I was told heartburn was down to boozing too much – now I’m fighting for my life at 20

A UNI student is fighting for her life after doctors initially said her symptoms were heartburn from drinking too much alcohol.

Georgia Ford, 20, said she developed a “choking” cough in April 2021 and sickness soon after.

But a GP just put this down to her party lifestyle and prescribed her stomach-lining tablets.

Over the course of several months Georgia’s health problems, which also included weight loss and back pain, worsened.

After countless trips to the doctors, Georgia was stunned when she was eventually told her symptoms were due to a kidney cancer called papillary renal cell carcinoma in November.

The student has since been given the heart-breaking news that the cancer had also spread around her body and is incurable.

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The aspiring criminal lawyer said she'll “always wonder” if her disease was caught sooner, whether her prognosis might be different.

Georgia, of Stroud, Gloucestershire, said: "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.

"It's one of those questions that I'll never know, but always wonder."

When Georgia went to see her GP about feeling sick – a symptom of acid reflux (hearburn) – he quizzed her about her drinking habits.

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She said: "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.

"You believe what the doctor says and I thought 'I do drink a lot, and alcohol's poison isn't it, maybe it is just bothering my stomach a lot’.

"The tablets didn't work and then it got put down to various other things.”

Georgia’s first symptom to emerge was back pain in August 2020, more than a year before diagnosis. 

Georgia claims the hospital said she was experiencing muscle spasms.

She said: "My lower back pain got really bad again last October, which obviously in hindsight was my kidneys.

"It started to hurt quite a lot when I was lying flat, it wasn't very comfortable.

"I put my back pain down to bad posture or sleeping positions. I've always slumped and sat funny.”

I thought it was just my body reacting to burning the candle at both ends for such a long time.

Georgia’s cough was her “main symptom”, however, and so severe it would cause her to vomit.

She said: “I went to my GP about it a number of times and got told different things.

"Every time we'd try something new and it wouldn't work and I'd go back and we'd try something else.

"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'.

"It was quite a choking cough, it would literally take my breath away.

"I thought it was just my body reacting to burning the candle at both ends for such a long time.

"I'd coughed so much that I'd end up being sick. That's when I started to lose weight because I wasn't holding onto food very well.”

Georgia said her cough got progressively worse to the point it stopped her from walking as far as usual, and climbing stairs also became a struggle.

Her vomiting reached its worst in August 2021, when she began coughing up blood.

Georgia dashed to A&E where they did an X-ray and found “cloudy patches” on her lungs.

But she claims she was assured it wasn't cancer or “anything life-threatening”.

She was put on a three-month referral to a respiratory team but during this time she became much more unwell, losing 10kg in weight over the autumn.

Georgia booked a private appointment and was eventually diagnosed with papillary renal cell carcinoma, a type of kidney cancer, in November 2021.

Renal cell cancer is the most common type of kidney cancer in adults (80 per cent), of which papillary is one form (15 per cent).

It is more commonly seen in older adults, with symptoms including pain in the sides, weight loss, fever and blood in urine.

Georgia said: "There's very few times in my life where I've been speechless and I was sat there and words just completely evaded me, I didn't know what to say.

"I was just so shocked. It was just the most sinking feeling to be told basically the worst-case scenario.

"That one moment has literally changed my life.

"They later said 'look, it started in your kidney and it's in your lungs, liver, lymph nodes and bones'.

"That's when they also told me that it was incurable.

"It's just like this overwhelming sadness that just fills you at the time.

"I'd gone from being a full university student within a few weeks to being in hospital as a cancer patient. It was just unbelievable.

"It's literally turned my life upside down."

The law student has since started immunotherapy, which involves taking medication daily and having an intravenous drip every fortnight.

She also takes portable oxygen tanks out with her and uses an oxygen pipe at night to help her breathe comfortably.

The aim of her treatment is to shrink the cancer down as much as possible to the point where she can “live normally” and she hopes to return to her studies when she's feeling well enough.

Georgia set up a GoFundMe to fundraise for two charitable organisations that are supporting her throughout her treatment.

Georgia said: "No matter what a doctor or any healthcare professional says you know your body better than anybody else.

"If you think that something's wrong, you need to push and push.

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"You're better off to have pushed and to know for sure that it's not cancer than to leave it and to find out that it was.

"Subsequently the doctor who misdiagnosed me has said 'I've never seen anything like this in someone your age, I would never have expected it'. That was the only excuse they've got.

You can donate to Georgia's GoFundMe here.

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