Surviving cancer: One mom's journey ?

Jul 15, 2013 at 11:00 a.m. ET

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.

Jennifer Chidester and son

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.

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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