What’s a non-cancer reason for this?

My new mantra is What is a non-cancer reason for this? I am actively trying to reprogram my lizard brain. Whenever I have a new symptom, or something doesn’t go as expected, I worry. I start to go down that path of OMG this is disease progression. But in order to stay sane, I’m trying to actively reprogram my brain. When it starts to go down that thought path of OMG this is disease progression, I actively ask the alternative question What is a non-cancer reason for this symptom?  I try to refocus my mind on the non-cancer reasons for the symptom. In many cases, this actually works … but not always. Sometimes I just go down that path and get myself all worked up about it …

This week was one of those times. Sunday night I had a bit of fever. I woke up Monday morning to what felt like your garden variety bladder infection. I called and made an appointment with my primary care doctor (actually I saw someone else because she was out). I did the standard pee in a cup, and was diagnosed with a UTI (Urinary Tracked Infection). I was given antibiotics and sent on my way. No big deal.

24-hours later, I get an email with test results. The doctor sense a cryptic message about how the results do not indicate a garden variety UTI, but to keep taking the antibiotics while we wait for the next round of tests to come back. The cultures will take another 24-hours or so. The message is vague enough that I start to worry. I foolishly look at Dr. Google. What does this mean? Any number of really bad things. I find myself searching for the answer to What is a non-cancer reason for this symptom? But I nothing pops up. Everything that I see looks really bad. I stop looking. I try not to worry, but part of me starts going down that path … OMG I have liver mets! (no I don’t, but that is what I was telling myself).

I’m happy to report that it is nothing – well not nothing – it is ecoli – but that is really nothing. It is NOT CANCER … I had a perfectly treatable non-cancer reason for that symptom.  And so, one thing my doctors could have done to help me was to provide me with non-cancer reasons for this system. Next time, I’ll try to be more explicit in my inquires. I’ll ask directly them directly – what might be a non-cancer reason for this? So that I can focus on that. Because really, before cancer I never would have thought that every symptom I have would be cancer, so why should I focus on that now?


  • Becky


  • Are UTI’s contagious subliminally because the same thing happened to me this week add a sinus infection to that. My doc said that Arimidex, a cancer drug by any other name (my AI), potentially weakens the immune system leaving me more vulnerable to infections.

    Did I think it was cancer related? YES! I have a scan coming up in Sept. that has me wrapped around the cancer axle at the moment. I called my onco. office. She asked if I was “overthinking” (in a very nice way I might add) and suggested I start with the “pee in the cup” with my PC. She said let’s rule out an easily fixable solution before we jump to something else more worrisome. I think they, as we, are used to these episodes of “every ache I have might be cancer”. I followed her advice and am dutifully, as you, taking my antibiotics.

    I like your suggestion of retraining your lizard brain. I think I’ll happily join that club.

  • It’s E. coli that’s contagious subliminally. 🙂 That put me down for the count 3-1/2 weeks ago (I wrote about it at http://csn.cancer.org/node/295693). I didn’t know what was happening, but for some strange reason I didn’t think of cancer — maybe because it was just very well timed with my having eaten a raw carrot. The one thing I did consider was a bowel obstruction (which it wasn’t) because that condition had caused the same symptoms in my partner six years ago. The bout happened a couple of days before my follow-up appointment with my radiation oncologist, so I told him what happened. He said E. coli was the most likely culprit. (My immunity is also still compromised from treatment, plus I’m on generic Arimidex.) A couple weeks later I had my follow-up with my medical oncologist and let him know about it. I love your reprogramming and your new, specific line of questioning to doctors.

  • Rebecca, this is a fascinating exercise in trying to unlearn and relearn something that you had (naturally) before cancer, namely the concern that your health issues are just . . . ordinary . . . health issues; nothing more. I wonder in approaching this as a learning experience, it can help us all remember that things that we all have learned, such as in our areas of proficiency and expertise, may be threatening to others for all sorts of reasons?

    Thanks for sharing this; food for thought.

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