Four women diagnosed with cancer share the sign that told them something wasn’t right. 

“It was like an alarm going off in my body,” Marta said.

At 33, she wasn’t sleeping for days at a time. Her anxiety was overwhelming, and her mood swings so intense she felt like a “hormonal teenager”.

“Everything felt off, everything felt wrong,” she told Mamamia. 

And that’s when she went to the doctor.

Given she was unhappy with her job, the doctor thought she might have depression. But Marta knew it wasn’t depression.

Since she was 17, Marta had lived with Hashimoto’s disease (hypothyroidism, also called an under active thyroid). She would always know it was playing up because her hair would start falling out, or her hands would become painfully dry.

But this, she recalled, was different.

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Her mother – who also lives with the disease – asked doctors to check her thyroid antibodies, a more complex test.

When her results came in, the doctor’s eyes widened. They were off the charts.

She was sent to an ultrasound, and then to an oncologist. It was thyroid cancer.

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After a horrid surgery, the tumour came out in one go. The pain was indescribable.

“I’ve never forgotten that feeling, that ‘alarm’. You know when something is wrong,” she said.

“You just know. So listen.”

Marta was one of four women who spoke to Mamamia about the signs that something was wrong, prior to their cancer diagnosis.

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Jane*, 30, had pregnancy type symptoms.

There was more discharge than normal and a “bloated tummy”. She also said she felt really tired.

“When a pregnancy test was negative, I put the symptoms down to hormones and the tiredness down to running around after my two kids,” Jane said.

“Around five months later, I began to bleed heavily, more than a normal period. When it didn’t stop, I went to the emergency room where they carried out tests.

“The results showed that I had cervical cancer.”

Jane’s treatment is ongoing.

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Briony, more than anything, felt really, really tired. The kind of tired there simply is no word for.

She wanted to sleep all the time and rest every weekend. Her family was booking an upcoming trip to Japan, and she just could not bring herself to do it. The prospect of a holiday felt unspeakably overwhelming.

Over an 18 month period, it was as though Briony had no immunity. She would become sick easily, and as time went on, she started to develop frequent night sweats.

“When you’re feeling sick for such a long period of time, feeling crappy becomes the new normal,” she said. “You forget what it feels like to feel good.”

Then one day, her boyfriend who she had been dating for roughly the same period she’d been experiencing the symptoms, said to her, “Do you realise you’ve basically been sick the whole time we’ve dated?”

And “alarm bells” went off.

Doctors put it down to a virus. They thought she was probably just tired and stressed.

Briony told herself she just wasn’t handling her job – but there was a niggling suspicion, deep down, that that wasn’t true. So she persisted.

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In her early thirties, Briony was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, the primary symptoms of which are fatigue and night sweats.

Since her diagnosis, there is one other thing Briony noticed.

She said that for her whole life, she's sat down at the beginning of the year and made a list of goals. Ridiculous, possibly unachievable goals.

But then last year, when she was riddled with fatigue and illness, she couldn't.

"I was exhausted so I couldn't think about doing big audacious things. All I could think about was self care... I just wanted to feel good."

That's another telltale sign of cancer; a change in mood.

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It was Lauren's mother who realised something wasn't right. Lauren was only three years old at the time.

"I was in the bath one night," she told Mamamia, "and was playing with mum's razor, and cut myself.

"The cut bled for hours and hours, despite all attempts to get it under control. We soon learnt that was a result of a lack of platelets in my blood - an immediate indicator of cancer."

She was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia.

This Valentine's Day, Lauren will have been cancer-free for 19 years.

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The women we spoke to for this story had one, clear message.

Listen. 

"You have to listen to your body and do what it says," Briony said. "It always has the answer."

She added:, "What I'd say to anyone else feeling sick or not quite themselves, is you are the only person who really knows how you feel and you have to be your own advocate... demand an answer or at least a next step."

Take it from these four women. Make your health a priority, and when your body starts yelling at you - act on it.

 

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