As if being diagnosed with breast cancer isn’t stressful enough, Eve Lemm describes her battle to get it treated by the Hawkes Bay District Health Board as “horrendous and so cruel.”
“The system here sucks,” she says, “it really failed.” Lemm suspects it was only because of her nursing training that she knew how to confront a system that seemed intent on delaying her treatment at every stage. “It worries me really, because I think women don’t know their rights when it comes to things like this.”
Lemm was initially referred by her GP in early December 2012. According to Ministry of Health guidelines she should have begun treatment within 62 days. In the end she waited 105 days, almost double the official grace period.
Even then, her first surgical appointment was not with a cancer specialist as both surgeons at Hawkes Bay Hospital were on leave.
“By the time I did get to see my surgeon I was really angry. I wanted to know if the delays had put me at risk and he didn’t know what to say.”
Even her biopsy was delayed because the clinic at Royston Hospital (which runs the great screening screening programme in the Hawkes Bay) was closed for Christmas: “As I told them, that’s nice for you, but my cancer doesn’t go on holiday.”
Without any idea of when she would finally be treated Lemm began lobbying DHB board members and her member of parliament.
After her second operation and three years after her diagnosis, Lemm says her surgeon agreed to remove both of her breasts to avoid the risk of her cancer returning. After another series of delays she discovered she wasn’t even on the waiting list. “I left like they were stringing me along, it was horrendous and so cruel I got very depressed and was in tears all the time.”
Eventually a lesser surgery was performed on Lemm from which she developed an abscess. Back to hospital she went and despite clearly being ill, she had to wait six hours because the staff there were being run off their feet.
While now clear of cancer she remains angry about what she was put through: “But the thing is that at the time you don’t want to upset your surgeon, you want them on your side. I’ve told him since that I was really angry and that it felt like I couldn’t trust that he was doing the best for me, but it was probably the system. There simply aren’t enough surgeons.”