Cancer Patient's Heartbreaking Obituary Calls Out Fat-Shaming By Doctors

by Thea Glassman
Originally Published: 
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A cancer patient left behind an important message in her obituary

Before Ellen Maud Bennett passed away from cancer this past May, she had two requests for her obituary. First, she wanted a recent, beautiful picture of her to accompany the words (“I look so good for someone almost dead!” Bennett told her relatives). And second, she wanted to share an incredibly important, heartbreaking message about the fat-shaming she experienced from doctors.

Bennett asked her family to make her story public, in hopes that it inspired other women who have dealt with the same issues.

“Over the past few years of feeling unwell she sought out medical intervention and no one offered any support or suggestions beyond weight loss,” the obituary read. “Ellen’s dying wish was that women of size make her death matter by advocating strongly for their health and not accepting that fat is the only relevant health issue.”

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And inspire it did. Comments poured in from women who could relate to Bennett’s struggle and experienced similar ignorance from medical professionals. Some shared their own stories on Twitter, others signed Bennett’s online guestbook. All of them expressed their deepest gratitude to Bennett for making their voices heard.

There were countless heartbreaking stories about doctors completely ignoring their patients’ medical issues and harping on their weight instead.

“For decades I was told to lose weight — even while I had an arrhythmia that required two different surgeries, and finally have been diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. Falling asleep at my desk even without carbs — finally realized I have low stomach acid due to my weight loss surgery,” one commenter wrote in Bennett’s guestbook. “Your words ring so true. You were not alone in this fight. We will continue to educate ourselves — and demand better from our medical community.”

Others shared stories of deceased family members who experienced similar fat-shaming, and questioned whether their deaths could have been prevented if doctors took the time to properly diagnose them.

“My mom passed in 2015 and often expressed some of the same sentiments to me about the medical profession and herself,” another comment in Bennett’s guestbook read. “I can’t help but wonder that had my mom felt supported and loved by anyone in the medical profession that she might have diagnosed her condition sooner.”

Michael Orsini, a professor at the University of Ottawa who specializes in health policies, noted to Buzzfeed News that fat-shaming in doctor’s offices can dissuade patients from making important trips to see medical professionals altogether. And then that just makes the situation all the worse.

“The effects are real in that if people avoid the health care system so they don’t feel like crap when they go, it might be too late when something is diagnosed that’s not related to their weight,” he explained. “[Bennett] is very clear that she does not want to die in vain…it really is a call to arms for folks.”

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