No matter how healthy you are, disease can strike at any time. But as long as you know what to look out for, you can keep the worst illnesses at bay
Illness tends to creep up on you. Identify the signs so you can catch the worst offenders and stop sickness in its tracks
Ever heard of cyberchondria? It’s a form of hypochondria that’s fuelled by trying to diagnose your own medical symptoms online. And it’s a growing problem. Medical studies have found that 40% of people who consult the internet rather than their GP end up anxious rather than reassured.
So, you have a dull ache in your balls, and you search online. Five minutes later you’re convinced you’ve got testicular cancer. Or you wonder why yesterday’s headache hasn’t gone and, before you know it, you’re reading about brain tumours in a panic.
But while you shouldn’t convince yourself you’ve got a terminal condition based on internet-derived ‘facts’, you should always be vigilant. Examine your moles, don’t ignore persistent pain, and – perhaps most importantly – check your testicles for lumps.
Eye off the ball
Ex-footballer John Hartson, a former striker with Arsenal, West Ham, Celtic and Wales, was about as far from vigilant as you can be. Although expert with a football, he was anything but when it came to his own balls, ignoring the lumps he’d found until it was almost too late.
‘It wasn’t until I started suffering horrendous headaches that I went to see my GP and mentioned the lumps,’ says Hartson, who was 34 at the time. ‘Within days I found out the lumps were testicular cancer and the headaches were the result of a tumour. I’d waited so long to get checked that the cancer had spread to my lungs and brain and I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Had I got the lumps checked when I’d first discovered them, I could have spared myself months of operations and gruelling treatments.’
Hartson – now clear of cancer – later set up the John Hartson Foundation, a testicular cancer charity. ‘I was ignorant about the symptoms of testicular cancer and the importance of getting treatment early. I had no idea of the danger I was putting myself in.’
in a Heart Beat
Another former player, the current West Ham manager Sam Allardyce, was far more cautious when he spotted early warning signs. In his case it was chest pain.
‘I was sunbathing on the beach in Qatar,’ says Allardyce. ‘I was relaxed but I had this discomfort in my chest. It felt a bit like indigestion but didn’t go away. When I got back I went to see the club doctor. He listened to my chest and didn’t like the sound of it, so he sent me for more tests.’
And it was just as well he did so, since the specialist discovered an artery blockage. ‘ The specialist was pleased that I saw him straight away because it stopped me having a heart attack. It could’ve happened within weeks or months, but it was certainly going to happen if I hadn’t addressed the problem.’
In November 2009 Allardyce underwent heart surgery. ‘Men think we’re indestructible but we’re not, and you shouldn’t ignore certain warnings from your body,’ he says. ‘Prevention is better than cure, and if something feels unusual in any way, you must get it checked out.’