When it comes to most cancers, early detection is the name of the game. It saves lives, right?

But what about when your symptoms are vague and even your doctor thinks it is probably nothing terribly serious? Should you push hard to rule out the worst?

Two of my recent guests would say absolutely YES.

Jennifer Huang, a middle school librarian from the Seattle area, was 37 weeks pregnant with her second child. The baby was doing great and gaining weight. But she was anemic, losing weight, and had pain on her right side. She'd been anemic for awhile and pregnant women often have stomach groans and grumbles. But her doctor agreed she should come in and be checked. An ultrasound showed it was a ruptured appendix. Not good, but the baby, Jonah, was fine. Jennifer went into surgery. It was supposed to be brief. It wasn't.

Within a few days they induced delivery of the baby. Soon after Jennifer and the family were taking happy photos of Jonah. The surgeon came in with bad news. During the surgery they discovered advanced colon cancer. Jennifer would have to start on aggressive chemo. Joy turned to sadness.

It's been more than two years now and Jennifer is doing well. Although she had most of her liver removed to cut out cancer that had spread. Fortunately the liver is the one organ that can grow back. It has and she has the chance of living a long time. But she wonders, were there signs she and her doctor missed? Could the colon cancer have been discovered earlier and cured with early intervention? You can imagine, Jennifer is a big proponent of knowing your body and speaking up aggressively if you have any and cured with early intervention? You can imagine, Jennifer is a big proponent of knowing your body and speaking up aggressively if you have any concerns.

Another patient with peritoneal cancer related to ovarian cancer, Stephanie Donich, also from the Seattle area, urges people to follow-up with concerns aggressively. Stephanie knew there had been a lot of cancer in her family and early deaths because of it. She tested positive for the breast and ovarian cancer gene and had her ovaries removed because of it. She had frequent monitoring. But when she had digestive problems, bloating and bulges in her abdomen, instead of checking right away for cancer, she and her doctor were in denial and assumed it was irritable bowel syndrome. They hesitated to check for cancer and they lost valuable treatment time. While Stephanie is alive six years later and on maintenance therapy, she is sorry she didn't push harder for cancer detection tests at first sign of symptoms. Again, the message is, speak up, don't hesitate, and rule out bad things first.

Being a powerful patient means advocating for yourself strongly, knowing doctors are human and can make judgment errors that can be terribly costly for you. Always ask, what if it's something bad? Are we effectively ruling that out rather than assuming the best?