A 37-year-old Canadian professor living and working in the U.K. spent an entire year battling various symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle and limb pain, and headaches. All of the symptoms came on progressively, but no doctors took them seriously, and Lisa Smiri was told that she was likely dealing with anxiety or depression. Finally, a year after her symptoms started, a doctor was able to diagnose her, but at that point, it was too late.
Smiri was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in November 2011, and while the diagnosis came as a shock to the Cambridge-educated woman, she says it was also a relief.
“For the last year I'd been battling a range of bizarre and seemingly disparate symptoms that had forced me in September 2011 to go on sick leave from my job as a lecturer,” wrote Smiri in a blog post following her diagnosis. “The diagnosis at the time was anxiety and/or depression. And while I was both anxious and depressed, this was due to the increasingly disabling symptoms that my doctor kept insisting were purely psychological. So I was actually grateful for a medical diagnosis that confirmed there were objective, physical reasons behind my illness. While in some ways this was a terrible surprise, in another it was a huge relief."
Smiri died from metastatic lung cancer in February of last year, and despite her struggles, she left behind a lasting legacy.
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“Lisa was a fantastic colleague and friend, a great teacher and researcher and truly inspirational in the way she dealt with her illness,” said Professor Richard Black at the University of Sussex.
Before she died, Smiri took to her blog to share some advice with others who may be experiencing symptoms that are largely ignored by their doctors.
"I can't prove it, and this is just my opinion, but I have no doubt in my own mind that my misdiagnosis was in large part due to the fact that I was a middle aged female and that my male doctors were preconceived towards a psychological rather than a physiological diagnosis,” wrote Smiri. “It is so easy to say that someone's symptoms are 'anxiety' related if they are a little bit complicated, unclear or unusual. Don't repeat my mistakes. You know when something is wrong. Find another doctor that you connect with and who takes your concerns seriously. Get referrals. Get tested. Refuse to be dismissed."