A mum was diagnosed with Stage Four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma after her male GP told her he would "bet his mortgage" that her symptoms were "normal birth complications” because she was "too young" to have cancer—despite spending less than five minutes with her.
Beth Doherty, 28, a performing arts lecturer from the West Midlands, UK, started experiencing extreme back pain four months after giving birth to her daughter, now aged two, in 2020.
She visited her GP in early 2021, who told her that she had sciatica from childbirth. He told her to rest and sent her home.
By March, the pain was so severe that Beth's twelve-year-old sister had to bathe her because she couldn't lift her arms. She could barely move or even hold her daughter.
Beth's father died of Leiomyosarcoma, a soft tissue cancer, when she was a child, so she was very aware of what the changes in her body could mean.
Once again, the same GP dismissed her concerns as typical post-birth symptoms. He even told her he would "bet his mortgage" that it was nothing "serious" because people her age "don't get cancer".
It was only when Beth spoke to a female on-call doctor that she was taken seriously and sent for an MRI.
MRI reveals serious problem
The GP who had refused to take her seriously called her the same day as her MRI and told her to come into the surgery with a chaperone. At that appointment, he told her the MRI was showing signs of cancer.
An urgent PET scan revealed the full extent of the disease. She had cancerous spots throughout her body, particularly in her spine, which was under so much strain that medics were afraid of it collapsing.
Beth was eventually diagnosed with Stage 4 Classical Hodgkin Lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system and white blood cells, six months after her first doctor's appointment.
Her chemotherapy had to be started quickly, but Beth unfortunately contracted Covid-19 before her treatment, meaning it had to be delayed.
This ultimately meant that she could not have egg-freezing treatment, meaning that there is a chance that Beth and her partner Sean, 29, will be unable to have any more children.
Beth went through 12 rounds of ABVD chemotherapy and has now been in remission for almost a year, but the damage caused by her doctor's negligence will last for a lifetime.
"I feel like I have missed out on getting to do all the special things that mums and babies should get to do, especially as she may have been our only chance," Beth said.
"Even if we were fortunate to be able to get pregnant again in the future, we just don't know how my body and spine would handle the pressure and physical demands of another pregnancy."
GP 'never apologised' for dismissing her symptoms
Beth is one of many women who have spoken out in recent years about the difficulties women face when dealing with male doctors, who often dismiss their symptoms as "normal" things women just have to deal with.
She is determined to empower other people to advocate for themselves and their bodies, sharing her story on her Instagram, @b.andthebig.c.
"He [the GP] was extremely passive, almost unwilling to listen to me or my symptoms. I almost felt like I was wasting his time.
"I would come out of every appointment feeling deflated or upset from the tone he had used to speak to me. The entirety of every appointment with that particular GP must have been five minutes or less.
"I remember sitting at home with my partner googling different symptoms, and before I had been diagnosed I kept being drawn to the NHS page for lymphoma. I knew before the professionals, which is why I always stress the importance of knowing your own body on my Instagram page.
"He never apologised to me, not even when he had to sit me down and tell me the MRI results. And he hasn't acknowledged the fact he was wrong."
'I look and feel very different to how I did before'
Beth remained remarkably positive during her treatment and was supported by her partner and her closest family and friends, whom she says were "wonderful."
"I ended up losing my hair, which was particularly difficult for me," Beth said.
"Though I did end up having fun experimenting with new styles and wigs and being able to take the wig off at the end of a long day became almost a satisfying feeling!
"I'm still getting used to my new body, physically and mentally. I look and feel very different to how I did before my diagnosis. I have continuing mobility issues, and fatigue issues, and I struggle with a severely weakened immune system. As a result, I still get very nervous going out into large crowds."
Despite the long-term battle she faces, Beth has already saved lives with her advocacy.
"Since starting my Instagram page in September 2021, I have had five other women come forward to say they have gone and been checked by their GP for symptoms they recognised as a result of my page," she said.
"And so many friends and family members have registered to national and global stem cell registers to help save the lives of others like me, including a close family member who is currently preparing to donate his stem cells after testing as a positive match for someone."
She is now focusing on the future.
"For now, my focus is on rebuilding myself, my strength, re-establishing my career and making special memories with my little family before our daughter starts school to catch up on the time we have lost," Beth said.
"We hope that one day we might be lucky enough for our little family to grow, but for right now it's perfect."
- Media Drum World/Australscope
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