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Jessica DeCristofaro’s Battle with Cancer Began With a Misdiagnosis

Jessica DeCristofaro was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma in 2016, but it took three years of troubling symptoms to receive a proper diagnosis. “I was misdiagnosed because no one took me seriously,” DeCristofaro said. “I looked young and healthy. It was the same thing with every physician that misdiagnosed me. None of them actually listened to what was wrong with me.”

DeCristofaro, a pharmaceutical rep, often felt hustled out of doctors’ offices because of the number of patients waiting to be seen. “The best example was the final doctor I saw at urgent care,” she said. “He was so annoyed that he had to stay late and wanted to get me out of there and go home. He told me I had either a sprained muscle in my abdomen or kidney stones and I could let them pass. He didn’t even bother to look at my bloodwork, and my white blood cell count was alarmingly high.”

Dissatisfied with the doctor’s diagnosis, DeCristofaro went to an emergency room immediately. “I went into respiratory failure less than 24 hours later,” DeCristofaro said. “If I followed this trained physician’s diagnosis, I wouldn’t be here today writing this.”

Inspiring hope

Since battling her cancer, DeCristofaro published a book, “Talk Cancer to Me: My Guide to Kicking Cancer’s Booty.” She writes about her experience on her blog, Lymphoma Barbie, hoping to share her story with other cancer patients.

“The three-year period that I was misdiagnosed basically felt like I was running around screaming and not a single soul could hear me,” DeCristofaro said. “I had every single symptom of Hodgkin lymphoma, but no one was able to properly diagnose me because I was young. I looked healthy, but on the inside, I had cancer metastasizing all over my body, while doctors tried to convince me that I had allergies, acid reflux, or sprained muscles, and just brushed me off. It came to the point where some people thought I was a hypochondriac.”

Causes for concern

The symptoms DeCristofaro exhibited before her diagnosis were extreme. “I was thin to the point where I was losing a lot of weight extremely fast,” she said, and “would wake up every night drenched in sweat. I was in so much pain that I could barely walk. I could barely breathe because I was coughing so much; I couldn’t stay awake.”

Before receiving a correct diagnosis, DeCristofaro was told she had cysts, muscle sprains, or kidney stones. “It was exhausting, to the point where my cancer had metastasized to every organ of my body and my organs essentially started shutting down.”

DeCristofaro believes the solution is in addressing the demand put on doctors’ time, as doctors feel pressure to move patients through as quickly as possible, as well as the expense of certain tests. “To combat this issue, somehow physicians need to be taught to listen to understand, rather than listen to reply,” DeCristofaro said. “Run the extra bloodwork, run the extra test. Just because someone looks healthy on the outside doesn’t mean they are on the inside.”

New horizons

The experience has given DeCristofaro a new lease on life and an opportunity to help so many others with a similar experience. “I know what it’s like to lose my health and my physical identity,” she said. “But I also know what it’s like to go through hell, beat the odds, and come out on the other side. I’m the exact person that I needed four years ago, which is why it’s so important to use my voice to advocate for others and show them that they aren’t alone in this fight and there is life after cancer.”

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