A Philadelphia woman has recounted her feelings of ‘utter rage’ when she learned she had cancer — after six years of doctors insisting that her health problems were all due to her weight.
Rebecca Hiles, now 28, was 17 when she first started to experience coughing fits and trouble breathing. For the next six years, according to Cosmopolitan, she visited several doctors, all of whom advised her to lose weight to solve her problems.
It wasn’t until she was 23 and in the hospital for yet another bloody fit of coughing that she learned the truth: She had a tumor in her bronchial tube that had been left untreated for so long that she needed her entire left lung removed.
Sick: Rebecca Hiles, now 28, was in high school when she first started experiencing frequent coughing fits and trouble breathing
Fixated: Over the next several years, her health problems got worse, but doctors just told her to lose weight
Rebecca first started to have health problems when she was a senior in high school, getting bronchitis and pneumonia. But while those cleared up, her coughing did not, and she saw doctors for help.
‘Doctors said, “If you lost weight, you wouldn’t have this many coughing fits,”‘ she says.
Even when she began to cough up blood one night and went to the emergency room, doctors dismissed her concerns.
‘I went to the ER only to have them tell me that there wasn’t anything they could do for me. It was probably just a broken blood vessel. They prescribed me some antibiotics, told me that if I lost weight, I would have a stronger immune system,’ she wrote on her blog.
Awful: Her issues became so bad that she would cough up blood, vomit, and lose bladder control
Stuck on it: Doctors diagnosed her with asthma and GERD but kept telling her to lose weight and her health would improve
Losing weight also didn’t come the way it should have. At Clarion University, Rebecca danced regularly and climbed up an on-campus hill called ‘Cardiac Hill’ ever day — but despite being ‘very active,’ her weight stayed the same and her breathing problems got worse.
‘Any time I went to see the doctor to figure out why I couldn’t shake this cold or that cold, I was given an antibiotic and told to lose weight,’ she says.
The coughing eventually led to bladder control issues in her early 20s that were so severe she needed adult diapers. She would cough until she threw up, and took a long list of medications including cough syrups, antacids, and steroids.
Still, though, doctors told her it was ‘clearly just weight-related,’ diagnosing her with everything from asthma to GERD. They were so fixated on that idea that being overweight was at the root of her problems that they ignored some of her symptoms.
Really ill: At 23, she ended up in the hospital, where doctors finally discovered that she had a tumor in her bronchial tube
‘Instead of listening to a patient when they say, “Well, I’m trying to work out, but then I can’t breathe,” they just dismiss them by saying, “Well, if you lose a little bit more weight, it’s going to be easier for you to breathe.”‘
Finally, when she was 23 and had been sick for six years, Rebecca saw a new doctor who recommended that she visit a pulmonologist, a respiratory doctor, who could test her lungs.
Before she could see the specialist, though, she ended up back in the emergency room, coughing up blood. There, doctors did a CT-scan (in the past, they had only done X-rays), and discovered a tumor in her bronchial tube.
The tumor had caused her left lung to deteriorate so bad that she needed an operation to remove the whole thing.
‘The bottom half of my lung was black. It was dead. I had a rotting piece of tissue inside of me for who knows how long,’ she said.
Wasted time: She felt ‘rage’ to learn she needed her entire left lung removed
‘When my surgeon told me a diagnosis five years prior could’ve saved my lung, I remember a feeling of complete and utter rage. Because I remembered the five years I spent looking for some kind of reason why I was always coughing, always sick.
‘Most of all, I remembered being consistently told that the reason I was sick was because I was fat.’
Now, Rebecca advises other people to advocate for themselves and do research when they’re sick, instead of blindly trusting their doctors.
‘My doctors treated my fat, rather than investigating the real reason I was sick and it could’ve killed me,’ she added.