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Jessica Pettway: A Life Gone too Soon

About a week ago, I came across a video discussing the untimely death of beauty and style influencer Jessica Pettway at 36 years old. Jessica, it turns out was misdiagnosed with fibroids when in actuality, she had cervical cancer, the cause of her passin.

I gasped in disbelief for so many reasons: this was preventable, because cervical cancer is treatable, two young children have become motherless, a husband lost his wife and a family is in mourning. I just want to know, "Who are the doctors who initially disregarded and dismissed her complaints until it was too late?"

It is no coincidence that women of color seeking help do not always receive the level of care that they deserve even when their socio-economic status is higher than that of white counterparts. There is enough research to go around as to why this keeps happening, year after year, decade after decade and century after century.

I dug further into Jessica's case and who better than Jessica to tell her story. On July 31, 2023, Jessica in an Instagram post stated the following:

"... a few months ago I received devastating news. I was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer."

"Last June, I was having intense vaginal bleeding. And when I say intense, I mean I was literally bleeding out. I called around and asked other women if they experienced this before and majority of them said they have. I thought, well maybe this is a "normal" thing that women go through. I was experiencing extreme fatigue, weakness and just not feeling like myself. But again, I accepted this as a "normal" symptom that most women go through."

"Well, on July 1st 2022 at 4am, my husband found me in the bathroom unresponsive and not breathing. I had literally passed away."

"Fast forward to July 22nd, I was hospitalized again for the same thing. Again, the medical professionals treated it like it was not that alarming since it was just a "fibroids."

"As I went in for my appointment, this doctor asked if she could just look down there first. She was the first to show some concern. I told her it was ok to check. It didn't take her long before she looked at me and said, she could not even see my cervix because it was blocked by a huge mass. She scheduled me an appointment with an Oncologist thay following week. On February 8th 2023, he performed an out patient biopsy on me. When I woke up from the anesthesia, he casually said, "yep you have stage 3 cervical cancer." It turns out, it was not a fibroid, but cancer. I was misdiagnosed all this time."

This reads like a horror movie, except it happened Jessica and to many women alike. All of what Jessica says points to a bigger issue of women being socialized to normalize pain. We've also been conditioned to just "dealt with it" and accept being dismissed by those entrusted to care for us. For and women of color, the risks are even greater.

While we may not be able to make drastic changes to a broken system, we can make small changes in how we interact with our health care system:

1. Ask lots of questions when things are unclear.

I can guarantee you I've annoyed quite a few doctors, but if something is unclear during a medical appointment, ask your doctor to explain so you fully understand. You should never leave an medical appointment not understanding how your diagnosis was arrived at. Ask if there are any other illnesses that match your symptoms. Explore all the possibilities of your diagnosis before accepting treatments prescribed by your doctor.

2. Register for online medical records

You will be surprised by how many mistakes you will find in your medical records. Always read the doctor's notes after the appointment. Last year, I had an emergency room visit and explained the event that lead me there. While reading the doctor's notes, there were so many discrepancies in his description of what happened. Remember, you have the right as a patient to request changes be made due to inaccurate information on your file. You just need to catch it first.

3. Ask the doctor to read you a summary of your visit before leaving

Piggy backing off of the previous point. This is a new one for me. I recently visited a doctor who at the nd of the appointment read me his summary to ensure that he heard me. Wow! Mind blown. I had never experienced this before. Don't be afraid to ask your doctor to read his/her summary of the visit.

4. Tell your doctor you'd like a second opinion

You are in charge of your health care, and you will only be doing your due diligence by getting another opinion. If your doctor seems annoyed by this decision, then you may need to consider getting another one. No patient should be guilted out of such a decision. You have the right to ensure the best outcomes for yourself.

5. Keep speaking up until someone listens

Advocate for yourself. Your doctor knows the body, but they don't know how you feel in yours. If you feel that something isn't right, keep speaking up until someone listens. I've had to on many occasions and I hope you find the courage to do the same.

My condolences to Jessica Pettway's family and I hope we can all continue to honor all the lives that have been gone too soon.


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