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.