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Misdiagnosed and hoping for a miracle

Michelle Dykstra is receiving potentially lifesaving cancer treatment in Thailand. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

‘Michelle wanted to fight for her life’

Emily Ireland

A Masterton woman whose terminal cancer was misdiagnosed as an infection has gone to extreme lengths to fight for her life.

Michelle Dykstra has travelled almost 10,000km to Thailand to receive integrated cancer treatment not offered in New Zealand.

Her life took a turn for the worst on January 18 this year when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer – invasive ductile carcinoma and inflammatory breast cancer.

She only had a few months to live if she did not pursue treatment – 12 months if she underwent chemotherapy and radiation.

With the severity of Michelle’s diagnosis, it’s hard to imagine that only three months before, her referral to the Hutt Valley DHB Breast Clinic had been turned down.

This is according to Michelle’s sister Anita Dykstra, who said they had dismissed Michelle’s concerns as “just an infection”.

Anita, who is supporting Michelle in Thailand said her sister was “extremely let down and disappointed” by the rigmarole of her diagnosis journey.

“She felt a lot of frustration that no one was listening to her symptoms.”

After discovering a lump in her breast in October, Michelle visited her GP and was referred to the Hutt Valley DHB Breast Clinic who declined the referral, Anita said.

At the end of October, Michelle had an ultrasound, and in early November she had a biopsy where a fast-growing, solid mass was found in her breast.

The mass measured 39mm by 37mm.

A scan also showed an 8mm node in her right lung.

The Hutt Valley DHB Breast Clinic agreed to see her a week after the biopsy where Michelle was told “it’s not cancer, it’s just soggy tissue”, Anita said.

After a surgeon removed stitches in Michelle’s breast wound from the biopsy, Michelle experienced severe swelling.

She was in and out of Wairarapa Hospital’s emergency department for weeks due to pain.

On December 3, she was wrongly diagnosed with plasma cell mastitis, a rare chronic inflammatory disease of the breast.

She was again told she did not have cancer.

By December 17, Michelle’s breast had inflamed to more than three times its usual size and was now purple.

A surgeon operated on her to release fluid and do another biopsy.

On January 11, Michelle saw another surgeon after district nurses became concerned with how her wound was looking.

“[The surgeon] dismissed that and sent Michelle home,” Anita said.

“She then got a phone call from him a short time later to say that he needed to see Michelle right away.

“He said, ‘I’ve got good news, bad news, and embarrassing news. The bad news is that it’s cancer, the good news is that we can do a mastectomy, embarrassing news is that we only just found your biopsy results today’.”

On January 14, Michelle went to the Hutt Valley DHB Breast Clinic and the surgeon told her it was stage three and entirely treatable, Anita said.

Michelle Dykstra supported by husband Chris Peterson. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

A scan was booked for the first week of February, but the following day Michelle’s husband Chris Peterson called to have the scan moved forward and it was done that day.

On January 17, Chris requested results from the scan and read them out to Michelle – she had an upcoming consultation with Intergrative Oncology at Verita Life Thailand.

They wanted to know more about Michelle’s results and wanted her to start cancer treatment immediately.

The results showed the mass in Michelle’s breast had increased from 39x37mm to 58x40mm.

There were now also several abnormal lymph nodes and four lung nodes present – the original 8mm node now measured 13mm – the lung node had metastasized.

The next day, Michelle had an oncology appointment in Wellington where she was told she was “stage four and terminal” and had been that way since her first biopsy in November, two months previous.

Now, in her sixth week of treatment at Verita Life Thailand, Michelle and her family are hoping for a miracle.

“The oncologist said that left untreated, she would have two to three months, and with chemotherapy and radiation, she would have maybe 12 months,” Anita said.

She will find out on Friday what the prognosis is now after treatment at Verita Life.

“Michelle is already having a far better quality of life than she would have if she had stayed in New Zealand,” Anita said.

“The open surgical wound that she was told would never close has almost fully healed.

“The lump on her breast has shrunk to the point that she can’t feel it anymore.

“When she got to Thailand . . . she was nearly bound to a wheelchair. Now she is swimming almost every day –her energy levels have risen significantly”.

Thanks to medical marijuana that is available in Thailand, Michelle also has the appetite to eat.

Anita said her sister’s cancer treatment “doesn’t come cheap”, and the family have set up a Givealittle page to fund costs associated with the treatment.

“You can’t put a price on the quality of life and the chance of a miracle,” Anita said.

