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Comedian Jen Curran's Viral Twitter Thread Shows Dangers of Doctors' Weight Stigma

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When doctors perceive you as “needing to lose weight,” that may be the first piece of medical advice they give you even if the health issue you’re experiencing doesn’t ultimately have anything to do with your weight, as a recent viral Twitter thread pointed out. That weight stigma can delay your care and, as in comedian Jen Curran’s case, almost prevent you from finding out you have cancer.

Curran shared on Twitter Monday that during and after pregnancy, she discovered she had protein in her urine. The first kidney doctor she went to for help told her to lose weight and the problem would go away. But when she got a second opinion, she found out she actually had multiple myeloma, a rare bone marrow cancer.

Curran first found out she had protein in her urine while pregnant. After her daughter was born, she met with a kidney doctor. At this point, the amount of protein in her urine was even higher than it was when she was pregnant. But Curran said the doctor “wasn’t concerned” and didn’t seem to be really listening to her. She just suggested she lose weight.

Curran said she “knew in her gut” it wasn’t her weight — something else was wrong. So a couple of weeks later, she went to another doctor. This time, the doctor took one look at her lab tests and said there was nothing diet or exercise would do to fix it.

After a kidney biopsy and a bone marrow biopsy, Curran was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

Multiple myeloma is cancer of the plasma cells, which are found in bone marrow and normally make antibodies that help fight off infection. These cells can become cancerous, grow out of control, and make abnormal protein. Depending on which type of multiple myeloma you have, treatment could include radiation, chemotherapy, steroids and other drugs, and/or stem cell transplant. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2019, there will be about 32,000 new cases and about 12,000 deaths.

Curran pointed out that if she hadn’t gotten that second opinion, she may not have discovered she had cancer until it was too late.

She urged readers to not be afraid to advocate for themselves and continue to search for answers if they are told they just need to lose weight, but they suspect there is something deeper going on.

Curran’s experience is not uncommon, particularly for women who have chronic illnesses and disabilities. One 2013 study found that doctors were nicer and more empathetic to patients at a normal weight than overweight patients. Another study found that 53% of women (compared to 38% of men) said they had been shamed by a doctor, with the top two reasons being their weight and their sex lives.

Mighty contributor Elizabeth Pidgeon explained in an essay on The Mighty that it’s “lazy medicine” when doctors blame everything on your weight. Doctors are often taught that a patient’s body size indicates their level of health, which is not true for all people. Sometimes, weight has nothing to do with health. She wrote:

It is essential that healthcare providers take responsibility for their shortcomings and stay up-to-date on current research regarding weight loss and diet plans due to their ineffectiveness. Bedside manner and the way a physician tells a patient that they have a condition which may be due to their size needs to be improved. Rather than blaming every ailment on weight, providers need to perform their job like they would on any other patient to rule out other diagnoses or causes.

Originally published: August 13, 2019
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