Doctor botches exam and fails to spot cancer

Ginny Koekemoer warns that women should insist on seeing their pap smear results themselves so that they never have to live through the ordeal she went through.
Ginny Koekemoer warns that women should insist on seeing their pap smear results themselves so that they never have to live through the ordeal she went through.

A simple apology, which came too late, is all Ginny Koekemoer got from her doctor after discovering that a negligent administration error may have led to abnormal cells in her uterus turning cancerous.

Ginny loses her battle to hold back tears of anger, frustration and grief as she contemplates her pending visit to an oncologist… A visit she feels could have been completely unnecessary had her general practitioner (GP) done his job properly.

She confides that she often feels like just another number moving on a conveyor belt when she consults with a doctor. “They become so busy at their practices, trying to make money, that medical people start to treat us like cattle. They forget that each patient is a unique individual who needs their help,” she said.

Now Ginny, the regional financial manager at Caxton Newspapers (NKZN), hopes that sharing her story will save another woman from the nightmare she now finds herself in, brought about by something most people do without a second thought, trusting her doctor with her life.

Ginny’s ordeal began in November 2014 when she visited her GP to request a full medical examination.

“I did a complete set of tests, including the routine pap smear, mammogram, blood sugar and pressure, kidney and liver function, etc. When the tests were done, that was it, I didn’t hear back from my doctor. Two weeks later, I called the doctor and asked for my results and I was told telephonically that my sugar was a little high, but besides that, everything was normal,” Ginny begins.

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An excerpt from Ginny’s pathology results of 2014 clearly indicates that a calposcopy should be performed.

At the time, Ginny was experiencing a heavier than normal menstrual flow, but decided to trust her doctor’s ‘all clear’. “A year later, when the bleeding just seemed to be getting heavier and heavier, I went back to my GP and requested a referral to a gynaecologist.

“A week after I underwent a pap smear, the gynae called me back in and told me that a colposcopy needed to be done in a day surgery, which should have been picked up during my medical exam the previous year After this was done, I was advised that I needed a full hysterectomy,” Ginny continued.

The gynaecologist recommended a full hysterectomy for Ginny.

“It was then that I went back to my doctor, crying. I asked to have a look at my pap smear results from the previous year, and they could not find it in my file, but I found a document that listed all the tests he had asked to be done, so I insisted on waiting there while they contacted the pathologists and asked for a copy of the pap smear results to be faxed to the surgery… And there, in black and white, were the results indicating that there was a problem and recommending an urgent referral to a gynaecologist.

All my doctor had to say was, “I’m sorry.”

A histology report that followed after Ginny’s hysterectomy confirmed the presence of cancer cells. Ginny described her attempt to try to come to terms with what happened as “a nightmare”. “My husband works away from home, so I have had to deal with this on my own and when you hear “cancer“, you can’t help but think the worst.

“I want to advise all the women out there not to take your doctor’s word for it over the phone when he tells you everything is okay. Go and check the results of your tests for yourself. This was a real shock to my system because I trusted my doctor completely. It pains me to think of what could have happened to someone in whom the cancer had progressed further along.

“Imagine if it had been left until it had spread to other parts of my body. What then?”

Ginny hopes other women will heed her warning and save themselves having to go through the same ordeal. “I just want any woman, who has undergone a pap smear to take the time to see the results themselves. You worry yourself senseless when something like this happens and it happens more often than you think,” concluded Ginny.

According to stats published by the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), one in 42 South African women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, which is the second most common cancer in women. The common occurrence of this type of cancer is a good reason for women to be vigilant about receiving the results of their pap smears. Pap smears may also be used as a screening tool for ovarian and uterine cancer.

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