Published Jun 8, 2021
Twenty-eight-year-old Amanda Lee knew something was wrong; she was unable to eat, and had dropped 35 lbs.
When she went to a doctor describing her symptoms, he told her maybe her weight loss was a “blessing.” After sharing her story on social media and finding another doctor, she was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer.
“I’ve been dealing with abdominal cramping for months now and no doctor will listen to me, so I thought I’d go to this new GI doctor that I had to fight for, and I told him that I hadn’t been eating because it causes pain, and I have pain when I eat. He looked at me and had the audacity to say, ‘Maybe that’s not such a bad thing,'” the Los Angeles-based artist said tearfully in a TikTok video at the time, expressing her frustration. “I’m so upset. I’m so upset.”
Lee had intense stomach pain and the doctor wouldn’t run any diagnostic tests on her. After being urged to go see another doctor, Lee underwent a colonoscopy, and that’s when they found the large tumor. The cancer had already spread to her lymph nodes.
“I am so grateful … to everyone who reached out and said, ‘Please go find another doctor,'” she said.
Now, the young cancer warrior is sharing her story to encourage others to stand up for themselves.
“I’m not saying the cancer outcome is normal. That’s not normal,” she said. “But the way he handled the situation is normal, and it is way too common. It’s barbaric and something our medical system needs to change. If one woman wakes up tomorrow and hears my story and decides to find another doctor after a doctor had treated her poorly, then I have done my job.”
Lee is currently going through chemotherapy, and is keeping a positive attitude about her cancer journey.
“I still have a lot of hair, so I still look pretty normal. Chemo is hard, but I can do it,” she said. “It’s a small price to pay for a long life.”
Lee was so taken aback by her doctor’s comments that it threw her off course and could have prevented her from getting a diagnosis. It’s important to stand up for yourself if you feel you are being dismissed or mistreated by a doctor. Getting a second opinion is crucial if something doesn’t feel right. Luckily, Lee received the help she needed.
Dr. Zuri Murrell, a colorectal surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, says sometimes patients need to be pushy.
“From a doctor’s perspective, every problem should have a diagnosis, a treatment, a plan for follow-up, and a plan for what happens next if the treatment doesn’t work,” Dr. Murrell explains to SurvivorNet.
“As a patient, if you don’t feel like each of these four things has been accomplished, just ask! Even if it requires multiple visits or seeing additional providers for a second opinion, always be your own advocate.”
When you have a colonoscopy for colon cancer screening, the gastroenterologist performing the procedure is looking at the inside of your colon to detect polyps.
Polyps are small growths in the colon that are not yet cancerous, but have the potential to develop into cancer. A polyp that is found during a colonoscopy is removed, which can actually prevent the development of cancer. A pathologist determines if it is a benign polyp or if it is colon cancer. Most polyps that are removed are precancerous, meaning that they have not yet progressed to cancer.
In Lee’s case, if she would have gotten a colonoscopy sooner, her cancer could have potentially been prevented, or caught earlier. Many people hold off on getting a colonoscopy because of the perceived discomfort or embarrassment of the situation. That’s why it’s helpful to know that it is a painless procedure.
“When we see a polyp, we actually physically take the polyp out through the colonoscope,” Dr. Murrell said. “That means we basically put a wire through with a little bit of a little flange at the end, and we pull the polyp out. Now, note there is no pain with that. Inside the colon, there are no pain fibers. So there’s no pain.”
When they take the polyp out, they send it to a lab.
“A pathologist basically cuts up the little polyp and looks under a microscope,” Dr. Murrell explained. “And underneath the microscope, they can decide whether or not it is early cancer or whether it is just a precancerous polyp.”
95% of polyps are precancerous polyps, which means that it’s not a cancer yet.
“But it would have been a cancer ultimately if you just let it grow and grow and grow,” he said. “Well, guess what? Now that it’s out of your body, there is no more risk for that polyp to become a cancer.”