Mum’s rare cancer missed by doctors for over two years – and by then it was too late
A rare type of cancer was missed by one mother’s doctors for more than two years – and by then it was too late to save her.
Now Colette Jervis’ widower has pleaded for lessons to be learned.
Colette, from Manchester, was diagnosed with thymoma, a rare malignant tumour of the thymus gland, in November 2012, reports the Manchester Evening News.
Four days later, she was told by a consultant the thymoma had been present on an X-ray carried out at Trafford General Hospital two-and-a-half years previously but remained undiagnosed at that time.
Although thymoma can be cancerous, it is often benign and can have no symptoms.
Colette initially sought medical advice with a persistent cough in 2010 but the thymoma was not spotted by doctors.
By the time of her diagnosis in late 2012, her symptoms had progressed and she had developed shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain and a hoarse voice.
She had surgery in 2013 to remove the tumour, which was followed by radiotherapy. The tumour, however, returned and spread to other parts of her body.
She died in May 2018, aged 48, after spending much of her final months in hospital.
Prior to her death, Colette instructed specialist medical negligence lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate the care she received under Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Trafford General Hospital, and whether more should have been done to diagnose the cancer sooner.
After losing his wife, Colette’s husband Mark decided to continue to investigate her care with the legal team.
The NHS Trust admitted a breach of duty of care due to a failure to recommend further imaging following the chest X-ray of 2010 which identified an abnormality, and that there had been a failure to comprehend the enlarging mass following the chest X-ray of 2012.
The Trust further admitted that had Colette’s thymoma been diagnosed earlier, surgery would have been performed within four weeks and, on the balance of probabilities, she would have avoided the need for postoperative radiotherapy.
Mark received a letter of apology from the Trust, and a settlement was reached in May this year.
A spokesman said they “apologise unreservedly” to Colette’s family.
Kevin Saul, the specialist medical negligence lawyer at Irwin Mitchell representing Mark, said: “The past few years have been incredibly difficult for Mark, first losing Colette in such a tragic way, but then also finding out that it could likely have been prevented if she had been diagnosed sooner.
“Through our work we come across many families left devastated after going through similar experiences of delays in cancer diagnosis. We all know early diagnosis counts in the treatment of cancer.
“While nothing can bring Colette back, it is some relief for him that we now understand more about what happened to her and Mark hopes that lessons are learned so no-one else has to go through what he has.”
Colette saw her GP in March 2010, complaining of a continuous cough and pain in her breastbone.
She was referred for a chest X-ray at Trafford General Hospital on March 6 that year.
It was reported as showing a “small bulge…of uncertain nature” but she said she did not hear from the hospital or her GP afterwards, so “assumed no news was good news.”
Two years later, in May 2012, Colette attended her GP again, feeling generally unwell and suffering from another cough.
She was prescribed antibiotics and underwent routine blood tests, which highlighted anaemia. Her GP advised her to take iron tablets.
On June 3 the same year, Colette attended Trafford General Hospital complaining of feeling dizzy and suffering from a tight chest and shortness of breath.
She was referred for a further chest X-ray at Trafford General Hospital in September.
The report showed an “abnormal figuration”, which had been seen on the previous X-ray two-and-a-half years before but was now “far more prominent.”
She was referred to the Rapid Access Chest Pain Clinic and underwent an echocardiographic examination on 16 October, which returned normal.
On November 6, Colette saw her GP with chest pain. Trafford General Hospital requested an urgent CT scan, which was carried out on November 13 and a referral was made to a consultant cardiothoracic surgeon.
On November 15, Colette’s GP confirmed a diagnosis of a thymoma. Colette saw a consultant four days later, who advised her that the tumour had been present for two-and-a-half years.
On February 20, 2013, Colette underwent surgery at another hospital to remove her thymus gland. The following month, she was seen by a consultant ENT surgeon who confirmed left vocal cord palsy affecting her voice, for which she was also operated on.
She began radiotherapy in May 2013.
Shortly after, Colette was complaining of ongoing chest pain and breathlessness and was referred to the respiratory team.
Within a few months, it was confirmed that her tumour had returned and spread to other parts of her body.
Colette’s symptoms got progressively worse, with repeated episodes of respiratory failure. She died in May 2018.
Mark said: “All I want to do is turn back the clock to when Colette was still with me, but I know that isn’t possible. I hope that my story will raise awareness of how early diagnosis is important when it comes to thymoma, and also ensure that lessons are learned to prevent this happening to anyone else. I would not wish this pain on anyone.”
At the time of her death, Colette had been married to Mark for 19 years. The couple had a son, Kieran who was aged 17 when she died. Kieran was particularly affected by Colette’s death and most of his memories of her relate to the period when she was ill, his father said.
Mark said: “Losing Colette is the worst thing I have ever had to go through and I still miss her terribly every day.
“Thymoma is a relatively rare and complicated disease, but if caught early can be treated effectively. Unfortunately, Colette’s went undiagnosed for some time and led to the worst outcome possible.
“Once we were told the cancer was terminal, the specialists told us the average lifespan is between five and eight years, but all we got was 18 months which was heart-breaking.
“Kieran was absolutely devastated to lose his mum. He misses her so much, and unfortunately he has more memories of her being ill than not, which is very upsetting.”
A spokesperson for Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Trafford General Hospital, said: “We wish to again offer our deepest sympathies and condolences to the family of Colette Jervis.
“The Trust has thoroughly investigated the care given to Colette and fully accepts that this fell well below the required standard on this occasion.
“We apologise unreservedly to Colette’s family and we are committed to ensuring that lessons are learnt in order to improve patient care.”