Self-monitoring the best thing you can do for your health.
Early detection and self-screening for common cancers is a life saver.
I found another lump. Finding lumps is never good, no matter the type. All lumps are bad. It's just a bad word, it sounds bad, it rolls off the tongue exactly like a lump would.
The word lump even sounds like a lump.
I found a lump in my smoothie at breakfast (bad), and then I found a lump in that M rated area between your groin and high up on your thigh, just on the inside of your hip bone. M rated because it's definitely not G rated, but nor is it the full R18 — it just sits in-between.
It was a small, hard lump. It felt exactly like one of those popcorn kernels you get at the bottom of the bag, that challenge you to consume them without racking up a bill at an after-hours dentist.
I found it in the shower, where every good cliché about finding a lump begins, not because I was washing myself (although I was), but because I was doing one of my regular self-checks of my lymph nodes.
So after waiting a day or two to see if it did anything exciting or would somehow give me a clear answer one way or another whether it was friend or foe, I went to my GP.
He is an exceptionally highly qualified Iranian man who dresses smartly, smiles with his eyes, and speaks with a thick accent. He asked why I was there (leaving off, but likely thinking "again", given that my fairly weak but improving immune system has left us two as virtually bi-weekly acquaintances).
I said to him that I had found a lump. As someone familiar with my medical history might do, he spun around on his wheelie chair so fast he nearly did an extra lap and raised his eyebrows comically high, arching them halfway up his forehead to this seemingly impossible angle which would leave even the Real Housewives of Beverley Hills jealous.
So, I wiggled my pants around awkwardly and he looked at the lump, and declared very quickly (the kind of quickly that leaves you a little embarrassed) that it wasn't cancer (imagine having that kind of knowledge at your fingertips), typed up something slowly and deliberately while talking aloud in two of the four languages he is fluent in, and gave me a cream to put on. I had a glorified pimple, not cancer. At no stage of this did he laugh at me.
You might have noticed that I said I found another lump. That is because this is not the first occurrence of a situation like this. Since my run-in with cancer I have either begun producing a lot of small, cancer like lumps in places that cancer like lumps would appear (I have a tradition of finding lumps in my armpits, not sleeping for the next 2 days because I'm too busy figuring out how to tell my family I got cancer again despite promising never to do so, then seeing the doctor and finding out that the lump is nothing to worry about), or more likely, I'm hyper aware of my body now. I'm also not afraid to go to a doctor and tell them I've got something I'm worried about, and then be embarrassed when I'm wrong.
And you shouldn't be either.
Early detection and self-screening for common cancers is a life saver. This is the purpose of the screening and detection programmes that are in place. But you can even front foot these, by keeping an eye on things yourself in the meantime.
Like I said, give yourself a check while you're in the shower. It is not even in the realm of the word difficult, all you have to do is feel around for lumps and bumps that feel out of place in places where you don't want to find lumps and bumps (not just your lymph nodes, but all your various gender-dependent bits and bobs). It's quicker than exercising for 30 minutes a day. It's more convenient than eating healthy. It's less greasy than covering yourself in sunblock at the beach. You should do all of those as well, but as far as things you can do to reduce your chances of dying from cancer, it's pretty high up there as far as ease goes.
If you find anything, anything that feels or looks weird, then go to the doctor. You have my personal guarantee your doctor is not going to laugh at you if you're wrong. In fact, your doctor will probably like you more for it, in case you're looking for a way to garner brownie points with them. It is ones of those little things you can do in life to give yourself the impression of being a capable and responsible grown-up, along with having pot-plants in your house, and a spice rack on your bench, and not eating cereal for dinner more than once a week.
The NZ Herald has about a million readers every day. If everyone who reads this column goes and checks themselves properly, statistically speaking, someone is going to find something which will lead them to correctly believe that they have cancer. Scary, right? It would almost make you not want to go and check, just in case you're the unlucky one.
But not really. Cancer is a reality of life. All we can do is do our best to protect ourselves, and that includes checking yourself and going and getting a doctor to look at anything you find, as well as keeping up with regular screening.
Because then you won't be the unlucky one, you'll be the lucky one who caught it early.