A heartbroken father whose daughter died of breast cancer following a 10-month wait for a diagnosis has urged NHS hospitals not to put off treatments due to Covid.
Waverlea Alphonse, 29, died in August 2019 when her aggressive breast cancer to spread to her lungs.
Her father, Lawrence, 58, from Newham, east London, believes his daughter would still be alive today if her concerns were taken seriously when she first found a lump in her breast at 25 years old.
Although his daughter died before the pandemic hit, Mr Alphonse is urging NHS medics not to dismiss patients’ genuine health concerns and says his daughter’s story is one that needs to be told ‘particularly in light of the current situation’.
His warning comes amid concerns that the country-wide coroanvirus lockdown – which halted many services for three months or more – may have reduced the number of cancer referrals.
Heartbroken father Lawrence Alphonse, 58 – whose daughter Waverlea, 29, (together left, and Waverlea in hospital, right) died of breast cancer following a 10-month wait for a diagnosis – has urged NHS hospitals not to put off treatments due to Covid
Ms Alphonse, 29, (pictured) died in August 2019 after the almost year-long wait caused her aggressive breast cancer to spread to her lungs
Meanwhile thousands of cancer patients had chemotherapy or surgery postponed to ease pressure on the beleaguered NHS.
It was earlier revealed that Lung cancer referrals plummeted by up to 75 per cent, leading the UK Lung Cancer Coalition to decry ‘the catastrophe that is the Covid-19 pandemic’
To mark Breast Cancer Awareness month, Ms Alphonse’s family have decided to share her story – and urge young women to ensure they push for thorough tests when they have concerns.
They are awaiting compensation from Barts Health NHS Trust.
Mr Alphonse, an operations manager, said: ‘Waverlea died aged 29 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 which is why she set up a social media page to document her ordeal, and that is something people need to be aware of when doctors are under pressure to clear a backlog of appointments and tests.
Her father Mr Alphonse (pictured with his daughter, left) from Newham, east London, believes Ms Alphonse (right, in hospital) would still be alive today if her concerns were taken seriously when she first found a lump in her breast at 25 years old
To mark Breast Cancer Awareness month, Ms Alphonse’s family have decided to share her story – and urge young women to ensure they push for thorough tests when they have concerns. Pictured: Ms Alphonse in a wheelchair
‘She felt she was dismissed from the very start by the specialists at hospital because of her age. She always said they treated her like she was being paranoid and that there was nothing to worry about, and she felt this attitude of doctors meant they weren’t being thorough enough, and that is why the cancer was missed.
‘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.
‘She started the legal case as she was determined to highlight how she had been let down and [wanted to] see changes made.
‘By the time the apology came through it was clear that cancer had beaten her and that she was losing the battle.
‘She had little time for an apology coming that late, I’m not even sure if she read it in full.
Ms Alphonse (pictured at home during her cancer treatment) went to see her GP immediately after discovering a painful lump in her left breast
‘To me it read like a letter from a customer service department, not from a hospital genuinely sorry that it had cost a young women her life.’
Ms Alphonse went to see her GP immediately after discovering a painful lump in her left breast.
However, when she was referred to Newham Hospital in April 2015 she was told an ultrasound scan had shown a small intra-mammary lymph node at the site of the lump.
Her family say she was discharged with reassurance that there was nothing sinister.
Five months later – fearing the lump had grown and still experiencing pain – Ms Alphonse went back to her GP and was given painkillers.
She returned to her GP again and was then referred back to specialists in February 2016.
Only then – 10 months after she was first seen – was a one-inch suspicious mass noted on a scan. Further tests revealed she had cancer in both breasts.
When Ms Alphonse (pictured in hospital) was referred to Newham Hospital in April 2015 she was told an ultrasound scan had shown a small intra-mammary lymph node at the site of the lump. Her family say she was discharged with reassurance that there was nothing sinister
She had a double mastectomy and lumpectomy to try to treat the cancer and almost total lymph node clearance.
She also had chemotherapy, hormone therapy and radiotherapy.
But, the cancer returned and she was diagnosed in October 2018 with recurrent breast cancer in both breasts.
The cancer had spread to her lungs and she tragically lost her life last August, aged 29.
Mr Alphonse added: ‘Hopefully people will take inspiration from her. 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.
‘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 during Breast Cancer Awareness Month to tell her story.
‘She suffered with lymphedema following her initial surgery and this greatly affected her mobility as she had swelling in both left leg and arm.
‘Then, the secondary cancer spread to her spine, femur, base of skull as well as lungs, meaning that she ended up in a wheelchair pretty soon after the second diagnosis. Despite how much she was struggling she still wanted to raise awareness, and she wanted to influence others in the future.
‘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.’
In October 2018, Ms Alphonse (pictured) was diagnosed with recurrent breast cancer in both breasts. The cancer had spread to her lungs and she tragically lost her life last August, aged 2
Hudgell Solicitors embarked on a legal case on the family’s behalf. They said Barts Health NHS Trust admitted ‘below standard’ care had reduced her ‘chance of survival.’
Laura Larkin, a medical negligence claims specialist at the firm, alleged the technique or reporting of the ultrasound scan carried out on April 22, 2015, fell below a reasonable standard, consequently denying Ms Alphonse the chance of beating the disease.
Ms Larkin added: ‘Waverlea was a brave, inspirational and incredible young woman who – although angry about what had happened to her and how she was let down – focused her energies on raising awareness of breast cancer in young people.
‘Sadly, as in many cases of delayed cancer diagnosis, she was not well enough to see the case through to a conclusion. The Trust has now admitted its errors and she received an apology just weeks before she died.
‘We are now instructed by Waverlea’s father to see the claim through and recover damages for Waverlea’s estate, but of course nothing can bring his daughter back. She, and her father in seeing it through now, have bravely done so much to try to raise awareness and help others in the most difficult of circumstances.
‘We wish both Waverlea and Lawrence had never needed my help, but hopefully, their campaigning will result in better awareness, improved care, and less families suffering such a heartbreaking loss in the future.’
Barts Health NHS Trust have been approached for comment.