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Comedian Jen Curran’s bone marrow cancer almost went undiagnosed thanks to a doctor’s weight stigma–an all too common stigma held among those in the medical field.
Wanna hear a crazy story? I’m a new mom & I had protein in my urine during and after pregnancy, which is bad. A doctor told me to “lose weight” & it would go away. Didn’t want me to see me back for months. So I got a second opinion. Turns out I have bone marrow cancer. THREAD: 1/— Jen Curran (@jencurran) August 12, 2019
Curran explained on Twitter that she is a new mom who had high levels of protein in her urine during and after her pregnancy, so she went to see a kidney doctor at the behest of her obstetrician.
At the end of my 2nd trimester they found high protein in my urine and I was diagnosed with preeclampsia. 3/— Jen Curran (@jencurran) August 12, 2019
Everything stayed stable for the rest of the pregnancy. But my OB was unusually worried about the protein in my urine. It was too high to match up with my other preeclampsia symptoms. 5/— Jen Curran (@jencurran) August 12, 2019
The kidney doctor told Curran that she needed to diet and exercise to try and lose weight.
Curran wrote that she was familiar with “the old ‘lose weight’ diagnosis” by medical professionals and that something didn’t quite “feel right,” so she smartly sought out a second opinion.
The doctor blinked at my lab results. “Can you start dieting and exercising? Try to lose some weight?” Hmm. Interesting. I was familiar with this move by a medical professional. The old “lose weight” diagnosis. 12/— Jen Curran (@jencurran) August 12, 2019
I wanted to believe her but it didn’t feel right to me. Plus she was almost, like, talking past me. Asked me a question about breastfeeding and literally didn’t listen to the answer. Responded as though I said the exact opposite of what I‘d said. Not listening. Not present. 14/— Jen Curran (@jencurran) August 12, 2019
“The NEW kidney doctor took one look at my lab tests and said, ‘This is not good. And there’s nothing diet or exercise can do to touch it,” Curran wrote. “I was surprised BUT ALSO NOT.”
Curran went through both a kidney and bone marrow biopsy to find out that she actually had bone marrow cancer.
“And if I hadn’t gotten a second opinion?” she wrote. “Duh. I‘ll already be weeks into chemo by the time the followup with that first kidney doctor rolls around. And who knows how much longer it would have taken her to diagnose me?”
For the sake of getting to the point, you’ll just have to trust me that a kidney biopsy is not fun. Do not recommend. Would not endorse. Unsubscribe. 25/— Jen Curran (@jencurran) August 12, 2019
Shocking. Gut wrenching. I have a 5 month old baby. I’m not even 40 years old. I’m not even caught up on Big Little Lies. 30/— Jen Curran (@jencurran) August 12, 2019
So here we are and here we go. I’m 38 and I have a new baby and I have bone marrow cancer. Definitely not what I expected. Definitely don’t wanna have to deal with this. But I’m going to beat it. 33/— Jen Curran (@jencurran) August 12, 2019
Curran isn’t the first person to have an illness, disability, or disease dismissed due to weight. And, according to a study, more than 50% of physicians “viewed obese patients as awkward, unattractive, ugly, and noncompliant.”
Many others began sharing their own stories in response to Curran’s–some with more tragic outcomes.
“So glad you got a 2nd opinion. A woman I knew went to her doctor for shortness of breath. Dr took one look at her and told her to lose weight. “Of course you can’t breath! Look at you! Lose weight and you’ll be fine”. Next day, she was dead from a blood clot in her lungs,” one wrote.
“weight” and “menapause” apparently are the causes of every ailment for women ... no matter how much we track symptoms, or research & provide it to the doctors, they skip over it. I’m so sorry you are going through this & thank you for sharing it.— SoodyQ (@SoodyQ) August 13, 2019
My mother had this cancer. She was symptomatic but was told to see a shrink. One of her huge symptoms was unexplained weight loss. If she had been thin to begin with, she would’ve gotten a diagnosis. Instead, what she got was congratulations for losing weight without trying.— Becca 👩🏻🦰 (@rstoneham77) August 12, 2019
I understand. I had a mystery gasto disease a few years ago. I never even got down to “overweight” from “obese” but I lost about 70 lbs before we figured it out. I was down to about 300-400 cal a day, and could barely walk from exhaustion. Hearing “keep up the good work” was 😡.— Becca 👩🏻🦰 (@rstoneham77) August 13, 2019
Ugh. So glad you got a 2nd opinion. A woman I knew went to her doctor for shortness of breath. Dr took one look at her and told her to lose weight. “Of course you can’t breath! Look at you! Lose weight and you’ll be fine”. Next day, she was dead from a blood clot in her lungs.— Laura Walsh (@Laurawalsh18) August 12, 2019
Many want Curran to attend her follow-up appointment with the doctor who left her undiagnosed. “PLEASE go to that follow-up appointment, even just to calmly inform her you have cancer that her negligence would have allowed to kill you,” one wrote.
Some even want Curran to report the doctor to the state licensing medical board.
Please go to that follow up. Print this entire thread out. Take the results from the second opinion. And make it Crystal Fucking Clear to that doctor just how badly she fucked up. (Consider filing a complaint with the state board, too. I know, in all your free time.)— Kelly Hills (@rocza) August 13, 2019
PLEASE go to that follow up appointment, even just to calmly inform her you have cancer that her negligence would have allowed to kill you. Thank you so much for sharing your story. And congratulations on your precious baby girl.— Kaila Lydia ⚘ (@kailalydia_) August 13, 2019
I'm very curious, are you going to go to the followup appt just to give the doc a massive lecture on the life threatening danger of fat phobia & half-assed diagnoses? Because I would love to hear about her reaction.— mivox ❄️ (@mivox) August 12, 2019
(I mean, if you're feeling up to it at that point at least.)
Can you please keep the follow up appointment just to scream swear words at her? And film it for all of us?— Jennifer the Ill-Meaning Faery (@illmeaningfaery) August 13, 2019
Please consider reporting that doc to your state medical licensing board.— Alessondra Springmann (@sondy) August 13, 2019
I’d think more along the lines of alerting her certifying boards— whoowhootheory (@whoowhootheory) August 13, 2019
People are also sharing advice on how to navigate what is sometimes a misogynistic and fatphobic healthcare system.
the question I always ask is, "what would you recommend to a patient who wasn't fat and had these symptoms?"— horny on maine (@citizendemento) August 12, 2019
I like to ask a doctor- “what would you say if I was you child/family” and you get a bit of a more thoughtful answer. @jencurran TY for sharing and sending you positive vibes🙌— Theuner (@taratdavis) August 13, 2019
Perhaps also "What would you recommend to a patient who wasn't female and had these symptoms?" Because research tells us that doctors - regardless of their own sex - are less likely to take women seriously as authorities on their own bodies.— Jennie Kermode (@jennie_kermode) August 13, 2019
Curran ended her thread with some of her own advice.
“Lose weight if you want to. But if you think something is seriously wrong with your body, and a doctor tells you weight loss is the key to fixing it, get a goddamn second opinion,” Curran wrote.
Here’s the moral of this particular story. Lose weight if you want to. But if you think something is seriously wrong with your body, and a doctor tells you weight loss is the key to fixing it, get a goddamn second opinion. 39/— Jen Curran (@jencurran) August 12, 2019
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Siobhan Ball is a historian, archivist, and journalist. She also writes for Autostraddle and bi.org