Heartbreaking Narratives from Women in New York and Throughout the Country Whose Illnesses Were Delayed or Incorrectly Diagnosed
In a previous post, we discussed the importance of early detection as a means of more effectively fighting breast cancer. Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, some women find themselves in a particularly upsetting position: that of being an innocent victim of a doctor’s delay in diagnosing the disease. Take, for example, the case of Karen Holliman. In an article written for the Journal of Participatory Medicine, Holliman, who suffers from terminal metastatic breast cancer, details her experience, beginning with an MRI for back pain in 2008. That MRI could have, if reviewed and interpreted properly, alerted Holliman to the presence of the cancer; as a result of a delayed diagnosis by her primary care provider and several subsequent specialists, however, her breast cancer was not detected and diagnosed until nearly three years later – by which point it was radically advanced.
Holliman speaks of her dismay at the error, the miscommunication among her doctors, and of the critical treatment time that she lost in those three years in between the delayed breast cancer diagnosis and the eventual detection – as well as of the physical and emotional pain that she has suffered as a result (including having to leave her job and go on disability). She urges readers to take a more active stance in their healthcare; this includes expecting that healthcare providers sometimes make mistakes, as well as insisting on a second opinion when necessary and making use of patient advocate resources.
Robin Gray is another woman whose story serves as a cautionary tale. The New York-based registered nurse was told that a small lump in her breast was a benign cyst; nearly 18 months after this misdiagnosis, her doctors finally realized that the lump, which had grown dramatically in size, was in fact a cancerous tumor. Far from being isolated, experiences like hers are, according to Gray, fairly prevalent. She estimates that 10,000 women per year are misdiagnosed, or receive a late diagnosis, for breast cancer, and that many of these women are young. The reason for this, she surmises, may have to do with the fact that doctors don’t expect to detect breast cancer in younger patients, since older women are much more statistically likely to be affected.
The last diagnosis of breast cancer is not limited only to false negatives, either. Judy Valencia shared her story with ABC News in 2013; the Michigan woman told of her strong family history of breast cancer, with her mother, her sister, and several aunts being afflicted with the disease. So when a doctor informed Valencia that a biopsy had returned evidence of cancer in her breast tissue, she didn’t hesitate to take decisive action, undergoing a double mastectomy to completely remove any presence of cancer from both of her breasts. Incredibly, upon advice from her lawyer, a doctor reviewing Valencia’s biopsy not long after her procedure concluded that she had never actually had cancer after all, and that the original diagnosis was inaccurate.
Herlinda Garcia’s misdiagnosis experience was even more extreme. After being told that she had Stage IV breast cancer in 2009, Garcia underwent months of exhausting chemotherapy and even gave away most of her possessions, convinced that she had very little time left to live. She also fell victim to debilitating depression as a result of the diagnosis. When she found out, some time later, that the diagnosis was incorrect and that she didn’t have cancer, Garcia filed – and won – a medical malpractice lawsuit. While not having breast cancer is, in and of itself, a positive thing, underdoing painful and life-changing surgery or treatment to remove a risk that didn’t actually exist in the first place is undeniably upsetting.
For every woman who has written or spoken out about her experience with a breast cancer late or misdiagnosis, there are many who have remained comparatively quiet; you have only to look at the comments section of any first-hand narrative about late and missed diagnosis on the Internet to see how many people have been affected by this all-too-common occurrence. Some commenters express their gratitude at having detected the disease early enough to undergo successful treatment, even after a misdiagnosis; others speak on behalf of loved ones who have passed away, and of their regret that they were unable to do as much as they might have done with a more timely diagnosis.
Doctors and healthcare providers are human, and mistakes are inevitable. But with something as important as breast cancer, a mistake can unfortunately have tragic results.
“At our law firm, “ Edward Milstein said, “we have and continue to represent many women who are victims of a delay in the diagnosis of breast cancer. In fact, it is one of the most frequent types of cases we have in our practice. We have always been successful in these cases – obtaining fair and just compensation for many women over the years.”
We are rated nationally in the top tier in medical malpractice litigation by Best Lawyers in America and all name partners have been consistently elected by their peers as New York ”Super Lawyers as well as members of “The National Top 100 Trial Lawyers.”