A college student who had been diagnosed with “alcohol-induced heartburn” was horrified to discover that she actually had incurable cancer.
“It has literally turned my life upside down,” Georgia Ford, 20, told Kennedy News that the misdiagnosis has gone terribly wrong. “He had gone from being a full-fledged college student in a few weeks to being in the hospital as a cancer patient.”
The native of Gloucester, England, specifically has a rare cancer called papillary renal cell carcinoma, which involves a tumor derived from her kidneys that has metastasized to her lungs, liver, lymph nodes and bones.
Ford had initially reported to the doctor after feeling unwell with heartburn, a symptom of acid reflux, and asked him about his drinking habits.
“They were saying, ‘Do you drink a lot?’ and I said, “Yeah, obviously yes,” so they put these stomach lining protection pills on me, “recalled Ford, who has been studying law at the University of Exeter.
He suspected the doctor’s diagnosis when he went home, and although he did not drink during his stay, his symptoms persisted.
When the pills did not do the trick, her doctors attributed her discomfort to a different and uneasy affliction related to the back pain she had been experiencing since August 2020. The hospitals then diagnosed her. erroneously as muscle spasms.
“I reduced my back pain to poor posture or sleeping positions,” Ford said. “I’ve always sunk and sat down having fun.”
Ford later realized that was not the case. In October 2021, his back pain rose again, “obviously in retrospect,” a sign of kidney problems, he said. The scholar hurt so much that he could barely stretch.
But her “main symptom,” Ford told Kennedy News, was a cough so strong it would take her breath away and make her vomit.
“I had coughed so much that I would end up getting sick,” the patient said. “That’s when I started losing weight because I couldn’t stand food very well.”
Despite a mixture of alarming symptoms, doctors still did not believe the aspiring lawyer had a serious illness.
“I went to my GP several times,” Ford said. “Every time we tried something new it wouldn’t work and I would go back and try something else.”
She added: “They basically said all this was in my head and I wasn’t sick at all. I said, ‘I can’t believe I’m having so many serious symptoms and it’s all in my head.’
Finally, Ford showed up at the emergency room after his cough was so strong that it was hard for him to walk long distances or climb stairs. He even started coughing up blood. And while examiners found “cloudy patches” on his lungs, doctors assured Ford that it was “nothing life-threatening,” he said.
However, she was referred for three months to breathing experts, although her condition deteriorated rapidly, and she lost more than 20 pounds.
With nowhere else to go, Ford booked an appointment with a private practice doctor in November 2021, who was finally diagnosed with PRCC.
This year, about 79,000 new cases of kidney cancer will be diagnosed in the United States alone. PRCC, which is most commonly seen in adults 55 and older, affects 15% of kidney cancer patients, causing symptoms such as unexplained weight loss, fever and bloody urine, according to the National Institutes of Health.
By the time Ford’s cancer was detected, it had spread throughout his body, causing many other symptoms, such as his mysterious cough.
His condition, he learned, was “incurable.”
“There are very few times in my life where I’ve run out of words … words have completely escaped me,” Ford said of the moment he learned of his diagnosis. “It’s like this overwhelming sadness.”
In an effort to curb cancer, the patient began immunotherapy, which includes daily pills and intravenous (IV) treatment. She also takes portable oxygen tanks whenever she goes out and uses an oxygen pipe at night to help her breathe.
Ford says his goal is to “live normally” and feel good enough to resume his law studies in September. It has also launched a GoFundMe fundraiser for the benefit of two charities dedicated to fighting the PRCC.
Despite his positive outlook, Ford says he can’t help but speculate whether his prognosis would be different if doctors had detected the disease earlier.
“I don’t know how much more I got sick at the time and if, if it had been taken a little earlier, my story might have been a little different,” he said. “It’s one of those questions that I’ll never know, but I’m always wondering.”
Ford now hopes to use his ordeal as a warning story highlighting the dangers of not listening to his own body.
“If you think something is wrong, you have to push and push,” he said.