I want to share with you my sister’s story since she is no longer able to. For three long years, Althea endured unimaginable pain in her low back, pelvis and left leg. She first went to her family doctor who told her it was a strain and to take hot baths and rest. Then she went to his partners, one after the other, who also told her it was nothing to be concerned about and sent her home with valium.
She presented herself to the ER on many occasions (a few times via ambulance because her pain was so severe she could not sit, stand or ride in a car.) Again she was told it was nothing and that she just needed to find something to do (she was very active in her community and with her three children and their school). She was told over and over that she was a neurotic, anxious, pre-menopausal, drug seeking woman who needed counseling. At one point she checked herself into a psychiatric hospital, but, after 24 hours, decided she indeed was NOT CRAZY and THE PAIN WAS NOT IMAGINARY.
I had been talking to Althea throughout this ordeal (she in Rhode Island and me on the West Coast). I told her to keep going back, to keep telling them about her pain. Finally I told her to find a physician in another town—someone, somewhere who had not been tainted by the “labels” that had been stuck on her. She finally found a GYN doc in Providence Rhode Island who sat and listened (really listened) to her story and then did what no one else had done thus far—he examined her and assessed her pain. Other physicians had ignored or been blinded to her weight loss, to her complaints of diarrhea and blood in her stools, because they had labeled her and it clouded their judgment.
To make a very long story short, he found the problem. She had metastatic colon cancer which was throughout her pelvis, liver and lungs. She died one year later leaving behind a husband and three small children. I took a one-year leave of absence to go back east and help to care for her and her family as they struggled to adjust to this needless tragedy.