Saturday 16 February 2019

Why I was forced to lie to save my life

Cancer mother pretended she was from North to get treatment there

Anita Guidera

A woman diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer told yesterday how she was forced to fake an address in Northern Ireland to get treatment which saved her life.

The shambles of the State's cancer services was underlined when eight months later, after 11 successful bouts of chemotherapy, the Donegal woman was offered her first appointment for a mammogram at Letterkenny General Hospital.

Lorna McCafferty believes if she had waited to be treated in the State, she would have already been dead.

"They would have been burying me at Christmas time if I hadn't taken things into my own hands," the mother of one told the Irish Independent.

Within three weeks of attending a GP in Strabane, Co Tyrone last year, Ms McCafferty was told that an aggressive form of breast cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.

Eight months later, after she had undergone a lumpectomy and 11 weeks of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment in Derry and Belfast, she received a letter for an appointment for a mammogram at Letterkenny General Hospital.

She had just moved home from Manchester with daughter Caitlin (10) when she was diagnosed, and couldn't afford private treatment.

Ms McCafferty admitted she was still angry about the additional stress and the deception she had to go through to access services in another jurisdiction.

The latest case highlighting shortcomings in cancer care for women in the State comes in the wake of revelations in the mid-west of the deaths of Ann Moriarty (53) and Edel Kelly (26) from breast cancer after they received the all-clear.

And it follows the disclosure last night that cancer strategy supremo Tom Keane had pulled out of a planned appearance on 'The Late Late Show' after he learned of the presence of cancer patients in the audience.

Prof Keane was scheduled to appear on the show to allay fears after a series of cancer misdiagnosis scandals.

Ms McCafferty was prompted to go public after reading about the tragic death of Ann Moriarty, who had twice been given the all-clear at Ennis General Hospital but died of the disease earlier this year.


"My anger just won't go away. The impression that is being put out there is that these cases are isolated, but I just want people to know that there are problems in Donegal as well. The breast cancer service seems to be in a complete shambles," she said.

Ms McCafferty (31) added: "The chances of it coming back are quite possible, and I am absolutely terrified, but I don't have any confidence in the system. I think more people should stand up and tell their story and that way the HSE won't be able to put their head in the sand," she said.

Noelle Duddy, spokeswoman for Co-operating for Cancer Care North West, who is a breast cancer survivor, described Lorna's story as "shocking".

"I hope the Government and the HSE are listening to this. That is a government issue. We don't have BreastCheck up here.

"These women need to be seen when they find a lump. A GP can't see through breast tissue. The system is totally overloaded and people are falling between stools. The service has to be developed in Donegal," she said.

She added that the breast surgeon and the team currently in place at Letterkenny General Hospital, which has been given special status under the National Cancer Strategy as a Satellite unit for University Hospital Galway, were stretched to their limits.

"They are trying to do everything; so naturally we are getting women, who are distraught, going to Action Cancer (Northern Ireland) and elsewhere to have mammograms," she said.

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