Case in point #1: I met Sherri and her husband Chris, after she had just been diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. Sherri’s mother had died of breast cancer at the age of 36. Her family doctor knew this, but he had not recommended or ordered mammograms for her even as she approached and passed age 40. Moreover, he did not tell them about the BRCA genetic testing that could be performed to show whether she had the genetic gene mutation that would have warned her that she was very likely to get breast cancer. And when she developed a lump in her breast, he misdiagnosed it, telling her it was only fibrocystic and that she did not need a mammogram.
Sherri and Chris knew that they were in the fight of her life. As she began to go through chemotherapy and had a mastectomy, Chris set aside everything else to take care of her (and their daughter, who has severe problems with epilepsy). When she learned with the BRCA testing (too late) that she did have the genetic marker, they assured that each of their daughters and that Sherri’s sister had the same testing. At least one of them tested positive and had prophylactic bilateral mastectomy – likely saving her life from the same fate that Sherri was confronting.
Throughout this struggle, as I saw Sherri’s body weaken in the battle, her spirit did not waver. Rather than wallow in self-pity and fear, her focus was on her husband and children. She became their hero, and because I was privileged to represent her in her medical malpractice case here in Joplin for the poor medical care she had received – she became one of my heroes too. Sherri and Chris knew a great wrong had been done them, but their overriding concern was ‘we just don’t want this to happen to anyone else, when it could so easily have been prevented. Please get the doctor’s attention through this, so that he takes more care with his next patients.’
Sherri graced the earth by being here. She created memories that her family now holds onto. She lived with honor and courage, even in the midst of great adversity in her life. She died with that same grace.
October is breast cancer awareness month. Most doctors are very sensitive about guiding their patients about self-exams, mammograms, and early detection. But it is important to ask questions of your doctor. Make them pay attention to you.
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