Woman Thought Swollen Armpit, Fatigue Were Pregnancy. She Had Lymphoma.


  • Erin Basinger thought she had a swollen armpit and was tired because she was a new mom.
  • She thinks fat phobia delayed her stage 4 cancer diagnosis.
  • Overweight pregnant patients receive negative messages from clinicians, including that they are bad mothers.

When Erin Basinger went wedding dress shopping in 2019, she struggled to find bras that could accommodate the growing bulk under her armpit, and dresses that wouldn’t accentuate it.

So she bought an underwired bra and a loose-fitting dress and tried to put aside her worries about the lump. After all, she had always had some fatty tissue in that area and had recently had surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome. Perhaps, she thought, the procedure had resulted in a redistribution or swelling of the fat.

Even as it continued to grow during and after her first pregnancy in 2020, Basinger attributed it to hormones. She had attended the standard prenatal and postpartum visits and the doctor had not expressed any concerns.

Basinger, now 36, also struggled with extreme fatigue — “screaming screaming” to keep her eyes open in the car, stopping to take a nap when she couldn’t. Still, she thought, this is how pregnancy and new parenthood should be.

But more than six months after giving birth, the mass had grown to the size of a grapefruit. After consulting with her sister, a nurse, Basinger visited a new doctor in December 2021 to specifically ask about the lump.

A few tests and referrals later, she was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She had an aggressive subtype that had spread to her head, neck, chest, abdomen, pelvis, and parts of her bones.

“My PET scan lit up like a Christmas tree,” she said. “It was terrifying in general, and for me it was terrifying because I had a seven-month-old.”

She shared her story — including how she thinks weight stigma played a role in her delayed diagnosis — with Insider to encourage women to stand up for themselves and validate pregnant patients who also feel they’ve been overlooked, if not outright ridiculed, for their weight.

“I want other people to know: I fight for you, even if you feel like you can’t fight for yourself,” she said.

Basinger suspects doctors are dismissing the lump as ‘just fat’

Basinger, a communications professor for the graduate program in health psychology at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, wishes she had done a better job of advocating for herself when she first thought something wasn’t right. “That’s my biggest regret,” she said.

But she also can’t help but think the weight stigma contributed to her delayed diagnosis. “Looking back, I think maybe that was incompetence,” she said. “I guess there was probably some fat phobia as well, like, ‘She’s fat, so this is probably just fat.'”

She has a life full of anecdotes to support that suspicion. For example, doctors attributed her rheumatoid arthritis to fatness and said her request to get tested for PCOS was just an “excuse” for her size.

“Every time I went to the doctor I thought, ‘Well, it’s probably because of your weight,'” she said. “And it’s like, ‘I think if I hurt my elbow, it’s just because I hurt my elbow.'”

That didn’t change before or during her pregnancy. When her IUD was removed, the OB-GYN warned her that infertility and pregnancy loss were likely. “Her words were really just a dark cloud over my pregnancy because I was constantly afraid I was going to have a miscarriage,” Basinger said.

Doctors also told her that if she gained more than 19 pounds during pregnancy, she would have to leave the state-of-the-art practice where she was monitored to give birth in a poorly rated hospital because it had a NICU.

“It just felt like this consequence was hanging over my head,” Basinger said.

Weight stigma may contribute to poorer outcomes in obese pregnant patients

While there are links between larger bodies and pregnancy complications, it’s unclear how much of that is physiological (fat affects how hormones are stored) versus structural (ultrasounds don’t work well on larger bodies or clinicians who aren’t trained in administering anesthesia to people with more adipose tissue). ).

Confusing issues such as an increased risk of gestational diabetes in higher weight expectant mothers also play a role.

In general, health behaviors — how you eat, exercise, sleep and deal with stress, for example — are better indicators of health than size, pregnant or not, evidence suggests.

But health care providers often put the emphasis on a pregnant person’s weight, leading to guilt and shame, which in itself is detrimental to health, research shows.

In her October 2022 study, conducted with UNC colleagues Margaret M Quinlan and Margaret Rawlings, she surveyed 237 overweight people about the messages they received before, during and after pregnancy. They found that the most memorable messages came from healthcare providers, and the vast majority of those messages were negative.

For example, doctors insinuated that fat mothers are bad mothers and that it was their fault that medical equipment was not made for their bodies.

Some pregnant people also reported being denied fertility treatments or care from midwives based on their size. “That’s openly saying, ‘We don’t think you deserve to reproduce to your size,’ or, ‘Your body isn’t able to do this naturally,'” Basinger said.

Others said weight loss during pregnancy was praised, despite its dangers, and that they were encouraged to breastfeed for the sake of weight loss – not for the benefits to the baby. One participant said her doctor blamed her size for her pregnancy loss.

Erin Basinger with her son Joiner

Erin Basinger with her son Joiner, who is now 17 months old.

Easter Day Creative

These direct and indirect messages are not only hurtful, they can exacerbate mental and physical health problems in obese pregnant patients. One study found that weight stigma during pregnancy was associated with poorer health care, psychological symptoms, poorer health behaviors and negative pregnancy outcomes.

In an extreme example, a participant in Basinger’s study said her stillbirth was linked to weight stigma. When the external monitor broke down during labor, doctors assumed it was due to her size rather than faulty equipment, and they didn’t work to fix it. When a nurse finally helped, she said, “My baby was dead.”

Basinger underwent six rounds of chemotherapy while a mother to a baby

After her cancer diagnosis, she underwent six rounds of chemotherapy, which she said was “gruesome.”

She is now in remission and thankful for her hematologist who focused on treating her cancer – not her weight.

“I don’t often have incredible experiences with doctors, so I’m very grateful to have received skilled care from him, as he saved my life in a very literal way,” she said.

She hopes that sharing her experiences and those of others can inspire more doctors like him. In the meantime, she encourages fat moms-to-be to seek out weight-accounting clinicians and fight stigma by educating themselves with books like “Fat and Fertile.”

“It was so reassuring for me to find those resources and know that my body is powerful and beautiful and can deliver a healthy baby,” Basinger said. “And I did, contrary to what my doctors told me would happen. I had a beautiful baby boy who is just the light of my life.”

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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