47-YO Teacher’s Stage Four Cancer Was Dismissed as Anxiety | She Fought for Diagnosis for Almost a Year

47-YO Teacher’s Stage Four Cancer Was Dismissed as Anxiety | She Fought for Diagnosis for Almost a Year

"I don’t feel like they would have said those things to me if I had been a man," Heidi Richard wrote about the medical professionals dismissing her symptoms.

A third-grade teacher from Worcester, Massachusetts found out that her anxiety was actually a stage four cancer. She began experiencing severe stomach pains, vomiting and night sweats and the doctors told her that she is anxious and stressed.

However, Heidi Richard, 47, continued to experience these severe symptoms and lost 30 pounds of weight. She wrote in an article on TODAY, "When I went to the doctor, they did some blood work and said, “You’re young, your stomach issues are probably due to stress or anxiety.” They gave me an antacid and sent me on my way." She added, " I kept having severe stomach pains and vomiting. I lost 30 pounds unintentionally and had gotten pretty thin. I was trying to eat, but I was just unable to — I was just getting so sick."



Around August 2019, Richard was being treated by a nurse practitioner over the phone who told her that she had mono. Multiple mono tests came back negative and her white blood cell level was near normal. The nurse also hinted that Richard was probably simply nervous about the start of the new school year, per PEOPLE. She was prescribed anti-anxiety medication and was advised to continue with the antacids.

However, her situation worsened. She wrote in her article, "In February 2020, I was training for the Providence Marathon when I started noticing fatigue. I couldn’t keep up with the group and my back really hurt. I started having some swelling on the side of my neck."

She again went to the doctors and they said she pulled a muscle and gave her muscle relaxants but Richard knew something was wrong so she was determined to get imaging tests. Until now she had not seen any medical professional in person and had to "demand" an in-person appointment, reports PEOPLE. 



This time, her concerns were heard. She was hospitalized for a CT scan, referred to an ENT, and had a series of biopsies to figure out a reason for her symptoms. "A CT scan showed something suspicious, which led to a biopsy," Richard wrote in her article.

In April 2020, almost a year after the onset of symptoms, she was diagnosed with stage 4 diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She wrote about her condition, "It was everywhere: my abdomen, spleen, bone marrow, sternum, lungs, groin and neck. A mass in my abdomen was pushing my intestines to the side — that’s why I was having those stomach pains."

Richard wonders whether she was not taken seriously because of patriarchal notions of medical science. She wrote, "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.' I don’t feel like they would have said those things to me if I had been a man."

Richard received a very life-threatening diagnosis but she felt a sense of relief. She told PEOPLE, "It wasn't a great thing to find out, but at least people were listening to me now." 



She spent one week in the hospital every month for five months in 2020 undergoing a vigorous and exhausting treatment. She had a stem cell transplant after that. The treatment was associated with a high risk of breast cancer in the next 10-15 years. Her oncologist encouraged Richard by telling her that she might not be here for 10-15 years if she doesn't do anything now. The treatments were successful but she's been in remission for 18 months and still visits her oncologist every three weeks. 

Richard ran the Boston marathon this year to support DetecTogether, a non-profit aimed at increasing awareness about early signs of cancer. She wrote in her article. "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. Don’t be afraid of sounding like a hypochondriac,"

Richard further added, "You’re the one who knows yourself the most and if you’re not feeling your best, you need to advocate for yourself."





Cover Image Source (Representative): Getty Images/ DjelicS