YOUR LIFE: HEALTH: Cancer Blunders Killed My Girl; SMEAR TESTS ARE HAILED AS THE BEST WAY TO PREVENT CERVICAL CANCER - STEPHANIE TAYLOR BELIEVED IN THE SYSTEM, BUT ULTIMATELY IT FAILED HER
Byline: BY JOELY CAREY
STEPHANIE always had normal smear test results, or so she thought. In fact, she'd had abnormal results that were missed - terrible errors that cost the 34-year-old her life.
Now her devastated mother, Christine, 60, from Shepshed, Leicestershire, is campaigning in the hope no other mothers lose their daughters in such a cruel way.
"In the summer of 2000 Stephanie had a couple of breakthrough bleeds mid-way through her normal cycle," says her mum. "I said she should go to her GP to check there was nothing wrong, so she did."
Her doctor referred her for more tests and then the cycle of errors began to be revealed. The results showed Stephanie had cervical cancer and, at stage 3, it was very advanced.
"She questioned the diagnosis immediately because she had always had normal smears. She was very surprised and angry that she could go from being fit and healthy to a cancer diagnosis," explains Christine.
Soon afterwards, Stephanie was given the shattering news that she was the victim of a medical blunder. Previous smear tests in 1994 and 1999 had shown pre-cancerous changes - but they were misread.
If the system had worked, Stephanie would have been recalled for treatment which could have prevented the disease progressing. Instead, the abnormal changes were missed and Stephanie, along with dozens of others, was given "false-negative" results.
"Coping with her cancer diagnosis was tough enough," says her mum. "But to then find out she should have had preventive treatment years earlier, made her very angry. And who could blame her?"
She was quickly admitted for surgery to remove the tumour from her cervix. Surgeons also had to remove parts of her vagina and pelvic lymph glands as they were concerned the cancer had spread.
"Stephanie had a radical hysterectomy and was told the cancer treatment she would need would leave her infertile," says Christine. "This was a devastating blow for her because she had always wanted children."
The young woman was then admitted for doses of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. "She was convinced she would beat it," says Christine. "She was a fighter. To her, losing the battle with cancer wasn't an option."
She cut her hours down so she worked part-time and could undergo the gruelling cancer treatment, but she still found space for the voluntary work she did with local homeless people and troubled teens.
"As if she didn't have enough on her plate, she started a criminal psychology degree course too," remembers Christine, with a smile.
Stephanie also began correspondence with her hospital to figure out how two smear tests, taken years apart, could both be misread.
"To her it smacked of laziness, or incompetence, or both. She said it wasn't fair and that someone had to be held accountable - that was the day she took legal advice."
And it wasn't just Stephanie and her family who were affected - other women were also given the wrong results. For some it was too late, they had already died or were in the final stages of the disease. For others the news came early enough for them to have treatment.
Christmas 2002 came and went. Stephanie maintained that she felt fairly well, although she had a cough she couldn't shake.
Just two months later on February 6, 2003, Stephanie went to hospital for a routine check-up. But her coughing and breathing worsened and she was admitted as an emergency. More scans showed the cancer had spread - the terrible news her family had dreaded.
"I prayed she could still be treated successfully," says her mum. "I couldn't let myself think of any other outcome."
On February 17, Christine was due to visit her daughter in hospital - but didn't. "Stephanie's father had seen her and said she was asleep. I decided that her sister Sam and I shouldn't visit that night as she had been getting very little rest," says Christine. …