For years, doctors didn't take her symptoms seriously.

By Faith Brar
Updated: March 08, 2019
Instagram / @elly.mayday

Body-positive model and activist Ashley Luther, more commonly known as Elly Mayday, passed away at age 30 after a battle with ovarian cancer.

Her family announced the news on Instagram a few days ago in a heartbreaking post.

"Ashley was a country girl at heart who had a passion for life that was undeniable," they wrote in the post. "She dreamed of making an impact on people's lives. She achieved this through the creation of Elly Mayday which allowed her to connect with all of you. Her constant support and love from her followers held a special place in her heart."

While Luther was well-known as a body-positivity activist, that role as an influencer went beyond self-image. She's been open about how doctors ignored her symptoms for years before officially diagnosing her with cancer, so she began vigorously advocating for women's health. She said that she felt that if someone listened to her, they would have caught her cancer earlier.

Luther's journey began in 2013 when she went to the emergency room after experiencing excruciating pain in her lower back. Doctors dismissed her pain, saying she needed to lose weight and all would be well, according to People. (Did you know female doctors are better than male docs?)

"The doctor told me to work my core," she told People in 2015. "We're undermined being younger, being women. I started to realize no one is going to help me unless I help myself."

Three more ER trips later, Luther tells the mag she knew that something simply wasn't right, so she demanded her doctors perform more tests. Three years after her first trip to the hospital, a CT scan revealed that she had an ovarian cyst-and after a biopsy, she was officially diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer.

Luther continued modeling while she battled ovarian cancer and even appeared in campaigns after losing her hair to chemotherapy and undergoing surgeries that left her body with scars.

Even before her diagnosis, Luther made it a point to challenge stereotypes. She was considered one of the first curve models to step into the spotlight and launched a successful career despite being told she'd be nothing more than a pin-up model because of her size and height. She used that experience to encourage women to embrace their bodies as they are and ignore haters.

Luther underwent several surgeries and chemo. And for a while, her cancer seemed to be in remission. But in 2017, it returned and after another long, hard battle, it eventually took her life.

Unfortunately, Luther's experience isn't a stand-alone incident. There are, of course, the centuries-old stereotypes about women being "hysterical" or "dramatic" when it comes to pain-but some of those misconceptions still hold true today, even in hospitals and clinics.

Case in point: Research shows that women are more likely than men to be told their pain is psychosomatic, or influenced by some sort of underlying emotional problem. Not only that, but both doctors and nurses prescribe less pain medication to women than men after surgery, even though women report more frequent and severe pain levels.

Just recently, actress Selma Blair, who has multiple sclerosis (MS), said that doctors didn't take her symptoms seriously for years leading up to her diagnosis. She cried tears of joy when they finally told her what was wrong with her.

That's why it was so important for Luther to encourage women to be advocates for their own health and speak up when they know something isn't right with their bodies.

In her last post before her death, she says she's "always been looking for that opportunity to help people," and it turned out that her opportunity to do so was sharing her cancer battle and experiences leading up to it.

"My choice to be public and try and share my strength was imminent," she wrote. "Helping is how I justify my time here is well spent. I'm lucky I have been able to combine it with the fun career of modeling, cause that's also very me (hah no surprise). I appreciate everyone who lets me know I've made a difference, with my advice, my sharing, my photos and just my general approach to a real tough situation."

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