Cancer patient's moving obituary calls out 'fat-shaming' she endured from doctors

Cancer patient's moving obituary calls out 'fat-shaming' she endured from doctors

A cancer patient has used her obituary to call out the fat-shaming she received at the hands of the medical professionals who were meant to be helping her.

After being told that she had inoperable cancer and being given days to live, Ellen Maud Bennett filled her final days with love, humour, and left a specific set of instructions as to how she wants to be remembered.

The 64-year-old passed away on May 11, but her obituary, worded as she requested it to be, is being lauded by many people who felt that they have received the same treatment from doctors.

Her obituary reads, in part:

"A final message Ellen wanted to share was about the fat-shaming she endured from the medical profession.

"Over the past few years of feeling unwell she sought out medical intervention and no one offered any support or suggestions beyond weight loss.

"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."

While Bennett's own specific experience wasn't outlined in the obituary, her message is resonating with people beyond the grave. Taking to social media and guestbook comments on Legacy.com, Ellen has received an abundance of praise from people who have endured something similar.

"The treatment she describes from her doctors fills me with anger. I, too, am fat, and have faced neglect and hostility from doctors that would be hard for me to believe, had I not experienced it myself," wrote one person in the guestbook. "You're a hero to many. Thank you for this, your gift to all of us of size, we needed this issue brought into the light," said another.

While you may think that doctors would be impartial when it comes to fat-shaming, it turns out that it's fairly common. There is reportedly a long history of anti-fat discrimination and bias by doctors and medical students. In a 2003 study, it was found that over 50 per cent of doctors viewed obese patients as "awkward, unattractive, ugly, and noncompliant."

Michael Orsini, a professor at the University of Ottawa, studies how attitudes toward weight impact policy. According to him, the issue of fat-shaming is much bigger than just the medical community.

"We as a society associate obesity with poor health, irresponsible behaviour, people who are seen as lazy, people who don't care about their health and don't have the willpower to keep their weight at an acceptable level, whatever that level might be," he told BuzzFeed News.

However, fat-shaming in the health system is particularly dangerous as it can lead to doctors dismissing patients' concerns and telling them to just lose weight. In turn, Orsini argues that this prejudice can cause overweight patients to avoid seeking medical care. "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 said.

Because of this underlying problem, Orsini said that he wasn't surprised to see Bennett's obituary or the fact that it has gone viral.

"She's very clear that she does not want to die in vain, she did want to raise the issue in a way that would resonate with other folks who have encountered similar experiences," he said. "It really is a call to arms for folks."

Other than her message of positivity and acceptance, Ellen's obituary describes her as a lover of costume design, seafood and art.

"Please remember Ellen when you next read a great book, go to a play or buy a small object of stunning beauty. We've lost a remarkable woman," the obituary said.

Ellen's legacy is made more poignant by the fact that she's passed away. However, her words ring true and it's a shame that fat-shaming exists anywhere in society, let alone in our hospitals.