Benue State University Teaching Hospital Cuts Off Woman’s Breast Only To Later Find Out That She Doesn’t Have Cancer.
Serah Shimenenge Yugh, who went viral in 2019 as NGOs tried to raise money for her cancer care, has now been found to be cancer-free.
On August 21, 2017, she was diagnosed with Stage I invasive ductal carcinoma of the left breast at the age of 33.
Serah’s story went viral in 2019 and drew the attention of Health Minister Osagie Ehanire, who announced that the federal government is preparing to launch a cancer care fund to ease the financial burden of cancer treatment.
However, after eight sessions of chemotherapy, 25 rounds of radiotherapy and a single mastectomy on her left breast, Ms Hugh has now discovered that she didn’t have cancer at all and the hospital misdiagnosed her, cutting her breast for nothing.
Her problems started when she began to lose weight while serving in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Ekiti State. She went to the hospital in search of help, but there was none. Tests were carried out, but the findings were inconclusive.
In 2017, while self-examining her breasts,she felt a small lump on her left breast. This concerned her so much that she went to the Federal Medical Centre in Makurdi first before following her sister’s advice and moving to the Benue State University Teaching Hospital. What was supposed to be a straightforward examination turned into a three-year struggle with the hospital.
Serah was subjected to three examinations at the hospital. The hospital went on strike in September 2017 as she was waiting for the results of the third procedure, and she had already completed five rounds of chemotherapy by the time the strike was called off in January 2018.
Dr. Stephen Atokolo, her doctor, had advised her to have a mastectomy as soon as possible to avoid the spread of what they thought was cancer.
She performed the operation, but the histopathology diagnosis was Fibroadenoma when the third test report came back. Serah Yugh was cancer-free.
The National Hospital Abuja, the leading cancer centre in Nigeria, was where Serah underwent radiotherapy for six months. They performed the surgery based on the suggestion from her Doctor at Benue State University that she gets a mastectomy quickly.
When the strike ended and Serah received the results of some of her examinations, she went to The National Hospital Abuja, where her oncologist pointed out the inconsistencies in her results.
Serah paid for an immunohistochemistry examination at BSUTH in 2017 after oncologists at the National Hospital Abuja demanded it.
Attempts to obtain the test results were futile because BSUTH kept sending her on a two-year wild goose chase.
Serah decided to have another examination, and the results came back in 2019 with the following diagnosis: “Breast tissue – no residual malignant tumor is found!”
Serah believed she had cancer until December 2019, two years after her mastectomy. The doctors at Benue State University Teaching Hospital did not contact her to let her know that she had been misdiagnosed.
Despite the lack of a cancer diagnosis, Serah was unaware that the findings indicated she did not have cancer.
Her tumor marker examination revealed that she was cancer-free, according to her oncologist. However, the specimen that revealed invasive ductal carcinoma was not sent to the lab.
Serah went back to Benue State University Teaching Hospital, BSUTH, to get her tissue block to figure out what had happened, but she was told they could only locate the first and third tissue blocks. The second tissue block, which was supposed to contain cancer cells, was not identified.
The National Hospital, Abuja’s Department of Histopathology sent a request to the Chief Medical Director of BSUTH in August 2020 for the tissue block, which Benue State University Teaching Hospital claimed contained cancer. There was no answer.
Rather than providing the tissue block, BSUTH began holding meetings at various locations.
“Before I knew what was happening, the H.O.D (Dr. Raymond) called my uncle telling him that it was an error. I told him, I am the victim here. When you were telling me I had cancer, did you call my uncle?” Serah told FIJ, almost breaking down in tears.
“So why are you calling my uncle telling him that I don’t have cancer. I am the one with the problem don’t call my uncle. If I could handle the news that I have cancer, then I can handle ‘I don’t have cancer it was an error’. They said they have a method of doing things.”
It was at the meeting set up between Dr. Raymond and Serah’s uncle that Serah got to know she had been misdiagnosed and didn’t have cancer. This discovery prompted her to request a meeting with the Chief Medical Director.
The HOD started by saying to Serah at the meeting: “You came to my department requesting for blocks for the test that you wanted to do, that you did sometime in the past… to enhance your treatment, which was difficult for us to actually achieve. I want to apologise on behalf of the department that we could not do that. I am very sorry that we could not give you the blocks.”
Dr. Raymond announced during the meeting that specimens were discarded in 2018 due to the lab’s overcrowding. Serah’s specimen was also thrown away. Dr. Raymond didn’t think the immunohistochemistry test was necessary after reading the three accounts of Serah’s studies.
According to Dr. Chinedu Arua, an oncologist, histology and immunohistochemistry tests are required for patients seeking treatment for breast cancer.
“Those three reports, the one that was at variance was the second one. When I looked at it, I now thought within me, if we decide to do immunohistochemistry it might not yield much,” Dr. Raymond explained to defend himself.
The pathologist’s diagnosis was depended upon by the surgeon. Dr. Joseph Ngbea, the Dean of the College of Health Sciences at BSUTH, was the consultant pathologist on the second study, which revealed Serah had cancer.
Ms Yugh paid for an immunohistochemistry examination to Dr Ngbea’s secretary after her mastectomy in 2017, at the behest of oncologists at the National Hospital Abuja.
The results of the test were used to help the doctor at National Hospital decide on Serah Yugh’s care. But every time Ms Yugh went to Dr Ngbea to inquire for the results of her immunohistochemistry examination, she was told they were on their way. The last time she went to his office to see him, she recalls, he shouted at her.
Someone signed for Dr. Ngbea, according to a copy of the study used by the surgeon to conduct a mastectomy on Serah Yugh. When FIJ contacted Dr. Ngbea, he said that the responsible resident doctor had left the hospital, but that he had nothing to do with Serah’s situation.
Serah said she paid for the immunohistochemistry test in 2017 at Dr. Ngbea’s request, shortly after her September mastectomy. However, the test results were never received.
Serah requested that the Benue State University Teaching Hospital write a letter to her doctor at the National Hospital in Abuja stating that they made a mistake and that she should avoid treatment at the meeting set up to address her misdiagnosis. No letter was written. And while verbally the doctors have acknowledged they made an error, it’s not been documented officially.
“When they told me I had cancer it didn’t affect me this much,” she said. “But it’s the battle of fighting the error that has taken more from me. When I think about it, eating becomes a problem.”
Serah lost her relationship and her dream of pursuing a Ph.D. as a result of BSUTH’s misdiagnosis.
Serah was offered a breast reconstruction and a job at a meeting with Dr. Raymond Vhriterhire, the former Head of Department of Histopathology, and Dr. Joseph Ngbea, the newly named Commissioner for Health, Benue State. She said no to both.
She said that what she wants to know is why she has yet to receive the immunohistochemistry test.
She had inquired about how she would deal with the side effects of her chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and medications.
She said the offers made by the hospital came across to her as a ploy to silence her from asking questions — questions she had been asking since September 2017 when a mastectomy was performed on her.
“I don’t want others to fall victim because I know it will not end just with me alone,” she said, explaining why she’s been fighting the misdiagnosis made on her.
Despite her concerns for her safety and the consequences of speaking up, she demands an official apology from the Benue State University Teaching Hospital.