Family of Manor Park woman who faced 10 month cancer diagnosis battle urge others to persist with health concerns
- Credit: Family handout/Hudgill Solicitors
The family of a young woman whose breast cancer was not diagnosed for 10 months have urged people to be persistant if they feel health concerns are being ignored.
Waverlea Alphonse, from Manor Park, died four years after first visiting her GP when she discovered a lump in her left breast.
She was referred to Newham University Hospital where she had an ultrasound scan and was told that her small intra-mammary lymph node was nothing to worry about.
Despite warning specialists of a history of breast cancer among young women in her family, Waverlea, then aged 25, was also told she didn’t qualify to be seen at Great Ormond Street Hospital’s clinical genetic service.
Five months later, fearing the lump had grown and still experiencing pain, Waverlea went back to her GP and was given painkillers. She was referred back to specialists after returning to her GP once more.
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Only then – 10 months after she was first seen – was a 26mm suspicious mass noted on a scan. Further tests revealed she had cancer in both breasts.
Despite receiving treatment including chemotherapy and a double mastectomy, the cancer returned in October 2018. This later spread to Waverlea’s lungs and she died in August last year, aged 29.
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Her dad Lawrence said: “Waverlea died as she did because of delays in diagnosing her cancer and her story is one which needs to be told, particularly in light of the current situation.
“Waverlea wanted to spread a message to others not to allow their genuine concerns to be dismissed by doctors, and that is something people need to be aware of when doctors are under pressure to clear a backlog of appointments and tests.
“She felt she was dismissed from the very start by the specialists at hospital because of her age. What message does it send to make a young woman feel that way?
“Waverlea wasn’t someone who would always be worrying about her health. If she went to the doctor it was only ever because she was truly unwell or she was genuinely concerned over something.”
Waverlea’s family have shared her story to mark breast cancer awareness month, which runs throughout October, and comes at a time when it is estimated almost a million women have missed breast screening appointments due to coronavirus.
The Breast Cancer Now charity predicts that of these, around 8,600 women will have undetected breast cancer.
Lawrence added: “Even when Waverlea was facing her own battle, and losing her fight for life, she was thinking about others. That makes me very proud and it is why I want to take the opportunity to tell her story.
“Hopefully by reading her story any young people who have put off having tests, have found their own tests or treatment delayed, or are unhappy with the thoroughness of their examinations, will shout out louder and demand more.
“She had a really tough last six months to her life and as a family we had to watch a once vibrant, outgoing happy woman slowly fade away.
“If we can stop a single family having to go through that then sharing Waverlea’s story will have done good.”
Lawrence told how Waverlea fought to raise awareness of breast cancer despite struggling with a deterioration in her health and mobility, and set up an Instagram account to document her journey.
She aimed to help others who found themselves in a similar situation, posting about her treatment and how she tried to stay positive despite being told her cancer was incurable.
Waverlea also began legal proceedings against Barts Health NHS Trust, which runs Newham Hospital, claiming that the initial ultrasound scan fell below a reasonable standard and as such impacted on her ability to beat the cancer. She received a letter of apology just weeks before her death.
“She started the legal case as she was determined to highlight how she had been let down and see changes made,” Lawrence said.
“By the time the apology came through it was clear that cancer had beaten her and that she was losing the battle. I’m not even sure if she read it in full.
A Barts Health spokesperson said: “We offer our deepest sympathies to Ms Alphonse’s family for their loss.
“We are extremely sorry that the care provided to Ms Alphonse did not meet the high standards we set ourselves and recognise that an expert review found that diagnosis and treatment could have been provided sooner.
“As a trust, we continue to work and take action to ensure similar situations are avoided in the future.”