‘Fat Stigma At The Doctor Kept Me From Getting My Bone Marrow Cancer Diagnosis’

Two years ago, I was pregnant with my first child, and everything was going great. I was 38 years old, and doctors really like to keep a watch on you when you’re pregnant at that age, so I was seeing a high-risk ob-gyn.

At 26 weeks pregnant, things started to get kind of wonky.

My baby was measuring small. My doctors detected higher-than-normal protein in my urine. It’s something that pregnant women can have, and so it wasn’t a huge red flag initially. But, my ob-gyn did feel those lab results showed numbers way too high for what she’d expect to see in a pregnant person.

So, she told me that as soon as I deliver, I need to make a follow-up appointment with my doctor to make sure that the protein levels went back down.

I had a healthy baby girl. I was blissfully happy going home from the hospital with this amazing, beautiful baby.

In the back of my mind, the concern over the protein in my urine still existed, but honestly I thought I’d be just fine. I assumed it’d be like everything else in life. How you kind of worry about something but then go to the doctor to get checked out and you’re actually fine.

Six weeks after my daughter was born, my high-risk ob-gyn called me out of the blue from her cellphone. (That’s a pretty big deal.) After delivery, you usually just don’t see them again. (I did see my regular ob-gyn for a 6-week follow-up, of course.) I was really surprised she called. She said she was calling to make sure I had gotten my follow-up lab appointment. At the time, I had not, but when she called I thought, Damn, okay, I better make that call.

My ob-gyn advised me to see a kidney doctor, and so I found one close by and made an appointment.

At the kidney doc, I got a urine test. The results showed that the protein didn’t go away after pregnancy—as it should have—and the levels were even higher now. It took me by surprise. My body was just starting to feel normal again after having a baby.

As soon as that first kidney doctor told me my results, I had a feeling something was wrong.

For someone who has always been in good health, this was a big warning sign. And yet the kidney doctor said she didn’t think it was a problem. Instead, she said that she thought the protein was so high because I needed to lose weight.

I’m someone who’s dieted and exercised my whole life, like most women my age. Even though I thought her advice was bullshit, I came home determined to do it. Maybe I’d lose 10 or 20 pounds and the level would go down—or it would stay high and I’d prove to her that it had nothing to do with my weight.

“I was shocked that she’d take this opportunity to tell me to go down a pants size.”

Still, it didn’t feel right to me that the thing that had to be done to get my health back on track was to lose like 10 pounds. I was shocked that she’d take this opportunity to tell me to go down a pants size.

I decided to get a second opinion, which is not something I’ve ever done. I asked my high-risk ob-gyn for a recommendation of a doctor she trusted. This second kidney doctor was great. She said to me: “I totally understand why you’re here. There’s nothing diet and exercise can do to make these numbers go down.” That was a shock.

So, I was put through a bunch of tests, including a kidney biopsy. When kidney disease was ruled out, I took a blood test.

Then, my kidney doctor called me: “I think you have bone marrow cancer.”

The cancer is called multiple myeloma. Suddenly I was sending text messages to friends with words like “chemo” and “diagnosis.” I didn’t know what to do next or what to think.

But I wasn’t officially diagnosed yet. It took another month and additional tests and appointments with cancer doctors to finally confirm the diagnosis. The early days of waiting around are some of the worst parts of cancer because the unknown is terrible. Once you have a diagnosis, you can move onto the treatment plan and try to manage the disease, and you feel as if you have some control over the situation.

The one thing I had going for me is that I’m young. Typically, most people diagnosed with my cancer are older than 65.

And so, my prognosis was, and continues to be, good. I’ve been through rounds of chemotherapy. I’m on many different medications to control the cancer. But I’ll have to be in treatment for the rest of my life.

My cancer doctor has told me that I will live a long life.

He likes to tell me that I’ll live to see my great-grandchildren. Today, I feel okay. But I don’t feel like my old self. I wake up every day and think, I don’t feel normal anymore.

I can have a life. Of course, I probably can’t chase my daughter around as much as I could before. That’s been really hard. I was a vibrant, healthy woman when I got pregnant. And I imagined I’d be that same person for a little kid. So I’ve had to grieve this image of my future life that won’t be.

Beyond that, I do feel really lucky to be alive. I had the resources, privilege, and opportunity to get great treatment, and not everyone does. It’s incredibly expensive to have cancer

After I told the world what happened to me, so many women shared their experience about going to the doctor and being told to lose weight, no matter what the problem.

Some doctors take any opportunity to tell you that you could stand to lose weight. It’s lazy doctoring. It’s an easy, quick way to get a patient out of the office and buy a couple months before they have to think about what’s really going on. There’s so much fat stigma going on in the world. And that bias follows me to every doctor’s office and in every conversation. Now, I just have a chip on my shoulder about that.

I’m 40 years old. I do think a lot about a time in the future when my cancer will feel more like a chronic illness that I simply take medicine for. I’m still in the very early stages of processing this diagnosis, and it was traumatic to have this newborn and have my life upended in the way that it was. But, I do feel incremental change and hopefulness.

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