A student has told of her agony after the heartburn doctors told her was from drinking at uni actually turned out to be incurable cancer.
British woman Georgia Ford said she developed a ‘choking’ cough last April and sickness soon after, but a doctor put this down to the amount of alcohol she was drinking and prescribed her stomach-lining tablets.
WATCH IN THE VIDEO ABOVE: Student tells of signs of kidney cancer
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But over the course of several months the 20-year-old’s symptoms, which also included weight loss and back pain, worsened.
“Originally the GP said the sickness was acid reflux from the amount that I was drinking because I was a student,” Georgia said.
“They were like ‘do you drink a lot?’ and I was like ‘yeah, obviously I do’ so they put me on these stomach lining protection tablets.
“You believe what the doctor says and I thought ‘I do drink a lot, and alcohol’s poison isn’t it, maybe it is just bothering my stomach a lot.’
“But then I came home where I’m not a big drinker and it still carried on, so I was slightly miffed as to why it wasn’t just stopping.
“The tablets didn’t work and then it got put down to various other things.”
Georgia said that for a while medics wondered if her symptoms were brought on by anxiety.
“When they said anxiety could be a contributing factor I was like ‘I don’t consider myself to be an anxious person to begin with and also how can this all be psychological?’
“They basically said that this was all in my head and I wasn’t ill at all. I said ‘I fail to believe that I’m having this many severe symptoms and it’s all in my head’.
“I’m five months on from starting my treatment now, but I could be further along if I’d been diagnosed earlier.
“I don’t know how much more ill I became in that time and whether if it had been caught a little bit earlier, my story might be a little bit different.
“It’s one of those questions that I’ll never know, but always wonder.”
Symptoms get worse
Georgia said her cough got progressively worse to the point it stopped her from being able to do things like walking or running as far as usual, and climbing stairs also became a struggle.
Her vomiting reached its worst in August which caused her to lose 10 kilos in weight, mostly between September and November.
The first time Georgia experienced back pain was back in August 2020 and was told in hospital she was experiencing muscle spasms.
She experienced it again the following October along with pain in her left shoulder.
Georgia said: “The cough was my main symptom at first and I went to my GP about it a number of times and got told different things.
“Every time we’d try something new and it wouldn’t work and I’d go back and we’d try something else.
“It was quite a choking cough, it would literally take my breath away. It wasn’t chesty or dry, it was unlike anything I’d had before really.
“I’d been at university going out and had been around loads of people, and then when you come home and you’re all run down you just do generally do get a bit unwell.
“So I hadn’t really thought anything of it when I came home because I thought it was just my body reacting to burning the candle at both ends for such a long time.
“Then I went back to university [last September] and it just didn’t go away.
“I’d coughed so much that I’d end up being sick. That’s when I started to lose weight because I wasn’t holding onto food very well.
“My lower back pain got really bad again last October, which obviously in hindsight was my kidneys.
“It started to hurt quite a lot when I was lying flat, it wasn’t very comfortable.
“I put my back pain down to bad posture or sleeping positions. I’ve always slumped and sat funny.
“I was always sat at my desk and didn’t have a great setup or the nicest chair in a student house, it’s usually some rubbish kitchen or cheap office chair.
“You just don’t think these things are bigger than they are, you just think ‘oh well, it’s part of what it is’.”
In August Georgia started coughing up blood so dashed to Emergency where they did an X-ray and ‘cloudy patches’ were detected on her lungs – but she claims she was assured it wasn’t cancer or ‘anything life-threatening’.
She was put on a three-month referral to a respiratory team but during this time she became much more unwell so booked a private appointment.
The 20-year-old was eventually diagnosed with papillary renal cell carcinoma, a type of kidney cancer, last November.
Georgia said: “There’s very few times in my life where I’ve been speechless and I was sat there and words just completely evaded me, I didn’t know what to say.
“I was just so shocked. Just any hope I had of it maybe being something else, it was just the most sinking feeling to be told basically the worst-case scenario and I was just so disappointed in everything.
“Honestly it’s not been the same since that, that one moment has literally changed my life.
“They later said ‘look, it started in your kidney and it’s in your lungs, liver, lymph nodes and bones’.
“I remember thinking ‘ok, it’s already spread quite far away from its original site’.
“That’s when they also told me that it was incurable.
“It’s just like this overwhelming sadness that just fills you at the time.
“I’ve come a long way since and I’m on my way to accepting and just learning to live with it and doing what I can within the constraints of my life now.
“But at the time I’d gone from being a full university student within a few weeks to being in hospital as a cancer patient. It was just unbelievable.
“It’s literally turned my life upside down.”
The law student said she’s since started immunotherapy, which involves taking medication daily and having an intravenous drip every fortnight.
She also takes portable oxygen tanks out with her and uses an oxygen pipe at night to help her breathe comfortably.
The aim of her treatment is to shrink the cancer down as much as possible to the point where she can ‘live normally’ and she hopes to return to her studies when she’s feeling well enough.
Georgia set up a fundraising page for two charitable organizations that are supporting her throughout her treatment.
Georgia said: “No matter what a doctor or any healthcare professional says you know your body better than anybody else.
“If you think that something’s wrong and if you don’t feel that what they’re saying is right, like you deserve a scan or something more, you need to push and push.”
What is papillary renal cell carcinoma (PRCC)
Papillary renal cell carcinoma (PRCC) is a type of cancer that forms inside the lining of the kidney’s tubules (the very small tubes that do the filtering).
Commonly referred to as ‘renal cell cancer,’ PRCC is the second most common type of kidney cancer.
The average age of someone diagnosed with kidney cancer is 64, with most cases occurring in people 55 and older.
Some common symptoms of PRCC include: blood in the urine, pain in the side, unexplained weight loss, excessive fatigue, a lump or mass in the side and unexplained fever.