Amanda Lee, 27, has been speaking publicly about her recent experience at the doctor’s office. She sought medical attention after feeling an intense pain in her stomach. But instead of listening to her concerns, the doctor sent her home without a diagnosis. Lee says the doctor made insulting comments about her body and failed to treat her condition because of her size. She only recently discovered she was suffering from stage 3 cancer.
Lee, a Los Angeles-based photographer, singer, and actress, suffered from chronic pain for months before securing an appointment with a gastroenterologist. She says her condition made it difficult to eat, causing her to lose 35 pounds.
After explaining her situation to the doctor, “He said, ‘Maybe it’s not such a bad thing’ that I couldn’t eat because of my pain,” Lee recalls. “He was praising the fact that I was not eating.”
Lee told the doctor that she had no choice but to eat purees like applesauce, but even blended foods were giving her trouble. She says the doctor called this “a blessing.” He later asked her if she was listening to what he’d been saying.
“I said, ‘No, I’m still caught up on the fact that you told me it’s OK to starve,’ and he said, ‘Well, you don’t look malnourished,'” Lee remembers.
In the end, the doctor didn’t run any tests and told her she might have a urinary tract infection. Lee walked out of the doctor’s office in tears and recounted the experience on TikTok, where the video currently has some 550,000 views.
“Maybe that’s not such a bad thing” not a time to joke.
“Then I marched my little butt back in there and demanded an apology,” Lee said. The doctor ultimately apologized for his actions, but “He said, ‘I’m sorry you don’t get my humor. I’m sorry that you’re sensitive and now you have to find a new provider,'” she said.
Lee’s video resonated with millions of viewers who urged her to go find care. “I am so grateful … to everyone who reached out and said, ‘Please go find another doctor,’” Lee added.
Lee took their advice and found another specialist, Dr. Tahmina Haq. She scheduled a colonoscopy and found a large tumor in Lee’s colon. The doctor operated to remove the tumor, but the cancer had already spread to her lymph nodes, which led to the stage 3 cancer diagnosis.
Several months later, Lee is halfway through her chemotherapy, and she’s relieved to have a diagnosis. “Everything seems to be going as planned. I still have a lot of hair, so I still look pretty normal. Chemo is hard, but I can do it. It’s a small price to pay for a long life,” she said.
She remembers being rejected or dismissed by one doctor after another until she found Dr. Haq. “I was going to urgent care for hemorrhoids four, five years ago, and the doctors would say, ‘As long as the blood is bright red and not dark, it’s OK,'” she reminisced.
These interactions left her feeling frustrated and confused. “I kept having issues, but I brushed them off because doctors and nurses kept giving me ‘Band-Aid medications’ and not looking further because they said, ‘You’re young,’ or ‘You’re fat,’ or ‘Your diet is poor.'”
Experts say colon cancer is becoming increasingly common among young adults, and obesity may be the root cause. Many people are hesitant to ask for a colonoscopy or talk about that area of the problem, which can lead to a late diagnosis. Patients of all ages should watch out for possible symptoms, including unproductive urges to go to the bathroom, rectal bleeding, anemia, abdominal pain, and narrow stools.
Lee’s gender may have had a role to play as well. Her experience isn’t that different from those of other women, regardless of their medical concern.
Dr. Cornelia Graves, an OB-GYN based in Nashville, Tennessee, says, “Women are often just not heard. What people hear if you’re crying is that you’re hysterical or overwhelmed, instead of frustrated or scared. Women are discharged then and often go home and actually die from their diagnoses.”
Lee is grateful to social media for setting her on the right path. “If people hadn’t reached out or commented on that video, I probably would have just gone home and taken the medication and not acted on it,” she said. “One woman in particular sent me a message that scared me, though. Her husband had just died of esophageal cancer, and she said, ‘You need to find out what is wrong.'”
Graves says Lee isn’t to blame for her experience. “This is not so much about doctors versus patients. Our health care system doesn’t work well for most patients,” Graves added. “It is complex, it is difficult to navigate. It definitely does not work for women and definitely does not work for people of color.”
As she continues to heal, Lee plans on becoming an advocate for patients who don’t feel as if their concerns are being heard.
“If one woman wakes up tomorrow and hears my story and decides to find another doctor after a doctor had treated her poorly, then I have done my job,” Lee said.