Jennifer Chidester and son

I'm a wife and a mother. I'm also a writer and a business woman. And as it is for many moms, my daily life is often a juggling act. However, now that cancer has been thrown in the mix, things just got a little more complicated.

6 Years of misdiagnosis

For approximately six years I've had a tumor growing between my heart and my lungs, but doctors would call it anything else but cancer. My chronic cough? Post-nasal drip and allergies. My constant bronchitis? Same culprit.

The blood I coughed up in the middle of the night? A bursted blood vessel from the coughing caused by the constant bronchitis that stemmed from that post-nasal drip. Even when I specifically asked if all these symptoms could be "the C word," I was quickly dismissed and treated with inhalers, asthma meds and breathing treatments. And yet, my cancer continued to grow.

The cough

About six years ago I began having a chronic cough. I couldn’t go a day without coughing or having a strange need to clear my throat. My doctor explained that it was allergies — post-nasal drip specifically — and put me on a host of medications. Still, I coughed constantly and caught bronchitis probably twice a year, if not more.

"I brought my alcohol-related pain up to another doctor.
Her solution?
'Don’t drink.'"

More than four years ago I went to a doctor because I had strange pains in my left arm when I drank. He said, “If the pain was in both arms, I’d be worried it could be cancer.” Ultimately the pain enveloped both of my arms, my chest and collarbone, even with the smallest sip of wine. In a follow-up appointment for my bronchitis — again — I brought up my alcohol-related pain to another doctor. Her solution? ”Don’t drink.”

A year ago I Googled all of my symptoms: Chronic cough, coughing up blood, pain when drinking alcohol, pain in my chest, etc., and found pages of Yahoo! and other regular Joe forums pointing to Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

Since my previous doctor was no longer in my network, I found an internist who checked blood and did the usual physical. She’d never heard of alcohol-related pain with Hodgkin's (I later learned this is a top sign on, but she did discover I had a heart abnormality. The Mitral Valve Prolapse she discovered led to three chest X-rays, two ultrasounds on my heart... and still, in six years, no one discovered a giant mass growing in between my heart and lungs.

Jennifer Chidester and sons

The diagnosis

Several months ago I had a nagging feeling that something was being overlooked. My chest pains grew almost unbearable, I’d coughed up more blood in the middle of the night and I felt like someone had sapped every ounce of energy from me. I found a new internist, but this one saved my life.

While seeing my new doctor I ended up being hospitalized twice. The ER doctors’ diagnosis? Must be pneumonia and pleurisy. When I pressed for a CAT scan, reviewed my symptoms and finally flat out asked if they could be missing some type of cancer, the ER doctor told me it wasn’t his job to diagnose me.

Fortunately, my internist started piecing the puzzle together and sent me for an emergency CAT scan. By that evening I knew I had a large tumor in my chest and within a week, my cancer — the cancer I'd feared for years that I had — was finally confirmed.

My Advice

Don’t stop pressing for answers, never ignore your body and value your intuition over what anyone else tells you! It might just save your life.

This article is the first in an ongoing series by Jennifer Chidester about her battle with cancer as a mother of two young children.

Image credit: Jennifer Chidester

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Comments on "Surviving cancer: One mom's journey 

Dee Dee Stanton July 17, 2013 | 11:04 AM

I am so proud of you my sweet daughter. Like everything in life, you take the high road and make lemonade out of lemons. I love you with all my heart, we will beat this all the way!

Katie July 15, 2013 | 6:22 PM

Jennifer, I'm so glad you're sharing your story and even though we only know each other from working together online, I think of you every single day. Sending strength your way... look forward to reading the next piece of your series.

Crissy Page July 15, 2013 | 1:05 PM

It is so eye-opening to read your story, and a great reminder that we should listen to our own bodies and intuition. Much love and continued prayers!

Jamie July 15, 2013 | 12:21 PM

I feel terrible about all that you have endured, but you are such a brave woman for pushing the limits with your doctors and searching for more answers. I'll be praying for you in your journey.

Laura July 15, 2013 | 12:12 PM

It's awful that the doctor brushed your concerns off for so long. And it's definitely something that happens, so it's wonderful that your'e sharing your experience. Wishing you the very best as you continue on your road to recovery.

Maureen Wallace July 15, 2013 | 12:09 PM

I'm so thankful you never gave up. What an important reminder to us all! Looking forward to reading more about your brave journey, Jennifer!

Monica July 15, 2013 | 12:06 PM

So glad you pushed for answers. Best wishes to continued recovery.

Staci July 15, 2013 | 11:44 AM

Wow! Good for you for continuing to fight and find answers. Sometimes our intuition is far better than several years of medical school.

Chacoy July 15, 2013 | 10:43 AM

Wow, this made me cry! So many people feel these symptoms as you did but almost NEVER go to the doctor because they think it is just a cold, bronchitis etc and end up being worse off then if they had gone. I know when I had a "lump" I assumed a cyst but lucky for me, my doctor saw it getting bigger and bigger and sent me to see a specialist who ultimately saved my life! Prayers to you and your family Jennifer!

Jodi July 15, 2013 | 10:32 AM

You are so strong and I love that you're taking time to share your story, and possibly save a life. You are the best Jenn! Big hug, Jodi

Dianne July 15, 2013 | 9:36 AM

It's good that you continued to push for answers. It's so sad that you were treated in such a manner by your doctors, whom you trusted, and your concerns were dismissed. I'll send positive thoughts your way to continue on your journey to healing and surviving cancer.

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