Mother-of-two dies after doctors spent weeks dismissing bowel cancer as urine infections and anxiety


A mother-of-two has died after doctors spent six weeks writing off her fast-spreading cancer as urine infections, gallstones, and anxiety.

Sarah Townsend, 38, died in October shortly after a biopsy had revealed the stage four bowel cancer had spread to her liver and she was inoperable.

Her fiancé Nick Leader, 33, claims a string of GPs in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, failed to spot Sarah’s ‘aggressive’ tumours.

Sarah Townsend, pictured with fiancé Nick Leader, died after doctors spent six weeks writing off her fast-spreading cancer as urine infections, gallstones, and anxiety

The mother of two died in October shortly after a biopsy had revealed the stage four bowel cancer had spread to her liver and she was inoperable

The mother of two died in October shortly after a biopsy had revealed the stage four bowel cancer had spread to her liver and she was inoperable

He told MailOnline: ‘She started having a bad back last October. A few days later we were visiting the zoo, and she was really struggling to walk and keep up with everyone.

‘She booked a GP appointment the next day, but they said it might be anxiety or relationship stress and told her to try counseling – we found that a bit offensive because our relationship was amazing.

‘Anyway, her symptoms kept getting worse, so she went back for a second opinion.

‘That time they said it was a urine infection – even though she told them she didn’t have any pain when she used the toilet.

‘She was given a course of antibiotics and told to come back if she got cold or flu-like symptoms.

Nick, 33, said a string of GPs in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, failed to spot Sarah's 'aggressive' tumours

Nick, 33, said a string of GPs in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, failed to spot Sarah’s ‘aggressive’ tumours

Sarah was struggling to walk but doctors dismissed her pain as anxiety or relationship stress

Sarah was struggling to walk but doctors dismissed her pain as anxiety or relationship stress

‘Of course the antibiotics didn’t do anything, so she went to a third doctor who said she had gallstones and booked her an ultrasound.

‘The results from that were all clear, but her blood test showed her red cell count was low and she was referred for a CT scan.’

Mr Leader said it was at this point that doctors discovered Sarah was battling cancer.

He added: ‘They sat us down and said they’d found a mass on her bowel and that it might be colorectal cancer.

‘She was expecting them to say she was constipated or something, cancer was the furthest thing from our minds at that point.

Before she died, Sarah wrote future birthday cards for her children Rafe and Elphia

Before she died, Sarah wrote future birthday cards for her children Rafe and Elphia 

‘The news didn’t really sink in until we were in the car home – both of us just started sobbing. We were both in shock at how quickly our lives had been turned upside down.

‘A week later she went for a colonoscopy and a liver biopsy. The oncologist said she had Stage 4 bowel cancer and that it would probably kill her.’

Sarah started chemotherapy immediately but it was already too late. 

Mr Leader believes if she had had a scan and blood test just a few weeks earlier, then it might have been a different outcome for Sarah. 

He said: ‘We’d been going out for ten years and had two children, but hadn’t got engaged.

Nick believes if she had had a scan and blood test just a few weeks earlier, then it might have been a different outcome for Sarah

Nick believes if she had had a scan and blood test just a few weeks earlier, then it might have been a different outcome for Sarah

‘As soon as I heard that it was terminal, my biggest priority was to make sure she died with the same surname as Rafe and Elphia.

‘A few days later I gave her breakfast in bed and proposed with the help of the kids.

‘She said yes, but died before we could finalize the wedding – and I’ll regret that for the rest of my life.

‘After she died, I found a letter that she’d started writing to me and the kids. It was all about how much she loved us and how important we were to her. She also wrote cards for Rafe and Elphia’s future birthdays.

‘I think that sums her up perfectly – even in her last moments, she was thinking of ways to make it easier for us.’

A GoFundMe page set up by family friend Jack Drinkwater has already raised £6,200 to support Nick, Rafe, and Elphia – smashing the initial £3,000 target twice over

A GoFundMe page set up by family friend Jack Drinkwater has already raised £6,200 to support Nick, Rafe, and Elphia – smashing the initial £3,000 target twice over

Mr Leader has vowed to campaign for greater awareness of bowel cancer and wants to lower the screening age.

He said: ‘If we can stop just one family going through the pain that we did, that then we’ll have given Sarah a fitting legacy – she was always thinking about ways to help others, and was one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met.’ 

Sarah died in hospital surrounded by her partner, siblings, and parents. 

A GoFundMe page set up by family friend Jack Drinkwater has already raised £6,200 to support Nick, Rafe, and Elphia – smashing the initial £3,000 target twice over.

Mr Leader added: ‘The next few months are about stabilizing our lives and coming to terms with what we’ve lost.

Sarah died in hospital surrounded by her partner, siblings, and parents but got engaged to Nick before her death

Sarah died in hospital surrounded by her partner, siblings, and parents but got engaged to Nick before her death

‘I’m so grateful to Jack for setting up the page, we’ve been blown away with the response and it’s gone a long way towards helping us with all the unforeseen costs you don’t really think about when something like this happens.

‘Even aside from things like funeral expenses, I’ve gone from having an amazing wife who helped me raise the kids and put food on the table to being a single dad with a single income.

‘There’s nothing that can prepare you for something like that, so I’m more grateful to everyone who stepped up than I can put into words.

‘The next few years will be a struggle, but I’ve got to step up and be the best parent I can possibly be – it’s what she would have done.’  

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