When Heidi Richard, a 47-year-old elementary school teacher from Worcester, Massachusetts, began experiencing severe stomach pains, vomiting, and night sweats, doctors told her that she was probably just experiencing stress or anxiety. She was sent home with an antacid.
But Richard, who had been a runner all her life, continued to suffer pain and vomiting, eventually losing 30 pounds unintentionally.
“I was trying to eat, but I was just unable to — I was just getting so sick,” she wrote in an article for Today.com. Despite her persistent, troubling symptoms, at her next doctor’s visit, Heidi was told that she probably had mono — even though her test for the infection came back negative. She was then told again to keep taking her antacids, and given a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication.
As more time passed, Richard developed back pain and swelling in her neck. At first, doctors suggested that she had a pulled muscle and tried to give her a muscle relaxer. But Richard listened to her gut feeling that something more serious was wrong, and demanded an imaging test.
It was then that she finally received her true diagnosis: stage 4 diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which had spread to her abdomen, spleen, bone marrow, sternum, lungs, groin, and neck.
“Doctors kept saying, ‘Oh, it’s anxiety or you can’t handle the stress of your job or you’re overreacting. It’s not a big problem,’” she wrote. “I don’t feel like they would have said those things to me if I had been a man.”
Richards began an intense treatment regime which included chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant, and continuous immunotherapy. This year, on April 18, she plans to run the Boston marathon. She is speaking out to encourage other women to listen to their bodies.
“Know what your baseline is and when something is wrong, don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion or ask for that test,” she wrote. “Don’t be afraid of sounding like a hypochondriac — that’s what I was afraid of and luckily I spoke up when I did, because finally I had enough.”