Casey Ward complained for months of severe abdominal pain, which doctors called a gallbladder problem.
They didn’t want to operate because she was pregnant, and after the baby was born, they found a large tumor.
Ward had stage 4 cancer, not a gallbladder problem, and is still battling it two years later.
Casey Ward was working as a paramedic in Charleston, South Carolina, when she was struck by a sharp pain in her upper right abdomen.
The now 33-year-old said she went to the emergency room, where clinicians ran a few tests, but told her she was probably just constipated. But that diagnosis “didn’t match the pain,” she said, or where it was festering in her stomach.
For months, the pain came back in waves, and doctors eventually chose “a bad gallbladder” as the diagnosis, Ward said. But no tests that indicate problems with the gallbladder came back positive. By this time she was pregnant with her second child, so even if it was her gallbladder, removal surgery had to wait.
Throughout the pregnancy, Ward’s pain intensified. She said she barely left the house because it hurt to walk. Even a deep breath would cause sharp pain. Ward said she begged doctors to operate. “They say, ‘No, we don’t want to hurt the baby,'” she said. “It was nine very long months.”
Two months after her daughter was born, Ward went to the emergency room again in excruciating pain. She couldn’t wait for the scheduled surgery just two days later. This time, an ultrasound saw a tumor the size of a grapefruit, she said.
Even then, the doctor assured Ward it was most likely benign, she said. “You’re young, you’re healthy,” he said, Ward recalls.
Two weeks later, the biopsy results came back as cancerous. It had spread from her bile duct to her leg and lung. A doctor gave her a day to six months to live. “I was just having such a normal day, and I was just shocked because you never think this will happen to you at 31,” Ward said. “You feel like you’re stopping breathing.”
Now, more than two years later, Ward continues the treatments and shares her story to urge people to demand answers when they think something is wrong with their bodies. “If we don’t advocate for ourselves, no one will,” she said.
Insider has reviewed Ward’s medical records documenting her cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Ward’s treatments keep her from being as hands-on with her kids as she’d like
Bile duct cancers affect the small tubes that connect the liver to the gallbladder and intestines, according to the Mayo Clinic† They are often diagnosed at a late stage, making them difficult to treat. The five-year survival rate for those who have spread to other organs is 2%.
Doctors told Ward that the hormones from her pregnancy may have accelerated the spread of the cancer. But her love for her daughter, now 1, overshadows all regrets about not getting an earlier diagnosis.
“Either I go back and try to save my life and never get her, or I’ll get her,” Ward said. “And I would never want her not.”
Ward underwent IV chemotherapy for more than a year, but switched to oral chemo when she started developing fluid in her chest. Because of the side effects, such as dizziness and sores on her skin, she has never been on the floor to play with her children. She is grateful that her husband is taking on that role. “I’m the cuddle parent,” she said.
Ward is working with Mayo Clinic doctors who will consider her for several experimental treatments when her current one stops working. “It’s always the ‘we just have to make sure we fight for your life’ mentality,” she said.
If Ward can return to work as a paramedic, her experience will be with her. “There’s nothing like understanding a person’s situation than going through the situation,” she said.
More young women talking about ‘medical gaslighting’
Research shows that women are more likely to be victims of what is popularly called “medical gas lightingor when medical professionals dismiss a person’s symptoms, refuse tests or treatments, and end up misdiagnosing.
More and more people are speaking out about the life-changing consequences. Lois Walker, a 37-year-old mother in the UK, said she made 20 phone calls and multiple ER visits due to severe pain but was told she had health anxiety. It wasn’t until she had a cesarean section that doctors discovered tumors in her ovaries, abdomen, and lymph nodes.
For 23-year-old Chloe Girardier, it took five months and seven doctor’s appointments before doctors diagnosed her persistent cough and weight loss seriously, The sun reported. She had Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Georgia Ford, 20, said her pain, spasms, vomiting and weight loss were dismissed as “all in my head.” She had stage 4 kidney cancer.
Women are “not believed, and that causes significant delays in care, misdiagnoses, late diagnoses, ineffective treatment and ineffective triage.” dr. Garima Sharma, an internist and cardiologist at Johns Hopkins previously told Insider. “Women pay a very high price.”
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