A university student who had been diagnosed with ‘alcohol heartburn’ was horrified to discover that she actually had incurable cancer.
“It literally turned my life upside down,” Georgia Ford, 20, told Kennedy News of the misdiagnosis gone horribly wrong. “I went from being a full-fledged university student in a matter of weeks to being hospitalized as a cancer patient.”
The native of Gloucester, England, specifically has a rare cancer called papillary renal cell carcinoma – which involves a tumor originating from her kidneys that has metastasized to her lungs, liver, lymph nodes and bones.
Ford had first reported to the doctor after feeling ill with heartburn – a symptom of acid reflux – after which he inquired about his drinking habits.
“They were like, ‘Do you drink a lot?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, obviously I do,’ so they put me on these stomach lining protection tablets,” recalls Ford, who studied law at the University of Washington. ‘Exeter.
She was suspicious of the doctor’s diagnosis when she visited the house – and, although she hadn’t been drinking while there, her symptoms persisted.
When the pills didn’t do the trick, her doctors reportedly attributed her discomfort to a different, indifferent condition related to back pain she had been experiencing since August 2020. Hospitals later misdiagnosed her as muscle spasms .
“I attribute my back pain to poor posture or sleeping positions,” Ford said. “I’ve always slumped and sat weird.”
Ford later realized that was not the case. In October 2021, her lower back pain flared up again — “obviously in hindsight” a sign of kidney problems, she said. The scholar was in so much pain that she could barely lie down.
But her “main symptom,” Ford noted in Kennedy News, was a cough so severe it would take her breath away and cause her to vomit.
“I had coughed so much that I ended up falling ill,” says the patient. “That’s when I started losing weight because I wasn’t very attached to food.”
Despite an assortment of alarming symptoms, doctors still did not believe the aspiring lawyer was suffering from a serious illness.
“I went to see my GP several times,” Ford said. “Every time we tried something new and it didn’t work, I would go back and we would try something else.”
She added: ‘They basically said it was all in my head and I wasn’t sick at all. I said, “I can’t believe I have so many serious symptoms and it’s all in my head.”
Eventually, Ford checked into the emergency room after her cough got so bad she had trouble walking long distances or climbing stairs. She even started coughing up blood. And while examiners found ‘cloudy spots’ on her lungs, doctors assured Ford it was ‘nothing life-threatening’, she said.
Nevertheless, she was referred for three months to respiratory experts even as her condition deteriorated rapidly, she lost more than 20 pounds.
With nowhere to go, Ford made an appointment with a doctor in private practice in November 2021, who eventually diagnosed him with PRCC.
This year, approximately 79,000 new cases of kidney (kidney) cancers will be diagnosed in the United States alone. Most commonly seen in adults 55 and older, PRCC affects 15% of people with kidney cancer, causing symptoms such as unexplained weight loss, fever and bloody urine, according to National Institutes of Health.
By the time Ford’s cancer was detected, it had already spread throughout his body, causing a myriad of other symptoms, including his mysterious cough.
Her condition, she would learn, was “incurable.”
“There have been very few times in my life where I’ve been speechless…words have completely escaped me,” Ford said of the moment she learned of her diagnosis. “It’s just like this overwhelming sadness.”
In an effort to fight the cancer, the patient was started on immunotherapy, including daily pills and intravenous (IV) therapy. She also takes portable oxygen tanks whenever she goes out and uses an oxygen hose at night to help her breathe.
Ford says her goal is to “live normally” and feel well enough to resume law school in September. She also started a GoFundMe fundraiser to benefit two charities dedicated to fighting the PRCC.
Despite her positive outlook, Ford says she can’t help but speculate whether her prognosis would be different if doctors had caught the disease earlier.
“I don’t know how sick I got during that time and if, had she been caught a little earlier, my story might have been a little different,” she said. “It’s one of those questions that I’ll never know, but always ask myself.”
Ford now hopes to use her ordeal as a cautionary tale highlighting the dangers of not listening to her body.
“If you think something is wrong, you have to push and push,” she said.
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