“Michelle wanted to fight for her life, and in her words, ‘you have to do what you can to stay alive’.”

Michelle will have ongoing treatment at home with regular free online consultations with staff at Verita Life.

Her family have not yet made a complaint with either Wairarapa or Hutt Valley DHB, but plan to lodge a complaint with the Health and Disability Commission.

“We want Michelle’s case investigated so that if there have been mistakes made, then people learn from them in the hopes that no one else has to suffer like she has,” Anita said.

Hutt Valley DHB Chief Medical Officer Dr Sisira Jayathassa and Wairarapa DHB Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Tim Matthews said their thoughts were with Michelle and her family “at what is clearly a difficult time”.

“We are unable to comment further at this stage, as we do not discuss individual cases publicly in respect to the patient’s privacy.

“However we can confirm neither DHB has received a complaint regarding her treatment.

“There are robust processes in place at both DHBs for patients to provide formal feedback about their treatment and we would fully investigate any complaint if one was made.

“Not withstanding this, we will be reviewing the matters the family has raised.”

Michelle is thankful of the support and donations she has received already from the community.

To support Michelle’s journey, visit givealittle.co.nz/cause/michelles-fight-for-life.

Verita Life offers integrated cancer treatment which incorporates low-dose chemotherapy enhanced by hormone, biological treatment, viral immune therapy, and herbal medicine, among other therapy.


  1. My wife has been dealing with. Pre cancerous cells of the ductile glands for just over three years. Going to appointments to the oncologist for regular checkups after a 1mm tumor or whatever you call something that small, was found and removed as well as tissue behind this thing. Move to present. Three days ago, after her shower, I walked in on her, and noticed a dark line sort of going from the right side of her left areola and going down around under it then at the end of it was a larger shape about 1/4 of an inch irregular dark circle. She let it pass as maybe from some toiletries she was using or something. Then last night she showed me it and it looked a little different than the day before. Only now I noticed her nipple in caving inward instead of being out. She told me that it was diagnosed over three years ago as a pre cancerous ductile cancer cell clump or something. So she went to doctor today and the doctor set up a mammogram and ultrasound for tomorrow 12-31-19. Great way to end and begin a new year. Not. So pray it is nothing more than some kind of irritation or something and that the cancer hasn’t turned into real cancer and spread into her milk duct glands and lymph nodes. If it has and that is what we are seeing from the exterior, she wants to get both breasts cut off, so she won’t have to deal with lumpectomies, radiation and chemo, although she has been taking Temoxefin for over three years now and her hair is thinned out a lot.
    I told her if it has grown or spread , she should get a second opinion, so as to see if that second doctor sees anything different than the first. Just to cover all the bases. I don’t think she should get a double mastectomy if her doctor says it has spread, or whatever. I think she should get a second opinion before doing something so radical as a double mastectomy to her body. It’s really up to her but as her husband who cares about her, I’m thinking a second opinion would be the best route to go before dividing what she wants to do. Anyone’s opinions on this would be appreciated. Especially if it were from a doctor.,

  2. I am appalled. Poor woman. She should NEVER have had to suffer this way. OMG ! Gross incompetence. Heads must roll. Must.

  3. Until the medical profession takes responsibility, nothing will change. They don’t give a damn, just moan about having to work and how their value isn’t recompensed.
    I wonder if male prostate patients are treated equally.

  4. We don’t have a hospital in masterton it’s a medical center they have that many brainless docters it takes nearly four of them to give answers and still nothing this is coming from experience as I have a family member in hospital at this point in time I think we need to plan a meeting in the wairarapa for people to have there say with no doctors allowed to enter and put this to the health minster I am happy to help as I have had cancer in the past let’s get better treatment in the wairarapa and hutt valley

  5. My sister was misdiagnosed as well, by the time they figured out that it was inflammatory breast cancer it had spread to her lymph nodes and bones. I wish you all the luck and love in the world and urge you to be strong! ?

  6. Great but sad story. Great because it shines a light on the MANY misdiagnosed cases of Inflammatory Breast Cancer. Doctors want to put blame on patients, but the blame should be on the lack of education of physicians (all over the world) about this deadly cancer. I know, because I lost my only daughter to Inflammatory Breast Cancer. Education in the medical community is badly lacking, as this story points out all too well. Prayers for Michelle from the U.S.

    • system error,poor knowledge,delay in referral systems, incompetent doctors,inadequate resources for early scans and diagnosis and s on…

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