‘Planning my funeral’: Mum’s six-day ordeal after bungled cancer diagnosis

A Christchurch woman began “planning her funeral” after she was mistakenly diagnosed with terminal cancer due to a record mix-up.

After Toni Shields suffered from abdominal pain, fatigue and significant weight loss within a short period of time, she went to her GP and was referred for an ultrasound scan. When this showed abnormalities in her spleen, the 55-year-old was sent for a CT scan on May 22nd.

The next day she was informed that an urgent appointment with a doctor had been made for her.

“I asked, ‘How bad is it? What is it?'” Ms. Shields recalled in an interview with The New Zealand Herald.

“(The nurse) said, ‘All I can tell you is that there are changes.'”

In a panic, Ms Shields accessed her medical records through her Manage My Health account – the New Zealand equivalent of Australia’s My Health Record.

The documents noted that she had multiple cancerous tumors in her liver and that “the primary cause may be the pancreas.”

“I went to the doctor and she sat me down and said, ‘Unfortunately, it’s more than likely that you have cancer,'” Ms. Shields said.

“It was a bitter pill to swallow. I became quite nervous and had to get out of there somehow. I also spoke to someone from the psychiatric ward before I left.”

On the drive home, Mrs. Shields desperately considered how she would break the news to her two sons.

“It was just heartbreaking to tell them. My oldest looked like he had lost so much weight, he was stuck and just shrinking. He was just so broken,” she said.

“My youngest was very, very disturbed.”

For the next six days, Mrs. Shields lived believing she was terminally ill.

“I was planning my funeral. I was looking into assisted suicide. I wanted to get pictures of my grandchildren when they were older so I could see what they would look like when they were older,” she said.

“I threw away a lot of my old things because I thought I didn’t need them.”

After going to the doctor for more blood tests, Ms Shields received another call from her GP, this time telling her there had been a mix-up and she had received someone else’s results.

“She was beside herself on the phone, she couldn’t believe this had happened,” Ms. Shields said of her doctor.

“I just thought, ‘What? So I’m not going to die?’ She said, ‘No, you’re not going to die, Toni.'”

Instead, Ms. Shields had a benign cyst on her ovary. Her liver and pancreas were both healthy.

The head of Christchurch’s radiology department also called Ms Shields to apologise and assured her that a full investigation had been launched to find out how the error had occurred.

Joanne Gibbs, interim chief operating officer of Health New Zealand’s Canterbury group, also issued a statement offering her “sincere apology” to Ms Shields, saying it was “extremely unusual for such an error to occur”.

“We are sincerely sorry that Toni received an incorrect diagnosis and we apologize for the significant stress we have caused both Toni and her family,” Ms Gibbs said.

“We are currently conducting a comprehensive investigation into how this happened to identify where improvements can be made and to ensure this does not happen again in the future.

“We will continue to be in contact with Toni as we investigate this incident and she is welcome to contact our radiology team with any further questions or comments she may have.”

Ms Shields said The Herald She was still trying to process her feelings about the situation.

“I know I’m angry and I want to know how this happened, but I also feel so sorry for the person who received these results,” she said.

“I really feel for them. What I went through, they go through. Sure, I got a happy ending, but they didn’t.”

Leave a Comment

URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL URL