A woman scratches her head in between two pairs of lungs, one with pneumonia and one with lung cancer

When Cancer is Misdiagnosed as Pneumonia

After being misdiagnosed with pneumonia, ESPN reporter Edward Aschoff died of stage IV cancer on his 34th birthday. Edward was a rising star of the network and was set to get married this coming April after his girlfriend Katy Berteau proposed to him with a Godzilla ring. Unknowingly battling this deceptive disease takes a lot of physical strength and courage which is a testament to Mr. Aschoff’s personality.

A misdiagnosis of pneumonia

When I first read that Edward Aschoff had died of pneumonia on Christmas Eve, I felt very triggered. Recent memories came flooding back to my 3-month hospitalization and doctors trying to figure out what was making me so sick. From tuberculosis to sarcoidosis, doctors ran a shopping list of possible maladies until they agreed that I had a rare form of pneumonia called ‘lipoid pneumonia’ where oil deposits are lodged into my lungs.

The fact that I had spent almost 20 years passionately making oil-based natural cosmetic products fueled this diagnosis even more. They told me to stop making products immediately and avoid contact with all oils (an extremely difficult thing for us black women to stop doing). Feeling extremely guilty for thinking that my passion had physically made me sick, I did as I was told and avoided oils like the plague.

My rollercoaster of emotions

Not only was I getting worse by the day, now I looked like I bathed in flour too. It wasn’t until my ‘lipoid pneumonia’ disappeared from the CT scans and in its place, doctors found my lungs filled with fluid that I was finally properly diagnosed as having ‘advanced stage NSCLC metastatic adenocarcinoma’ otherwise known as stage IV lung cancer.

My body experienced a rollercoaster of emotions fueled by shock and disbelief on a continual loop. In the end, though, I consider myself lucky. Lucky that I didn’t die from undetected cancer, lucky that I have targeted therapy available my specific kind of lung cancer, and most of all, lucky that I had a group of friends and family advocating for me at my weakest point.

Anyone can get cancer

Unfortunately, a lot of young people are misdiagnosed because they don’t ‘fit the profile’ of typical cancer patients. Lung cancer has the added stigma of being a smokers' disease so detecting it early in young, non-smokers is extremely rare.

What’s more unfortunate is that according to the latest statistics, 1 in 2 people will develop cancer in their lifetime. This means that greater strides need to be made for earlier screening and higher survival rates.

What I've learned since being diagnosed

The lesson I see in Edward Aschoff's sad story is that we must learn to be our strongest advocate especially when it comes to matters of health. Play it safe rather than sorry and have doctors screen you to rule out cancer especially when the lungs are involved.

You can hear more about my cancer journey with my co-host on our podcast ‘Mommy had a little cancer’. We talk about what it’s like living with cancer while raising kids. Our goal is to learn to live with cancer and not die from it. Now available on all major podcast platforms.

Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on May 26, 2021, Angie Brice Hessbruegge passed away. Angie's thoughtful writings and advocacy efforts will continue to reach many. She will be deeply missed.

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