Despite being diagnosed as having Type 2 Diabetes in 2013, aged 45, my life has always been pretty normal. Over the decades, since leaving school in 1985, I have always kept myself fit and active by regularly cycling, swimming, running and doing gym workouts as well as youth hostelling, camping, walking and gardening in my early years.
This is why I was surprised to be diagnosed in November 2017, aged 49, with T4bN2c High Grade NeuroEndocrine Carcinoma of Ethmoid Sinus (cancer of the head and neck); from what I thought was a common cold.
My story began in August 2017 in London (UK), where I have lived since 1986, when we had that August of rainy, windy, weather most days. I was cycling in the evenings as normal when I noticed I was beginning to get a blocked nose, which I just put down to getting cold symptoms. Normally I would find this odd for August, but as said, it was a rainy, windy, month.
About week into those bad weather days my right eye started watering too, when cycling, which again I put down to cold symptoms. It is quite normal for a cyclist or runner for example to be exposed to wind in one or both of their eyes whereby it or they start watering. However, what was unusual in the case of my right eye was that it also watered for hours after taking a shower and being indoors in a heated room. As my right eye was only watery sometimes though, on and off, I still thought nothing of this symptom.
In the second week of August I began experiencing intense toothaches to the point they felt like Trigger Neurology (TN) pains. The toothaches would switch off and on at random times - one day a toothache on three teeth, another day no pain, another day pain in a different tooth and another day all teeth and gums feel rock hard - which is common for TN. As I already have TN on the left side of my face I just thought "Perhaps I am getting TN on the right side now".
On 16th August I visited my diabetes nurse for a routine check-up where she gave me Gliclazide and Sitagliptin tablets to boost my insulin levels and therefore lower my blood sugar levels; as she wanted to lower my HB1AC score (overall blood sugar level).
Soon after taking the new tablets though I was getting really excruciating headaches, for many hours every day, which I initially put down to the coincidence of a bad cold coming on together with the new tablets (known for headache side effects). If the headaches were due to the new tablets, I thought the headaches would disappear in a few days after me adjusting to the new tablets.
Over the next few days a small lump began to appear under my right eye, close to my right nostril, which I initially thought was a cold related spot such as a cold sore; even though I also thought it could be a side effect related to the new tablets. When I lightly pressed on the lump I realised it was growing underneath the skin and not on top of the skin. Either way, I thought the lump would disappear over the next week or so.
At around the same time as this small eye-lump appeared, I also bought some dumbells for exercise and health reasons. After doing some arm and neck exercises over the first week I noticed what I thought was neck muscle on the right side of my neck. It was firm, but in a muscly way; which I thought nothing more about except "my neck muscle is starting to form nicely".
At this point it was like one minor problem after another whereby I could still strike them off as a cold or coincidence. It was not until later that week - when my right nostril became fully blocked (not allowing air to flow in or out of it, causing severe headaches), my Trigger Neurology symptoms were giving attacking pains (electric shocks on the teeth and cheek bone aches) and my lump was becoming too large (causing double vision, disorientation and severe eye pains) - that I thought "This is getting serious enough to see a doctor"; which is what I did.
My appointment to the doctor was not until 4th September 2017, so over the next week or so the above symptoms got worse (such as heart palpitations and feelings of suffocation in the night time), but could still be classed as being related to a common cold and my blocked nose.
Upon seeing the doctor, he asked the usual questions about the history/nature of my symptoms, pressed my forehead, cheek area and lower jaw area (for trigger neurology diagnosis purposes), noticed I had swollen glands, and basically put it down to a possible infection; to which he prescribed Amoxilin for one week. At the end of the diagnosis my doctor asked me to visit my dentist and optician for check-ups.
Luckily I got a dentist appointment on 5th September and an optician appointment on 7th September, which was very quick by any standard. Normally there is a 1-2 week waiting period.
The dentist request was just to make sure my teeth were fine and not the cause of my new trigger neurology symptoms. Even though the pains could of been caused by a proper toothache, especially as I had not seen my dentist for two years, it turned out my teeth, roots and gums were fine; so not the cause of the trigger neurology symptoms/pains.
The optician request was for a physical eye examination (EOS / Enhanced Optical Service). Although I had my normal yearly eye test six months ago where the optician told me my eyes did not need testing for a further two years because my prescription had stayed the same over the last three years already, this ecd test confirmed my double vision and now slopping top eye lid as well as finding my eyes to be physically fine.
Futhermore, 2½ weeks later, on 25th September, I had a Diabetic Retinopathy eye test (back of the eye test) with the hospital that also confirmed no problems.