Student struck by rare cancer called papillary renal cell carcinoma

A 20-year-old university student was told by her doctor she had heartburn from partying too much. Now she’s fighting for her life.

A university student who had been diagnosed with “booze-induced heartburn” was horrified to discover that she actually had an incurable cancer.

“It’s literally turned my life upside down,” Georgia Ford, 20, told Kennedy News of the misdiagnosis gone horribly wrong. “I’d gone from being a full university student within a few weeks to being in hospital as a cancer patient.”

The Gloucester, England, native specifically has a rare cancer called papillary renal cell carcinoma — which entails a tumour stemming from her kidneys that has metastasised to her lungs, liver, lymph nodes and bones.

Ford had initially reported to the doctor after feeling ill with heartburn — a symptom of acid reflux — whereupon he inquired about her drinking habits.

“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,” recalled Ford, who has been studying law at the University of Exeter.

She became suspicious of the doc’s diagnosis upon visiting home — and, though she didn’t drink over her stay, her symptoms lingered.

When the pills didn’t do the trick, her physicians reportedly chalked up her discomfort to a different, un-concerning affliction relating to back pain she’d been experiencing since August 2020. Hospitals then misdiagnosed it as muscle spasms.

“I put my back pain down to bad posture or sleeping positions,” said Ford. “I’ve always slumped and sat funny.”

Ford later realised that wasn’t the case. In October 2021, her lower back pain flared up again — “obviously in hindsight” a sign of kidney problems, she said. The scholar hurt so bad she could hardly lie down.

But her “main symptom,” Ford noted to Kennedy News, was a cough so severe it would sap her breath and cause her to vomit.

“I’d coughed so much that I’d end up being sick,” said the patient. “That’s when I started to lose weight because I wasn’t holding onto food very well.”

Despite a smorgasbord of alarming symptoms, doctors still didn’t believe the aspiring lawyer had a serious condition.

“I went to my GP about it a number of times,” Ford said. “Every time we’d try something new and it wouldn’t work and I’d go back and we’d try something else.”

She added, “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’.”

Eventually Ford reported to the emergency room after her cough became so bad that she struggled to walk long distances or climb stairs. She even began coughing up blood. And while the examiners found “cloudy patches” on her lungs, doctors assured Ford it wasn’t “anything life-threatening,” she said.

Nonetheless, she was put on a three-month referral to respiratory experts even as her condition deteriorated rapidly, with her losing more than 20 pounds.

Left with nowhere else to turn, Ford booked an appointment with a private practice physician in November 2021, who ultimately diagnosed her with PRCC.

This year about 79,000 new cases of kidney (renal) cancers will be diagnosed in the US alone. Most commonly seen in adults 55 and older, PRCC affects 15% of kidney cancer sufferers, causing symptoms such as unexplained weight loss, fever and bloody urine, according to the National Institutes of Health.

By the time Ford’s cancer was detected, it had already spread throughout her body, prompting myriad other symptoms, like her mysterious cough.

Her condition, she would learn, was “incurable.”

“There’s very few times in my life where I’ve been speechless … words just completely evaded me,” Ford said of the moment she learned her diagnosis. “It’s just like this overwhelming sadness.”

In an effort to curb cancer, the patient began immunotherapy, including daily tablets and intravenous (IV) treatment. She also takes portable oxygen tanks whenever she goes out, and uses an oxygen pipe at night to aid her breathing.

Ford says her goal is to “live normally,” and feel well enough to resume her law studies in September. She’s also launched a GoFundMe fundraiser benefiting two charities dedicated to fighting PRCC.

Despite her positive outlook, Ford says she can’t help but speculate whether her prognosis would be different if doctors had caught the disease 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,” she said. “It’s one of those questions that I’ll never know, but always wonder.”

Ford now hopes to use her ordeal as cautionary tale highlighting the perils of not listening to one’s body.

“If you think that something’s wrong, you need to push and push,” she said.

This article was originally published by the New York Post and reproduced with permission

Originally published as ‘My doctor said I had heartburn from partying — now I’m fighting for life’