In early 2014, Brittany was diagnosed with a Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection in her stomach. Her symptoms included severe stomach pain and digestive issues. She was put on steroids, multiple medications and a very strict diet. After treatment for H. pylori, her pain continued and intensified over the following months. After a full battery of gastrointestinal tests over the summer, on August 15th she was diagnosed with a malfunctioning gall bladder and it was removed on August 28th. Unfortunately, Brittany’s discomfort continued and her symptoms became more frequent and varied, including fevers, chills, nausea, rapid weight loss and debilitating pain. Her primary care doctor ordered a CT scan on September 17th which revealed enlarged lymph nodes (one was 2+ inches) and she was told there was a good possibility she had lymphoma. At this point, she was referred to an oncologist who was also concerned about the possibility of lymphoma and ordered a PET scan. The results came back showing only one area of possible concern. The oncologist opted to try a strong dose of antibiotics, however her symptoms got progressively worse and the fevers spiked higher so antibiotics were discontinued. The oncologist then suggested a biopsy of the largest lymph node, however the location of the node was wrapped around her aorta, renal artery and renal vein. The surgeon was able to obtain a small section of the lymph node and the pathology report showed no evidence of cancer, but there was still no diagnosis for her worsening symptoms. In November, Brittany’s fatigue increased, she awoke frequently in pain, and was sent to an infectious disease specialist, gynecologist, and rheumatologist and after more testing by each of these specialists, still had no diagnosis. At this point, the oncologist revisited the possibility of cancer and ordered a bone marrow biopsy. After a painful (and botched) biopsy, she was sent to a specialist at UNC Chapel Hill in December 2014. All bloodwork at Chapel Hill showed no signs of infection or auto immune diseases which led the doctor to believe lymphoma was a likely diagnosis and ordered another PET scan. This scan showed that the same two lymph nodes were enlarged and others appeared to be slightly enlarged. To obtain an accurate diagnosis, the doctor would need to remove the largest lymph node, but due to its precarious location, no surgeons were willing to perform the operation. In January, she had an echocardiogram and an IV iron infusion. She was recently tested for TB, which was negative. Another painful bone marrow biopsy was performed earlier this month and this time doctors were able to obtain better samples. The results came back negative for blood disorders and many forms of cancers, but reflected a high concentration of lymphocytes which indicated that something is wrong, however the doctors are stumped. Even Brittany’s doctor at Chapel Hill apologized that “the medical profession has not served you well.” This is not what any patient wants (or deserves) to hear.
As we mentioned at the beginning, Brittany’s hardship is not only physical, but emotional. The journey described above doesn’t even include ongoing things like caring for and raising her young children, work missed by her husband to accompany her for tests, surgeries and numerous ER visits, childcare needed during medical appointments and procedures, doing household chores, caring for sick children, having the good health and strength needed to run errands, enjoy playing with her children or going on date nights with her husband.
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