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A woman who had a double mastectomy and endured months of chemotherapy after being told she had an aggressive form of cancer is to receive millions of rand in damages as it transpired she had not had cancer.
The 49-year-old Rustenburg former estate agent and now housewife was claiming more than R9.9 million from Limpopo health authorities. Without admitting negligence, the province’s health authorities this week said they would pay 80 percent of agreed damages.
In papers before the Pretoria High Court the woman said she had been misdiagnosed by a doctor in a provincial hospital as suffering from an aggressive form of breast cancer. She underwent a bilateral mastectomy and chemotherapy, only to discover later that she had not had cancer.
The woman claimed the damages from the Limpopo MEC for health following her ordeal in 2005.
The matter was to be heard this week, but health authorities agreed to pay damages the woman could prove.
The settlement agreement, made an order of court by Pretoria Deputy Judge President Willem van der Merwe, made it clear that the MEC settled without admitting any liability or negligence.
The province undertook to pay the damages arising from, among other things, the diagnoses of the woman by the doctors at the Polokwane Hospital’s ontology clinic during May to November 2005, the subsequent bilateral mastectomy and the chemotherapy. The province will also pay the woman’s legal costs.
The woman, who lives on a smallholding in Donkerhoek, said in court papers that she was referred to the Polokwane Hospital in April 2005 after a lump was discovered in her left breast.
A doctor at the hospital referred her for a series of tests which included a mammogram, blood tests, a bone scan and a biopsy.
The doctor told her a few days later that the results of the needle biopsy showed the “presence of multiple malignant cells in both breasts, in keeping with infiltrating carcinoma”. The next day he confirmed that she had stage four breast cancer in both breasts which required a bilateral mastectomy.
The woman was admitted to the hospital on June 17 for chemotherapy. The double mastectomy was performed a few days later.
After being discharged, she continued receiving chemotherapy for several months.
The woman said that some time later she was told her breast tissue, following the bilateral mastectomy, showed “benign fibrocystic breast disease with no carcinoma”.
She said that she’d had a double mastectomy for no reason, due to the negligence of the doctors at the hospital who should have correctly diagnosed the lump in her breast.
The doctors did not examine her properly and had not bothered to do further tests when the results of some of the tests were inconsistent, she said.
The woman said she had been misdiagnosed as having stage four cancer, when in fact she had benign fibrocystic breast disease. This, she said, led to her having to endure – for no reason – chemotherapy and irreversible surgery.
She had worked as an estate agent, but after her operation she could no longer work. Apart from suffering unnecessary pain and discomfort, she also suffered from depression and mental exhaustion.
The woman had to change her wardrobe because of the loss of her breasts. She said she would permanently suffer “a loss of amenities of life” as she did not have a normal figure. She had developed a “negative body image”, and her marriage was in jeopardy as a result.
She said in court papers that apart from having lost all her self-confidence, she is no longer able to participate in her former hobbies, sport or normal household activities. “She has become reclusive and withdrawn from society,” it was stated.
The amount of damages she suffered and owed to her will be determined at a later stage.