A 27-year-old woman died of cervical cancer just one day after her diagnosis — and months of troubling symptoms that went ignored by her doctors.
UK woman Porsche McGregor-Sims first reported unusual abdominal pain and bleeding to her primary care doctor in December 2019. She was referred to a gynecologist a month later, Solent News reported.
By April 2020, she was dead.
McGregor-Sims’ gynecologist, Peter Schlesinger, didn’t initially see that she had an aggressive form of cervical cancer, after the clinician deemed that further examination would yield “no benefit” at her age. She had recently stopped taking regular birth control injections, which they presumed was a “hormonal” shock to her system.
Schlesinger reportedly added that, had a “chaperone” been present to observe their visit, he may have carried out a full physical examination to reveal any physical anomalies. A standard Pap smear or scheduling a CT scan would have also taken more time, particularly during the holiday season, he said, and full physical exams are not as common these days.
“If someone was in the room with me I probably would have done [more]. But we are all here today with the benefit of hindsight,” he said, according to Solent.
The coronavirus pandemic was just beginning when McGregor-Sims, in March 2020, called her family doctor complaining of shortness of breath, for which she was given a course of antibiotics. As those symptoms progressed, her doc suspected she had contracted COVID-19, and booked her into Westlands Medical Centre for a consultation.
But her respiratory condition was so poor, she was quickly transferred to Queen Alexandra Hospital — where she died, on April 14, 2020.
Now, her family is speaking out about the substandard care McGregor-Sims received.
In a message to Schlesinger, McGregor-Sims’ mother, Fiona Hawke, said in a statement, “You didn’t do the most basic thing — give her an internal examination … one of the most simple and fundamental ways to assess someone for cervical cancer.” Hawke, 52, also claimed that the doctor was more interested in McGregor-Sims’ irritable bowel syndrome and other reasons for bleeding, “and that just didn’t make sense to me,” she said.
Local coroner Rosamund Rhodes-Kemp has also suggested a reassessment of national guidelines, which stipulate that patients can be seen by doctors for certain symptoms no sooner than two weeks after their initial complaint — a time period in which many minor illnesses subside on their own. The purpose is to prevent unnecessary patient consultations in lieu of more pressing cases.
Rhodes-Kemp also noted that cervical cancer “is usually slow-growing.”
“The only option was to do the priority referral,” the coroner said. “Four weeks is still quite fast. I think there is a structure [doctors] have to adhere to. This structure may be at fault.”
Before recent diagnostic breakthroughs, cervical cancer was the most common cause of cancer death among women. Now, each year here in the United States, an estimated 14,480 women will be newly diagnosed, and 4,290 of them will die from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society — though its symptoms, including pain, abnormal menstruation and spotting, fatigue and weight loss, can be difficult to track.
The average age at cervical cancer diagnosis is 50. However, studies have shown that younger cancer patients may be at a higher mortality risk due to the simple fact that no one suspects their symptoms could spell cancer.
Schlesinger told internal investigators that McGregor-Sims’ case appeared low-risk. A Pap test in 2017 had revealed “no abnormalities,” he said. Additionally, she’d ceased use of her hormonal contraceptive about six months prior, which can cause a disruption in menstruation and bleeding.
“I felt there were a number of potential causes to her pain,” he told investigators, according to Solent News. “In view of the fact she had stopped her birth control, I suggested she take it again to see if the pain stopped.”
The doctor also said he was “very sorry” to hear of her ultimate diagnosis, and has apologized to her family.
He added in his testimony: “The rather specific nature of her bleeding made me think her risk of cervical cancer was small. I appreciate the fact I was wrong, but given the myriad of symptoms this young woman had I felt the right approach was hormonal manipulation.”
Speaking on behalf of Westlands Medical Centre, Dr. Helen Pandya told investigators, “The COVID pandemic really didn’t help during the latter stages but, upon review, we had thought we had done all we could — though we are willing to learn.”
Hawke paid tribute to her daughter, an aspiring model, actress and event planner.
“The number of people she reached in her short life is the best reflection of who she was,” she said of McGregor-Sims, who is also survived by fiancé Mark Chappel and twin brother Deucalion.
“She was willing to see the good in everything and everyone. She was a lovely person, and losing her is like having the sun burn out.”
The grieving mom added, “It’s frightening to think that someone with so much energy can disappear so suddenly.”