Incorrect Cancer Diagnosis for Nine Women Is More Than an Oversight

by on January 4th, 2011
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COMMENTARY | Eastern Health, Newfoundland’s and Labrador’s largest health care provider, is being sued by nine women after it was determined that they underwent mastectomies but did not have breast cancer. Flawed testing is to blame. Whether or not the testing is flawed, it does not provide any form of relief to women who have undergone bilateral mastectomies and chemotherapy in order to treat cancer they did not have. I had a mastectomy on my left breast. Currently I am undergoing chemo to treat my breast cancer.

Altered body image

The nine women who lost their breasts to unnecessary surgery are suing Eastern Health. From a patient’s standpoint, this is inexcusable. It took me months to come to terms with losing a breast. I spent hours crying on my husband’s shoulder. Your body image is forever altered after mastectomy. A large scar is there to remind you every day of what you went through.

Chemotherapy

Chemo is tough to go through — even if you handle it well. I have had my first round of chemotherapy. My white cell count crashed and they had to give me a drug called Neupogen. The joint pain caused by this medication is almost unbearable. Chemo takes its toll on your body because it trashes healthy cells, as well as cancer cells. You spend a year or more of your life trying to cope with the side effects.

More than an oversight

I am unsure how a flawed test could result in such a fiasco for these women. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I had to undergo a multitude of testing. Mammography, ultrasound, MRI, CT scans, and a full-body bone scan were part of the screening process before I decided on a mastectomy. Pathology was done on the biopsied tissue. It was the pathology report that confirmed the cancer diagnosis. The tissue was not tested — it was stained and examined underneath a microscope. Canada’s standards should not be that different from U.S. standards.

Recourse

CBC News reports that Ches Crosbie, a lawyer from St. John’s, is representing the nine women. The report states that Eastern Health is refusing to send the women’s medical records to an expert for examination. As of Feb. 23, the nine women have not received any compensation for their incorrect diagnosis and subsequent unnecessary surgeries.

The other side

Eastern Health’s CEO, Vickie Kaminski, stated to CBC News that Crosbie’s team is welcome to come to their facility to examine the tissue samples and medical records. Kaminski agrees that the women were wrongfully diagnosed and she would like to settle this situation quickly. Crosbie states that requiring his specialists to travel to Eastern Health to examine records onsite will significantly increase the cost to litigate the issue.

As a cancer patient, I am shocked that this situation could occur. Words would fail to describe my feelings if I found out my diagnosis was a mistake. The nine women who lost their breasts to an incorrect diagnosis are entitled to a speedy settlement. Testing procedures should be revised so that this situation does not happen again.

Lynda Altman is currently receiving treatment for a type of breast cancer called invasive ductal carcinoma. She writes a series for Yahoo! Shine called “My Battle with Breast Cancer.”


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