The Other “C” Word

Cancer is rampant in the world and in the media. Nearly all of us have been affected, whether personally diagnosed, supporting a loved one, or watching a friend’s battle on social media. It’s scary and it’s disarming. And yet, it’s a topic that comes up in the news and conversation. People understand, even to the smallest extent, what cancer is and what it is capable of.

In 2015, I was diagnosed with the other “C” word: coccidioidomycosis, colloquially referred to as valley fever or cocci. In early 2018, that diagnosis was elevated to disseminated cocci, meaning the infection had spread beyond my lungs. Though I live in the epicenter of outbreaks, I had never even heard of valley fever prior to my initial diagnosis. Between 2015 and 2018, I was blissfully unaware that the infection doesn’t always go away.

My ignorance has not come without cost. I’ve missed a significant amount of work, spent an exorbitant amount on medical costs, and potentially caused permanent damage to my body. As I seek out resources, community events, clinical trials, it is becoming increasingly apparent that informing the public about valley fever is not a high priority. So, I’m going to take it upon myself to start informing other about coccidioidomycosis.

No one should have to suffer this awful disease, and no one should be left to go through it alone. In my own frustration, I’m working to devise a way to help others and to spread the world. Cocci may be rare, but it’s nasty, debilitating, and on the rise. So here is my public service announcement, a message that I plan to share here continually until I find a better platform on which to gain traction for lasting change.

PSA For Residents and Visitors of the American Southwest

  1. If you can breathe, you can contract cocci. Though most common amongst the elderly, pregnant, construction workers, and those with compromised immune system, anyone is susceptible.
  2. If you reside in Arizona or southern California, become familiar with the signs and symptoms of cocci: fever, chills, hacking cough, rapid weight loss, excessive fatigue, and more.
  3. If you develop any of the above symptoms while living or after visiting an endemic area, press you doctor to test you for cocci. Order a blood work (coccidioides antibodies panel) and an x-ray or CT scan. Many doctors are ignorant about valley fever, mistaking it for pneumonia and thus delaying proper treatment.
  4. If your lab work comes back positive, see an infectious disease doctor. They have seen their share of cocci and can assess your objective and subjective condition to determine whether treatment is necessary. Your GP has the best intentions, but cocci is tricky and improper treatment could prove fatal.
  5. Medication doesn’t work for everyone and research is severely lacking. If you’re diagnosed, be patient. Everyone presents symptoms differently, everyone responds to treatment differently, and the fungal structure mirrors humans cells closely enough that harmless treatment is a tough assignment for researchers.
  6. After your initial diagnosis, pay attention to you body and don’t ignore inexplicable symptoms. The disease goes dormant in the vast majority of people, but the spores remain in the body indefinitely. Infections, rashes, fatigue, and localized pain could all be signs that the infection has been reactivated.

That’s it for now!


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