Guest Blog by Clarissa Smith, P.Dt
I don’t know how many times I have heard “Oh but you’re young, you’re healthy” from older people I have encountered throughout my life. As someone who has had an array of medical issues from a young age, it really is infuriating to be labeled, and have health concerns dismissed, because of my age. Maybe it is because of my previous medical history, or just intuition, but I really feel like I know my body and what is “normal” for me. I am so fortunate that I know this feeling and advocated for myself when things were not right, otherwise my story could have ended much differently.
In April 2016 I was completing my dietetic internship in Toronto, ON. I had started to experience extreme nausea and lethargy daily. After about 10 days of this, I went to a walk in clinic in my neighborhood to have this checked out. When nothing abnormal came up, the doctor deemed it viral and sent me on my way.
The symptoms continued for the remainder of my time in Toronto. An emergency room visit and two more clinic visits with the same doctor left me with the same diagnosis of it being “viral” and that I will just get better. I continued to push myself through my work days feeling terrible, as this internship was critical in my education as a dietitian.
Family and friends thought I was just stressed and this was causing my nausea, and the medical community was not helping me at all either. I felt as though people were dismissing me because I was otherwise young and healthy, but I was not going to give up that easily.
My internship ended in August 2016, and I returned to Nova Scotia, and luckily my amazing family doctor. He did the same tests that the other doctors had done, which came back normal. By this time my symptoms had worsened and I had also begun having some pain in my right side. I pushed my doctor for further testing, and he ordered an abdominal ultrasound. I was so happy someone finally did something further. Unfortunately being in rural Nova Scotia also meant I had to wait 3 months for this imaging, which meant more time feeling terrible every day.
The ultrasound showed that my appendix was greatly enlarged, and filled with mucus. My appendix pushing on my organs was what was making me feel so terrible. This is very abnormal, so I was sent for a CT scan the following week to confirm, and was seeing an oncologist in Halifax within a few weeks. Finally I had some answers and things were being done.
After surgery in February 2017, the biopsy revealed that I had a rare tiny tumour in my appendix, which secreted the mucus. I am so lucky that they were able to remove the appendix and tumor before it burst, as this would have been a much bigger mess to treat.
As young people we face unique challenges in accessing health care, such as not having a family doctor where you are going to school or doing a program, and often not being taken seriously. I want other youth to know that you are your own greatest health advocate. Only you know your body and when you feel like something is wrong, you have the right to appropriate medical care.
Clarissa is a dietitian currently residing in Nova Scotia. She completed her dietetic education at Mount Saint Vincent University and The Hospital for Sick Children, where her passion for youth health only strengthened. She is currently a member of the Young Canadians Against Marketing to Kids team, which created a Youth Advocacy toolkit for ending food and beverage marketing to kids.
This blog is a part of our series on youth health access across Canada.