“Medical students are taught when hearing hoofbeats, to think of horses, not zebras. Neuroendocrine tumours are rare, and therefore are considered to be zebras.”
Neuroendocrine tumours (NETS) are very difficult to diagnose. The symptoms are usually vague and similar to more common health problems. Many family doctors have never encountered a NETS patient. When presented with symptoms like stomach pain and diarrhea, they naturally think of things like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s Disease or lactose intolerance. They think of horses, not zebras.
Every time my symptoms flared up I’d be frustrated over the fact that we couldn’t figure out what was causing them but I’d think to myself, at least it isn’t cancer! It’s been going on too long to be that. If it was, surely we’d have known about it a long time ago. Like most NETS patients when they’re diagnosed, I’ve probably had cancer for several years!
Breast cancer patients have their widely recognized pink ribbons but we NETS patients have our aptly chosen zebras. Knowing this, I decided to do a bit of research to find out if there was anything about this beautiful animal that I could apply to my new life with chronic cancer.
The first thing I learned is that every zebra’s stripe pattern is unique. They may all look the same to us, but each one is an individual. I am not simply a cancer patient. I am still the same person I was before this diagnosis was made. I am unique!
I have quickly learned that the team at the Neuroendocrine Tumour Clinic at the Cross Cancer Institute treats each one of its patients as a unique and whole person. When we sat down with Dr. Makis and nurse coodinator, Karey McCann, on Wednesday, they wanted to know about more than my medical history and my symptoms. They wanted to get to know me as a person.
I also learned that zebras are highly social and courageous animals. When a member of the herd is wounded by a predator, other zebras will come to its defense, circling the injured animal and attempting to drive the predators away. They know the importance of having a support system!
How fortunate I am to have a vast “herd” of supporters making this journey with me and you, dear readers, are part of that! I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate all the comments that you’ve been leaving for me. They definitely make being a zebra a little bit easier.