Husband who lost wife to cervical cancer says consultant told her ‘to join a gym’

A man has told RTÉ Radio 1's Liveline how his wife got stage 2 cervical cancer only 14 months after getting the all-clear from a smear test.

David’s wife, Nicola, was 32 when she died of cervical cancer in 2012.

He told Joe Duffy that Nicola had got the all-clear when she got her smear test done in 2009, but that year she started getting lots of pains.

David and Nicola have three children who are now 11, 16 and 18. David says he read about Liveline caller Orla’s story and wonders if his wife’s cancer was also missed in 2009.

File photo

David said: “For the following 12 months she developed a lot of pain in her pelvis, unexplained bleeding and extreme pain in her womb area.

“So she went to her GP who kept putting her on pain medicine and she went to the local hospital where they checked her out and thought that she maybe had endometriosis.

“They then put in a scope and had a look around, but couldn’t see anything, sent her home and then her pain just got worse and worse.”

David then explained how Nicola tried to put up with the pain as she was starting a new job, but the pain was so much that she went back to hospital for more scans.

He said: “They gave her scans, ultrasounds, couldn’t find anything wrong but it was getting worse and worse as time went on.

“He brought her in again, had a scope, but could find nothing.

Her pain was so bad that on her lunch break, she used to get a morphine injection.

However, she found that she couldn’t go on in her job as she kept falling asleep at her computer, but she continued going to hospital.

David said: “He said he was going to bring her in and he said he would sever all her nerves to her womb and it might get rid of her pain, but after that operation it just seemed to aggravate her more.

“She went back for her check-up after her operation where she was told sometimes it can take a while to heal up. She was fine with that, but her pain just kept getting worse.

File photo.

“It was after two months she again went back for a check-up and she said it wasn’t working, but she felt that this time he was arrogant about it because he bigged up this operation as he was the only doctor who could do it.

“He told her 3% of all women have unexplained pain and he said ‘maybe if you join a gym or take up walking it might help’.

I remember she rang me at work that day, she was furious, she said ‘he told me to join a gym’.

David explained that Nicola had the operation to sever the nerves to her womb in November of 2009, the same year she got the all-clear from her smear test.

He said: “That was her consultation, she left feeling a bit deflated, so she went to her GP and she was getting nowhere so she asked if she could get a second opinion.”

After her GP sent out letters asking for a second opinion, they went to see another doctor in February 2010.

David said: “Her quality of life at that stage was very poor and she thought that maybe if she got a hysterectomy, it might sort out her trouble.

“I think she was 27 or 28 at the time. We had three children and we talked about it and we agreed that this would sort out her troubles.”

David said the doctors agreed to give her a hysterectomy and they brought her in in April of 2010.

He said: “On the morning of going up to the hospital, when we left the car in the car park, the car seat was covered in blood and just after we went into hospital she started hemorrhaging, so she had to be brought straight into surgery.

“She was in recovery for about two weeks and we were just home for a day or two when we got a phone call off the doctor about the hysterectomy to tell us that everything went well, but they found that she had stage 2B cervical cancer. Which is a shock.”

David then revealed that this would have been about 14 months after getting the all-clear in her smear test.

File photo of cervical cancer cells.

Nicola went from getting a clear smear in 2009 to having stage 2 cervical cancer within 14 months.

He said: “She went off then to get chemotherapy and radiation. They had removed the tumour during the third week, but they weren’t sure if it had spread, so they gave her the radiation and chemotherapy in the view that it would kill any remaining cancer.

But after a year her symptoms returned, they returned worse.

“One of the problems was her pain was always unimaginable and they kept giving her stronger drugs all the time, so she was on morphine and she became immune to them then.

“What they in turn did was they stopped her bowels working, so she had to get a colostomy bag attached and then they tried to wean her off the tablets then.”

David explained that his wife thought there was something wrong with her, but the doctors never listened to her and suggested she see a psychologist.

He said: “She said ‘no, there’s something go on with me’, so she insisted on speaking to the senior consultant instead of the junior doctor.

“She came in and she said ‘look you’ve been through a lot, go see a psychologist’, but she (Nicola) said ‘I’m not crazy, I know my body more than anybody’. She was very tenacious, she wouldn’t leave that room until she got what she wanted and she said ‘I’ll go see a psychologist if you bring me in to have a look’.

“She wanted to be checked out, get a scan. They brought her in to have a look around and they saw that the cancer had spread to her ovaries, her stomach and her lymph nodes.”

After we found out the cancer came back, what remained of her life was just horrific.

He said: "No person should ever have to go through that. No woman, with 3 children, should ever have to go through that."

David wondered if his late wife was one of the women whose cancer diagnosis was not included in the CervicalCheck audit before revealing that he has had no contact from anyone about it.

David said: “The cervical care we got at the end was superior, it was next to nothing. If we had of had that in the beginning, she might never have got there.”

He said he and his children should never have had to see her like that. Nicola fought to be heard all along the way, says David.

He said: "I am angry and saddened to hear this happen to so many women. If that could have been avoided.....it would make me very angry.

“In Nicola’s case, it wouldn’t surprise me if at the very least she was misdiagnosed or not diagnosed in our case. The diagnosis to go to the gym wasn’t good enough.”

    Nicola's timeline:

  • 2009 – Nicola gets her smear test, it comes back clear;
  • 2009 – She complains of severe abdominal pain & bleeding, GP refers her to a consultant;
  • 2009 – A Consultant conducts a scope to investigate endometriosis, but finds nothing. Severs nerves going to womb but this doesn’t help pain. Nicola is told she may be one of the 3% of women who “experience unexplained pain”. On her lunch break she used to get a morphine injection;
  • 2010 – GP refers Nicola to another Consultant at her behest. Consultant recommends full hysterectomy to eradicate pain. During trip to hospital for operation, Nicola starts hemorrhaging in the car, the operation is carried out and surgeons find a tumour;
  • 2010 – Nicola is diagnosed with Stage 2B adenocarcinoma (same as previous Liveline caller Orla);
  • 2011 – She starts chemotherapy and radiation immediately. During this treatment, she started to experience more severe pain. Doctors told her it is a side effect from the radiation treatment. Nicola pleaded with the Consultant to investigate further. A scan shows the cancer had spread to her stomach, ovaries and lymph nodes;
  • April 2012 – Nicola dies at the age of 32 in hospital.


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