temps and bruising. Got to the hospital and was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. And a large case, too. Shouldn’t have been able to walk into the hospital as I did, let alone still breathe. I’ve experienced firsthand what its like to be poked, prodded and stared at 24/7. As needles come in and out. What I experienced, while I know wasn’t the worst-case scenario, still shouldn’t have to be dealt with by anyone, let alone a child. Awareness is key to the cure.” — Calley D.

9. “My 4-year-old son had fevers that would come and go. He also vomited several times over a few weeks (usually when the fever was present). Those were the symptoms that led me to take him to the doctor. He also had bruises that didn’t fade, was more tired than normal, had leg pain, and some slight petechia around his eyes. All symptoms of leukemia. He was diagnosed with leukemia (B-ALL). He is now 5, has been in treatment for about 1.5 years, and has another year of treatment ahead. Despite a rough start, he’s doing well in treatment now, and is the bravest little dude.” — Mary Kate L.

Getty image by Liderina

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