Medical professionals misdiagnosed a 30-year-old Indianapolis woman, complaining about unexplainable weight loss, blood in her stool and excessive diarrhea, as irritable bowel syndrome. Months later, after she advocated for herself, the health specialists were shocked to discover she actually had cancer.
It was 2019 when Ashley Teague said first noticed she was losing weight but paid little attention to it because she was recovering from a difficult year, with significant loss, and she had gained a few pounds.
At one point, the 6-foot-1 mother of two, freelance photographer, and sometime bouncer, weighed as much as 275 pounds, but those pounds started melting off fast, and she was fine with the help getting slimmer.
Teague said in an interview with the Insider, “I was like, ‘OK cool.’ I wasn’t even paying attention to like, ‘Hey your schedule is horrible, you barely sleep, you eat like crap.'”
However, in 2020, the weight loss continued but was compounded by severe pain in her side and a condition that allowed everything she ate to go right through her— causing her to suffer diarrhea up to seven times a day.
She said, she knew something was wrong, but when she went to her nurse practitioner and explained what was happening she was told she had IBS and was prescribed medication.
A month later she came back to the doctor’s office and shared that in addition to the other symptoms, she now had blood in her stool.
The office ran her bloodwork. When it returned and appeared to be normal, she was told by the nurse that she “looked healthy.”
Despite how she looked, she still contended something was wrong and requested a colonoscopy. That request was denied, with the nurse allegedly telling her, “We do not give colonoscopies to patients under 48 years old.”
After six to seven months of pushing for the procedure, she told the doctors about her mother and father’s health issues — which changed everything.
In November of 2020, Teague told the medical team her mother was a kidney and breast cancer survivor, and lives with Lynch syndrome.
According to the MD Anderson Cancer Center, this puts her at a 50 percent chance of inheriting the mutation, and because she is female, she has a 40 percent to 60 percent lifetime risk of developing colon cancer. Still, her CT scans did not detect any problems and she said she was “still ignored.”
In the second week of December 2020, she told them, her father recently discovered he had cancerous polyps and got them removed from his colon, and that motivated the doctors to fast-track her to getting a colonoscopy.
“Suddenly, everyone was scrambling, ‘We’ve got to get you scheduled, we’ve got to get you scheduled,” Teague recalls.
She wrote, “After 6 months of complaining & being turned away simply because I looked healthy and because my blood was undetectable of any illness, I was finally on the path to making sense of all the changes my body had underwent the last year.”
She received the results from her December 2020 procedure and it revealed it was not her “eating spicy foods,” or digestive issues that she was suffering from. Teague was diagnosed with colon cancer.
“I remember my world just stopped,” she said. “I didn’t hear anything, it was just silent and cold.”
In her surgery to remove cancer, the doctors had to cut out four and a half feet of her five-foot colon and combine the last six inches to her small intestines.
Now, she is not able to eat more than one or two meals a day. She also has to go to the bathroom multiple times a day, excreting loose stools. Teague is grateful. The alternative is way worse than her current condition. She said, “I’ll take that over having to change a colostomy bag any day.”
Since then, Teague has undergone genetic screening and has been told she has Lynch syndrome like her mother.
Now, she is a statistic and represents 1 out of 300 people in the world with the condition.
Dr. Matthew Yurgelun, director of the Lynch Syndrome Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, says many people are “woefully underdiagnosed” with the genetic disorder that predisposes one to colon cancer.
In fact, in Teague’s case, she was not only diagnosed with the syndrome late and originally misdiagnosed regarding her illness, but her cancer stage was also wrongly evaluated. Her doctors first said based on the size of the tumor in her colon she had stage 4 cancer but, she later learned the cancer was stage 2 aggressive/early stage 3.
In fact, had Teague been tested six years prior when her mother was diagnosed, perhaps doctors could have caught cancer earlier and her colon could have been saved.
Now Teague is on the way to recovery.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help with her bills, medication, and genetic testing for her children. Since it was set up, she has raised almost $7,500 out of the goal of $10,000.
She also provided an update for those following her journey.
Teague shared her doctors believe she contracted gastritis during her colectomy surgery.
“[I] got my results back from my 10/10/22 upper and lower GI scan,” she wrote. “Nothing too concerning appeared in the lower GI, but I was moved to yearly lower GIs (colonoscopy).”
“My upper GI however revealed that I have gastritis. For those who aren’t familiar with gastritis, it is an inflammation of the lining of the stomach. While gastritis is not life-threatening, it has been causing some discomfort in my stomach,” she explained.
This small setback is frustrating, she is already focused on what to do to better her quality of life. First thing: change her diet.
She also said she will continue her work.
“I am grateful to still be here advocating for other Lynch syndrome and colorectal cancer patients,” Teague promised.