Student told heartburn was due to excessive drinking but it was actually cancer
A university student had the devastating news that her heartburn was caused by cancer – not from boozing, as she had initially thought.
She was even told she had ‘incurable’ cancer.
Georgia Ford developed a ‘choking’ cough and sickness last April, but a GP put it down to the amount of alcohol she was drinking and prescribed her stomach-lining tablets.
But over the course of several months the 20-year-old’s symptoms – which included weight loss and back pain – worsened.
By November, after countless trips to the doctors, Georgia was diagnosed with a kidney cancer called papillary renal cell carcinoma.
Tragically, she learned the cancer had also spread to her lungs, liver, lymph nodes and bones – and that it was incurable.
Georgia started treatment immediately to shrink and stop the cancer from spreading.
Today she’s still learning to accept her ‘unbelievable’ diagnosis and is figuring out how to live with the condition. The aspiring criminal lawyer is also urging anyone dissatisfied with a doctor’s response to push for answers.
One of the mental difficulties she faces is that she’ll ‘always wonder’ if the cancer was caught sooner, whether her prognosis might be different.
Georgia, from Gloucestershire, said: ‘Originally the GP said the sickness was acid reflux from the amount that I was drinking because I was a student.
‘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.
‘You believe what the doctor says and I thought, “I do drink a lot, and alcohol’s poison isn’t it, maybe it is just bothering my stomach a lot.”
‘But then I came home where I’m not a big drinker and it still carried on, so I was slightly miffed as to why it wasn’t just stopping.
‘The tablets didn’t work and then it got put down to various other things.
‘There was a time that they thought it was maybe an anxiety thing and it was more of a psychological symptom than actually a physical problem.
‘When they said anxiety could be a contributing factor I was like, “I don’t consider myself to be an anxious person to begin with and also how can this all be psychological?”
‘They basically said that this was all in my head and I wasn’t ill at all. I said I fail to believe that I’m having this many severe symptoms and it’s all in my head.
‘I’m five months on from starting my treatment now, but I could be further along if I’d been diagnosed earlier.
‘I don’t know how much more ill I became in that time and whether if it had been caught a little bit earlier, my story might be a little bit different.
‘It’s one of those questions that I’ll never know, but always wonder.’
Georgia’s cough got progressively worse – to the point at which she couldn’t climb stairs. She also lost 10 kilos in weight due to vomiting.
Georgia said: ‘The cough was my main symptom at first and I went to my GP about it a number of times and got told different things.
‘Every time we would try something new and it wouldn’t work and I’d go back and we’d try something else.
‘It was quite a choking cough, it would literally take my breath away. It wasn’t chesty or dry, it was unlike anything I’d had before really.
‘I’d been at university going out and had been around loads of people, and then when you come home and you’re all run down you just do generally do get a bit unwell.
‘So I hadn’t really thought anything of it when I came home because I thought it was just my body reacting to burning the candle at both ends for such a long time.
‘Then I went back to university [last September] and it just didn’t go away.
‘I’d coughed so much that I’d end up being sick. That’s when I started to lose weight because I wasn’t holding onto food very well.
‘My lower back pain got really bad again last October, which obviously in hindsight was my kidneys.
‘It started to hurt quite a lot when I was lying flat, it wasn’t very comfortable.
‘I put my back pain down to bad posture or sleeping positions. I’ve always slumped and sat funny.
‘I was always sat at my desk and didn’t have a great setup or the nicest chair in a student house, it’s usually some rubbish kitchen or cheap office chair.
‘You just don’t think these things are bigger than they are.’
A turning point was caused by Georgia coughing up blood, which led to her going to A&E where they did an x-ray and ‘cloudy patches’ were detected on her lungs.
At the time she was told it wasn’t cancer or ‘anything life-threatening’.
She was put on a three-month referral to a respiratory team but during this time she became more unwell so booked a private appointment.
Georgia said: ‘There’s very few times in my life where I’ve been speechless and I was sat there and words just completely evaded me, I didn’t know what to say.
‘I was just so shocked. Just any hope I had of it maybe being something else, it was just the most sinking feeling to be told basically the worst-case scenario and I was just so disappointed in everything.
‘Honestly it’s not been the same since that, that one moment has literally changed my life.
‘They later said “look, it started in your kidney and it’s in your lungs, liver, lymph nodes and bones”.
‘That’s when they also told me that it was incurable.
‘It’s just like this overwhelming sadness that just fills you at the time.
‘I’ve come a long way since and I’m on my way to accepting and just learning to live with it and doing what I can within the constraints of my life now.
‘But at the time I’d gone from being a full university student within a few weeks to being in hospital as a cancer patient. It was just unbelievable.
‘It’s literally turned my life upside down.’
Now she’s having immunotherapy, which involves taking medication daily and having an intravenous drip every fortnight.
She also takes portable oxygen tanks out with her and uses an oxygen pipe at night to help her breathe comfortably.
The aim of her treatment is to shrink the cancer down as much as possible to the point where she can ‘live normally’.
It’s hoped she’ll return to her studies in the future.
Georgia set up a GoFundMe to fundraise for two charitable organisations that are supporting her throughout her treatment and has raised over £1,300 so far.
Georgia said: ‘No matter what a doctor or any healthcare professional says you know your body better than anybody else.
‘If you think that something’s wrong and if you don’t feel that what they’re saying is right, like you deserve a scan or something more, you need to push and push.
‘You’re better off to have pushed and to know for sure that it’s not cancer than to leave it and to find out that it was.
‘But I was quietened by the doctors who were like “you don’t need an x-ray, you don’t need an x-ray at all”.’
Papillary renal cell carcinoma
Heathline say papillary renal cell carcinoma (PRCC) is a type of cancer that forms inside the lining of the kidney’s tubules (the very small tubes that do the filtering).
Commonly referred to as ‘renal cell cancer,’ PRCC is the second most common type of kidney cancer.
The average age of someone diagnosed with kidney cancer is 64, with most cases occurring in people 55 and older.
Some common symptoms of PRCC include: blood in the urine, pain in the side, unexplained weight loss, excessive fatigue, a lump or mass in the side and unexplained fever.
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