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A Black Woman Was Told She Had IBS After Unexpected Weight Loss. She Actually Had Colon Cancer.

Sughnen Yongo

by Sughnen Yongo

October 20, 2022

Ashley Teague could not understand her sudden weight loss and pain. Although she complained to her healthcare provider several times, her concerns were dismissed.

Ashley’s Story

In 2019, Ashley Teague noticed that she began to lose weight, but she did not specifically know why. At the time, she did not mind the change in her body. The year before, Teague suffered two traumatic losses: the loss of a close friend and the loss of her uncle, who was serving in the army. At the time, she had added weight, but fast forward to a year earlier, Teague, a mother of two, had lost 25 pounds and also started to experience extreme diarrhea about seven times a day, along with a sharp pain on the side.

Teague panicked and brought the situation to her healthcare provider, who initially dismissed her symptoms. The nurse practitioner said that she had irritable bowel syndrome. Although Teague returned the next month with complaints about bloody stool, and she was dismissed again, because according to healthcare personnel, she looked “healthy.” The nurse also dismissed her initial request for a colonoscopy, stating that they did not give colonoscopies to people younger than 48.

 

 

 

Teague told Insider that she knew something was wrong with her body. According to Teague, it took her about six to seven months of advocating for herself at the doctor’s office before she was given a colonoscopy — this happened in spite of her genetic predisposition to multiple cancers, including colorectal cancer.

Teague told Insider that she told the healthcare team that her mother, who had survived both kidney and breast cancer, had Lynch syndrome, which according to  MD Anderson Cancer Center, placed her at a higher risk of inheriting the condition.

In spite of this, clinicians still downplayed her symptoms and told Teague to reduce her intake of spicy food.

When Teague learned that her father had recently had cancerous polyps removed from his colon, and told her providers that, they finally agreed to fast-track her to a colonoscopy.

“Suddenly, everyone was scrambling, ‘We’ve got to get you scheduled, we’ve got to get you scheduled,” said Teague.

The Plight Of Black Women

After the procedure, Teague discovered that she had a baseball-sized tumor in her colon. Teague has shared her story because she wants to raise awareness and empower people to advocate for themselves. While Teague’s story is heartbreaking, it is another prime example of the healthcare disparity in almost every niche of the medical system and how Black women consistently bear the brunt of it. In the medical world, Black women like Teague continuously have to push to get their voices heard. Because we seem “strong,” our physical pain is very often minimized, and at the same time, we are dehumanized.

 

A report by Yale Medicine stated that people who know they have Lynch syndrome typically begin colon cancer screenings way ahead of time in their 20s and repeat them every year.

The American Cancer Society also reports that if colon cancer is caught early, it can be treated and the survival rate is 90% if the cancer doesn’t spread to other parts of the body. This is something the healthcare facility should have known ahead of time to prevent Teague’s life from being in more imminent danger.

Clinicians, Get People Screened

Teague, who now has a GoFundMe page to support her medical costs is encouraging clinicians to take concerns and complaints seriously.

“I have so many ideas and plans I want to get to advocating, I feel a little discouraged in this big old world, will my voice really be the one?” said Teague. “But someone needs to” encourage clinicians to take family history, medical history, and symptoms into account, and not just dismiss patients due to their age, she said.  Getting screened, Teague said, at the least can give people “peace of mind.”