For months, doctors dismissed Georgia Ford’s pain, discomfort, weight loss, and vomiting.
She was told she was drinking too much and had back spasms, but she really had stage-4 cancer.
The 20-year-old is sharing her story of medical gaslighting to encourage others to speak up.
When Georgia Ford went to the doctor with what felt like heartburn, she was honest about her drinking habits. “Yeah, obviously I do” drink a lot, Ford, a 20-year-old law student at the University of Exeter, said she told the clinicians.
Next, doctors misdiagnosed Ford’s discomfort as muscle spasms. Months later, her back pain was so intense she could barely lie down, according to the New York Post. She also experienced a severe cough that led to vomiting and weight loss, but clinicians remained unconcerned.
‘They basically said that this was all in my head and I wasn’t ill at all,” Ford said, according to Metro UK. “I said, ‘I fail to believe that I’m having this many severe symptoms and it’s all in my head.'”
Even when Ford went to the ER coughing up blood and “cloudy patches” on her lungs, doctors told her it was “nothing life-threatening.”
They were wrong. After booking an appointment with a private practitioner more than six months after her symptoms began, Ford learned she had papillary renal cell carcinoma type 2. The rare type of kidney cancer had spread to her lungs, liver, lymph nodes, and bones. At that stage, the 5-year survival rate is 8%, according to Healthline.
Ford, who started a GoFundMe to help pay for her treatment, said she’s spent two weeks in an inpatient oncology unit, undergone two types of treatment including immunotherapy, and sees a specialist consultant in London.
She said she doesn’t know if her story would be different had her diagnosis come earlier. “It’s one of those questions that I’ll never know, but always wonder,” she said. “If you think that something’s wrong, you need to push and push.”
Young women are more likely to be victims of ‘medical gaslighting’
Medical gaslighting is when medical professionals dismiss a person’s symptoms, deny tests or treatments, and ultimately misdiagnose them. Women and young people are among the populations most vulnerable.
Research shows women patients tend to wait longer for cancer and heart disease diagnoses than men. One study showed that younger women were two times more likely than young men to have a medical expert give a mental-health diagnosis when their symptoms pointed more to heart disease.
Other young women are speaking up about the consequences. It took 23-year-old Chloe Girardier five months and seven doctor’s appointments to get her persistent cough and weight loss to be taken seriously, The Sun reported. She had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a rare cancer that required her to undergo intensive chemotherapy.
Amanda Lee, a 28-year-old actress and wedding photographer, said her doctor called her severe stomach pain “not such a bad thing” since it was leading to weight loss, according to Today Health. She was later diagnosed with stage 3A colon cancer.
Women are “not being believed, and that’s causing significant delays in care, misdiagnosis, late diagnosis, ineffective treatment, and ineffective triaging,” Dr. Garima Sharma, an internal medicine physician and cardiologist at Johns Hopkins previously told Insider. “Women are paying a very heavy price.”
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