Daphne Faitala-Rodriguez grew up on the small island of Aunu’u and since she was just 10 years old, she remembers her mother, Meleke, always coughing. Having a cough that doesn’t go away could be a symptom of something as serious as cancer, but since it’s associated with the common cold or allergies, it’s often misdiagnosed.
It wasn’t until she became an adult that she grew concerned that this might not be just a simple cough and decided to bring her mother to the U.S. hoping that an American doctor could help her mother. When Daphne turned 18 she joined the Marine Corps and decided it was time to get her mother a second opinion.
Meleke came to the U.S. in 2007 and saw a specialist who unfortunately gave her the same diagnosis as back home, that she had allergies, so he sent her home with allergy medication. From 2007 to 2014 she continued to visit her doctor because her allergy medicine wasn’t working–because clearly, it wasn’t allergies. Every time she visited her doctor he gave her a different diagnosis: allergies, sinus infection, bronchitis…
“It wasn’t until 2014 that she said to the doctor, ‘I think I have cancer,'” explains Daphne Faitala-Rodriguez. The doctor told her mother that he didn’t think she had cancer and that any scans and tests would be completely unnecessary because, in his professional opinion, he didn’t think she had such a serious illness. Each scan was $10,000, so it was very expensive.
How did Meleke come up with the conclusion that she had cancer? “It was the same thing over and over and she wasn’t getting any better, and she knew that cancer didn’t have a cure and her brother had stomach cancer a year before. He complained about his stomach hurting and he was misdiagnosed for a long time,” explains Daphne. After insisting for about six months, her doctor finally sent her in for a scan and Meleke’s non-professional self-diagnosis was correct, she had stage 4 lung cancer.
“When they sent the scan results they saw that cancer had originated in her lungs, but the scan revealed that it had metastasized to her entire body, except her brain,” she explains. “It was shocking to us not only that her doctor thought it was unnecessary to get the scan done, but when the scan was done it revealed that cancer had spread everywhere and nobody had caught it.” The cancer had spread all over her body and the gigantic mass in her lungs was the size of a softball.