My doctors said I got heartburn from partying - now I'm fighting for my life

A college student diagnosed with “alcohol-induced heartburn” was horrified to discover she actually had terminal cancer.

“It literally turned my life upside down,” Georgia Ford, 20, told Kennedy News of the misdiagnosis that went horribly wrong. “I had gone from a full-fledged university student to a hospitalized cancer patient in a matter of weeks.”

The Gloucester, England native specifically has a rare cancer called papillary renal cell carcinoma – which is a tumor that originates in her kidneys and has metastasized to the lungs, liver, lymph nodes and bones.

Ford first called the doctor after feeling sick with heartburn – a symptom of acid reflux – prompting him to inquire about her drinking habits.

“It literally turned my life upside down,” Georgia Ford, 20, told Kennedy News.Kennedy News and Media

Georgia FordThe 20-year-old student was told by doctors that her symptoms were due to “drinking” too much.Kennedy News and Media

“They said, ‘Do you drink a lot?’ and I said, ‘Yes, obviously I do,’ so they prescribed me these pills to protect my stomach lining,” recalled Ford, who studied law at the University of Exeter.

She became suspicious of the doctor’s diagnosis when she got home – and although she didn’t drink during her stay, her symptoms persisted.

When the pills weren’t enough, her doctors reportedly traced her discomfort to another, unconcerned ailment related to back pain, which she’s had since August 2020. Hospitals then misdiagnosed it as muscle spasms.

“I attribute my back pain to poor posture or poor sleeping position,” Ford said. “I used to slump down and sit awkwardly.”

Ford later determined that was not the case. In October 2021, her lower back pain flared up again – “obviously in hindsight” a sign of kidney problems, she said. The scholar was in so much pain that she could hardly lie down.

Georgia FordFord studied law at the University of Exeter before focusing on her health.Kennedy News and Media

Georgia FordFord was prescribed medication to suppress acid reflux, but the heartburn sensation persisted – along with other symptoms including back pain and eventually a mysterious cough.Kennedy News and Media

But her “main symptom,” Ford noted in the Kennedy News, was a cough so severe that she caught her breath and vomited.

“I was coughing so much that I ended up getting sick,” said the patient. “That’s when I started losing weight because I wasn’t very good at keeping to food.”

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

“I’ve been to my GP a number of times about this,” Ford said. “Any time we tried something new and it didn’t work, I’d go back and we’d try something different.”

Georgia FordFord is currently undergoing immunotherapy to treat her kidney cancer, which has spread to her liver, lungs, lymph nodes and bones.Kennedy News and Media

She added: “They basically said it was all in my head and I wasn’t sick at all. I said, ‘I can’t believe I have so many severe symptoms and it’s all in my head.'”

Eventually, Ford called the emergency room after her cough got so bad she had trouble walking long distances or climbing stairs. She even started coughing up blood. And while examiners found “cloudy patches” on her lungs, doctors assured Ford it was nothing “life-threatening,” she said.

Despite this, she was referred to respiratory specialists for three months, even though her condition was rapidly deteriorating and she lost more than 20 pounds.

With no choice but to reach out, Ford booked an appointment with a doctor in a private practice in November 2021, who eventually diagnosed her with PRCC.

X-ray lungsEven after doctors discovered “cloudy patches” on her lungs, they assured Ford it was nothing “life-threatening,” she claimed.Kennedy News and Media

Georgia FordThe patient eventually took her case to a private practice clinic where she was eventually diagnosed with papillary renal cell carcinoma.Kennedy News and Media

Approximately 79,000 new cases of kidney cancer will be diagnosed this year in the United States alone. Most common in adults 55 and older, PRCC affects 15% of kidney cancer patients, according to the National Institutes of Health, and causes symptoms such as unexplained weight loss, fever, and bloody urine.

By the time Ford’s cancer was discovered, it had already spread throughout her body, triggering myriad other symptoms, including her mysterious cough.

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

“There are very few times in my life where I’ve been speechless… I just couldn’t find the words,” Ford said of the moment she learned of her diagnosis. “It’s just like this overwhelming sadness.”

To contain the cancer, the patient began immunotherapy, including daily pills and intravenous (IV) treatment. She also takes portable oxygen tanks with her whenever she goes out and uses an oxygen line at night to support her breathing.

Ford says her goal is to “live normally” and feel well enough to return to law school in September. She has also started a GoFundMe fundraiser benefiting two charities dedicated to fighting PRCC.

Despite her positive attitude, Ford says she can’t help but speculate whether her prognosis would have been different if doctors had caught the disease sooner.

Georgia FordFord hopes to be well enough this fall to return to college.Kennedy News and Media

“I don’t know how much sicker I’ve gotten in that time and if maybe my story would have been a little different if it had been noticed a little earlier,” she said. “It’s one of those questions that I’ll never know, but I keep asking myself.”

Ford now hopes to use her ordeal as a cautionary tale to highlight the dangers of not listening to your body.

“If you think something is wrong, you have to push and push,” she said.