Wednesday 18 September 2019

'It was horrific, no person should have to go through that' - widower of young mother fears her cancer was missed

Mother who died of cancer initially told 'some women have unexplained pain and maybe if she joined a gym or took up walking it might help'

HSE chief Tony O'Brien said it was known that smear testing has a failure rate.
HSE chief Tony O'Brien said it was known that smear testing has a failure rate.
Kathy Armstrong

Kathy Armstrong

THE widower of a young mother who died from cancer after a smear test was clear said he is "angry and saddened" that her diagnosis may have been delayed because of the cervical cancer test scandal.

The man, only identified as David, said that "no person should ever have to go through" what his wife Nicola went through before her death in 2012.

He claims that she was advised to "join a gym" and "see a psychologist" shortly before she her cancer was confirmed.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed today that the cases of all 3,000 women who developed cervical cancer in the last decade are to be examined before the end of May.

The 3,000 cases will be examined by a team of international cyto-pathologists organised by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

These include the 1,482 cases of cervical  cancer already examined by CervicalCheck and another 1,500 whose cancer was notified to the National Cancer Registry.

Speaking on RTE Radio One's Liveline, David said that he hasn't heard from the HSE but is worried that his late wife may be one of the women who got an incorrect result from a smear test.

David said: "I am angry and saddened to hear this happen to so many women.

"If I find out that that smear test could have helped us and that what I went through for the last six or seven years could have been avoided, it would make me very angry."

Mum-of-three Nicola had a smear test and it came back clear but shortly afterwards she started to get worrying symptoms.

"She got a smear in 2009 and she got the all-clear, there was no issue with it and the following 12 months she had a lot of pain in her back and pelvis, she started to notice pain in her womb area.

"So she went to her GP, she kept putting her on pain medicine and she put her to the local hospital and they checked her out and they thought she might be suffering from endometriosis so they did a scope but they couldn't find anything and sent her home.

"Her pain was getting worse and worse and she had just started a new job so she was trying to suppress the pain so she could get on with things.

"She went back to the hospital again for a scan and ultrasounds, and they couldn't find anything wrong but it was just getting worse and worse as time went on, she had another scope and they couldn't find anything.

"Her pain got so bad that she had to go on her lunch breaks to get a morphine injection, she couldn't continue with her job because she was falling asleep at her computer," he explained.

He continued to say: "She had an operation to sever all the nerves going to her womb, they hoped it would sever her pain but that seemed to aggravate her more.

"When she went back for her check up they said it takes a while to heal but after two months she had a check-up and said it wasn't working and she felt the doctor was kind of arrogant about it, he told her some women have unexplained pain and told her maybe if she joined a gym or took up walking it might help.

"I remember when she left she called me at work and said she had been told to join a gym."

Nicola - then aged 28 - asked her GP to refer her for a second opinion and that consultant scheduled her to have a hysterectomy in April 2015.

On the morning of the procedure Nicola haemorrhaged, two days after the operation her doctors said they had removed Stage 2B cancer.

She then underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy to get rid of any potential remaining cancer.

David commented: "After about a year her symptoms returned and they were worse, one problem was that her pain was unmanageable so they kept giving her stronger drugs, so she was on morphine and became immune to them.

"The drugs stopped her bowels from working so she had to get a colostomy bag fitted and they tried to wean her off the tablets but she felt something was wrong, she felt like the doctors weren't listening to her.

"I remember a junior doctor said she had been through a lot and maybe she should see a psychologist but she said no because she said she knew something was wrong with her body.

"A senior consultant later suggested she should see a psychologist, she agreed to see a psychologist if they agreed to check her out further.

"That was a Friday, they brought her in on the Tuesday and they found her cancer had spread to her stomach and her ovaries, her lymph nodes and part of her lungs.

"After we found out the cancer was back what remained of her life was just horrific, no person should ever have to go through that."

Nicola passed away from cancer in hospital in April 2012, aged just 32.

David said he is angry Nicola may have gotten a false negative to her 2009 smear test, which could have delayed her diagnosis.

He said: "There was no communication, I remember asking a doctor at the time that she'd gotten a smear so shouldn't any abnormalities have shown up then and she said it doesn't always, that's all she said.

"Looking at cases that I saw over the weekend where people were told they had abnormal cells and then three years later they were told they had a certain stage and type of cancer.

"They're saying the test didn't indicate that abnormality, so to go from a clear smear to stage 2 cancer over 14 months...

"Cancer doesn't pop up overnight, surely it takes years to develop?

"I want to stress that the care she received at the end was superior and maybe if she got that at the beginning things would be different."

David is raising the couple's three children - now aged 11, 16 and 18 - and he has vowed to find out whether Nicola's cancer was missed in 2009.

He said: "It wasn't a breakdown in communication, it's non-communication.

"At the very least Nicola was not diagnosed, diagnosed to go to the gym just isn't good enough.

"I would pursue this for her because I know she would." has contacted the HSE for a comment.

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