A mother who was told she had terminal cancer arranged her funeral and wrote farewell letters to her young sons – only to be told the diagnosis was a mistake.
Denise Clark, 34, said her life was made “absolute hell” for two years after she was given the wrong prognosis at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.
She spent £10,000 on treatment at an alternative therapy clinic in Spain in the hope of prolonging her life and went on what she thought was a last summer holiday with her family.
But after growing suspicious about how well she was feeling, Ms Clark demanded another scan – which revealed the growth in her pelvis was not malignant after all.
Now the mum of two has settled a claim for a high five-figure sum after she raised proceedings against NHS Grampian following the errors in her care.
Ms Clark, mother to Harvey, 10, and Luca, four, said she hoped no one else would suffer the heartache she had gone through.
“Hearing them say it was a mistake was amazing and there is a future now, but it doesn’t give me or my kids back the two years of our lives that were made absolute hell,” she said.
“I planned my funeral and wrote farewell notes to my boys. It was heartbreaking but I had to do it for my family.
“No one should have to do that if they don’t need to.”
Ms Clark, of Sheddocksley, is one of a growing number of people who have taken medical negligence cases against NHS Grampian.
The north-east health authority paid out more than £1million after 25 patients successfully raised claims over their care in 2013.
The board insisted the cases represented a tiny minority of patients and said the overwhelming majority were satisfied with their treatment.
However, Ms Clark’s misdiagnosis was the latest in a series of shortfalls in the care she received at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.
In 2009, while nine weeks pregnant, she was referred for a colposcopy, which is used to detect cervical cancer, after concerns were raised over bleeding.
However, she did not receive the test until five-and-a-half months later.
By then, the disease was so far advanced that her baby was delivered early so intensive cancer treatment could get underway.
She said the situation deprived her of precious bonding time with her newborn.
While her son was taken away to a neo-natal care ward, she received such strong doses of radiotherapy and chemotherapy that she could not hold her baby in case of contamination.
Ms Clark was told she had been given the maximum possible dosage of radiation allowed in a lifetime – but that it had been enough for the cancer to abate.
However, after a brief spell of relative good health, she began to experience more bleeding and on November 28 2011, she was told it had been caused by a huge mass in her pelvis and the cancer was back.
It would be another two years before specialists confirmed in December that the recurring health problems were actually due to internal damage caused by the high levels of chemotherapy and radiation she had received.
She said: “The doctor was there with the test results and my mum burst out crying. I just started to laugh. My mum said ‘how can you laugh’, but it was all out of relief.
“I got home and said to my son, ‘Harvey, the doctors made a mistake, they were wrong’.
“His little face just lit up and he was hugging me the hardest he has ever hugged me and said he never wanted to let me go.”
She insisted she had nothing but praise for many of the medical staff at ARI x-ray unit, but said she had been “let down” by NHS Grampian.
She said: It wasn’t just one department which got it wrong, it was multiple departments. They made mistakes time and time again.”
Denise Clark set about making as many “mum memories” as possible after being told she had terminal cancer.
Unaware that doctors at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary had blundered, she focussed on giving her children happy experiences for them to remember her by.
She said: “I didn’t know if I was going to end up dying in a hospital or if I would be at home or how it would actually happen.
“I wanted to keep things as normal as possible but I did feel that everything I did mattered more as I did not know what was going to happen tomorrow or the day after.
“I wanted the boys to have fun times and lots of mum memories, like playing football together or having a barbecue. Nothing that cost a fortune.”
She said she regretted how quickly her eldest boy had been forced to grow up following the mistaken diagnosis.
“It has been hard on him and he has just been forced to deal with so much at such a young age,” she said.
Ms Clark, whose marriage broke down under the strain of her poor health, spent £10,000 visiting a clinic to Spain which specialised in alternative therapies for cancer patients – despite no recurrence of the disease.
She said: “I just thought if I didn’t have a lot of time left, there was no point in more gruelling chemotherapy.”
She said she was glad she refused the toxic treatment after being given the wrong cancer diagnosis and believes the chemotherapy itself could have killed her.
She had already been given the maximum safe amount of radiation after she was diagnosed with – and overcame – cervical cancer in 2010.
The extremely high dosage has already resulted in poor health and left her needing a blood transfusion.
She also suffered acute renal failure after medics inserted stents to maintain her kidney function following the false diagnosis.
Ms Clark, an operations manager for Oceaneering, said winning her case against NHS Grampian had been the last chapter in a long fight.
She said: “I feel like, for the first time in a long time, good things are happening.
“I am with someone who loves me, the boys are happy and settled and I have a second chance. I am back at work, back doing the kind of job I should be doing and don’t have to worry about money.
“Going through something like this gives you clarity on so much.
“All I want now is to see my boys grow up and have kids themselves. I want to see them grow up, and watch my babies become the men I know they will be.”
As for the farewell letters she wrote her boys in the darkest of days? They have been torn up. And the song she selected for her funeral is never played.