MUM’S ORDEAL I had double mastectomy and chemo before docs admitted they misdiagnosed my breast cancer
When Sarah Boyle was told she had triple negative breast cancer at the end of 2016, she was completely floored.
The then 25-year-old had only given birth to her first son Ted seven months earlier when docs at Royal Stoke University Hospital delivered the devastating diagnosis.
So when she was called into see medics several months later – following rounds of gruelling chemotherapy and a double mastectomy – to be told she didn’t have cancer, Sarah was overjoyed.
But what would transpire over the course of the meeting was that it wasn’t because the treatment had been successful.
‘I thought I’d done it’
Sarah, now 28, from Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs, opened up about her traumatising ordeal in an emotional interview on ITV’s This Morning today.
Tearfully recalling the moment she discovered she didn’t have cancer in July 2017, she said: “I think both the surgeon and the breast care nurse were a bit shocked really because I shot up and I was like ‘thank you, thank you, you’ve saved my life’.
“I thought I’d done it – all that suffering, all that pain and the struggling to look after my little boy was for something because now I can be his mum.”
Finding a lump
Sarah was 25 when she first went to doctors concerned about a lump in her breast.
She said: “I had a lump since 2012, which I had checked several times and told every time ‘it’s benign, it’s nothing to worry about’.
“I was breastfeeding and Ted wouldn’t feed on that side, so they said just go on the fast track two week pathway to the breast screening.
“It was just normal, it was what had happened before, so I wasn’t too worried.”
She explained that at that point it was advised she have a biopsy.
“The biopsy looked a little bit tricky, even to look at on screen. The gentleman scanning me said he wasn’t quite sure,” she said.
“I said to him then ‘do you think it’s cancer’ and he said ‘I don’t know’.”
Sarah explained that when she next went to the hospital with her husband Steven, 31, she was given the shock diagnosis.
She said: “It all happened really quickly. I didn’t actually expect to be told I had cancer. It was a huge shock.
“I was sat down and told I’d have eight rounds of chemotherapy – I’d have an extra two cycles because I’d be having surgery later.
“Then I remember being sent home and it was just CT scans and MRI scans.”
Sarah, who lost all her hair, was told at the end of the the aggressive treatment that it hadn’t shrunk the lump.
“I remember my oncologist explaining to me they’d have expected it to shrink, by at least half, ” she said.
“The ultrasound scan I had halfway showed it had shrunk a millimetre, which looking back and given the angle it could’ve done that either way.”
She was then told she’d need a bilateral mastectomy to reduce the risk of the cancer spreading.
But a week after the operation, Sarah got a phone call out the blue.
She said: “I got a phone call about a week after my mastectomy, and I think anyone going through treatment will understand this, but if you get a phone call early you instantly are scared.
‘I shot up and I was like ‘thank you, thank you, you’ve saved my life’
“It wasn’t my breast care nurse and I think she didn’t phone me because she knew I’d know by her voice something wasn’t right.
“So, a secretary called and told me to come in on the 7th of June, which was a whole week and a half earlier than my appointment.
“When we arrived at the hospital that morning I took her hands and said ‘am I dying, just tell me now before I got in is it terminal?’ and she said, ‘quite the opposite’.”
Sarah was then given the shocking news that she had been misdiagnosed and the lump had in fact been benign.
In a further blow, she has since learned that the reconstructive surgery may now potentially put her at risk of developing cancer in the future.
She received an apology from the medical professional who made the misdiagnosis in person and was bravely able to forgive her mistake.
‘I thought all that suffering, all that pain and the struggling to look after my little boy was for something’
Sarah said: “I just wrapped my arms around her and said, ‘it’s okay’, because I instantly knew how awful she must feel.
“I know that she’s got children and if that was my mum I wouldn’t want her to feel awful or sad because over the months I’d learned that you can’t hold onto that.
“Unfortunately for me I’m just struggling a bit to recover.”
She added: “I’m getting amazing support from the mental health team and taking everyday as it comes. I’m really lucky, I know that.”
University Hospital of North Midlands, the NHS Trust responsible for Royal Stoke University Hospital, has apologised to Sarah and put it down to “human error”.
A spokesperson from the trust said: “A misdiagnosis of this kind is exceptionally rare and we understand how devastating this has been for Sarah and her family.
“In addition to an unreserved apology to Sarah, the findings of the investigation have been shared with her and the case is now part of an on-going legal claim with which the Trust is co-operating fully.
“Ultimately the misreporting of the biopsy was a human error so as an extra safeguard all invasive cancer diagnoses are now reviewed by a second pathologist.
“Sarah continues to be in regular contact with the clinical team who treated her and they are always available to discuss any on-going concerns she may have.”
‘Ultimately the misreporting of the biopsy was a human error so as an extra safeguard all invasive cancer diagnoses are now reviewed by a second pathologist’
University Hospital Of North Midlands NHS Trust
Sarah said the waiting time has been increased to give the pathologist enough time to analyse biopsies in the future.
Sarah instructed specialist medical negligence lawyers to investigate the case who have now secured an admission of liability from University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust.
Irwin Mitchell solicitors legal expert Sarah Sharples, who is representing Sarah, said: “This is a truly shocking case in which a young mother has faced heartbreaking news and a gruelling period of extensive treatment, only to be told that it was not necessary.
“The entire experience has had a huge impact on Sarah in many ways.
“While we welcome that the NHS Trust has admitted to the clear failings, we are yet to hear if any improvements have been put in place to prevent something like this happening again.
“We are also deeply concerned following reports surrounding the type of implants Sarah has, with suspicions over their potential link to a rare form of cancer.
“Understandably, Sarah has a number of questions that need to be answered with regards to this and it has caused her significant distress.”