woman holding abdomend in pain
Leah Berenson
Leah Berenson
May 4, 2023 ·  5 min read

Woman’s incurable cancer was misdiagnosed as IBS: ‘I wish I pushed back more’

Privatized healthcare changed the way in which patients are treated. However, not all families can afford to make those payments. Additionally, there are countries where public, universal, or government assistance funds are the only available treatment options. Because money, or lack thereof, plays a role in how much effort someone is willing to put forth, patients be left feeling unheard. Or unsupported by health care professionals. Therefore, it’s unsurprising when someone like Claire O’Shea receives a misdiagnosis that, in her case, would permanently change the course of her life.

Sharing a Heartbreaking Story

Claire O’Shea from Cardiff, Wales, in the United Kingdom, has shared a story that is both surprising and heartbreaking. In 2021, she was seen for a lump that had developed on her abdomen. At the time, she was given a misdiagnosis of IBS. Sometime later, Claire went for a massage, and the masseuse mistakenly thought Claire was pregnant. It was this embarrassing mistake that may have actually been helpful in saving her life.

Persistently Being Ignored

Claire went back to her doctors, multiple times to discuss the possibility that she was given a misdiagnosis. It wasn’t until February of 2022, that she was finally referred University Hospital of Wales for an ultrasound. Tragically, when health care professionals gave her the misdiagnosis, they’d overlooked a life-threatening condition. She was given a new diagnosis of gynecological cancer, one of the leading causes of death among women in Wales.

Life Changing Referral

After her ultrasound, Claire was told she had a fibroid, which had been removed during surgery and sent to a lab for biopsy. Just six weeks later, Claire was told about the misdiagnosis, and she actually had Sarcoma. Claire was ignored by healthcare providers, despite many attempts to be heard. As a result, her cancer has now spread to her lungs, organs, and bones.

“I think there was an opportunity for the GP to have spotted it sooner,” Claire said to iTV News. “Reading about the symptoms I was presented with, like constipation sometimes, bloating, discomfort, they’re symptoms of lots of different gynecological cancers, and that should have been a red flag for anyone.”

Moving Past the Misdiagnosis

“It’s particularly devastating because it’s such an aggressive cancer, it’s really, really aggressive. If it gets caught early then prognosis is okay-ish. If it’s caught late then the prognosis is awful – it’s like 14% of people survive up to five years. I knew already that I’d been battling already for around two years.” she explained. Three weeks after the new diagnosis, she had a total hysterectomy and has been referred to Velindre Cancer Center to start Chemotherapy.

She shared her story as part of a Senedd Inquiry, regarding women’s reproductive health in Wales. Working in tandem with the inquiry is Tenovus Cancer Care. CEO Judi Rhys stated, “We’ve been really shocked to listen to the testimonies of some women and one of the themes that has really come through is that people have felt dismissed, they’ve felt fobbed off. People have been told they are a nuisance, that they are neurotic, or at least they’ve been made to feel that way.”

Judi Rhys concluded, “A lot of the women we’ve talked to have real red flag symptoms, so we really want to urge primary care to listen to these women. It’s about listening to women and making sure that the processes are there that mean they don’t get lost in the system and they are fast-tracked through if they do have those red flags and symptoms.”

Read: Signs of cancer usually ignored by women

Claire’s Statement Regarding the Misdiagnosis

Claire’s statement includes, “With the pressures on the NHS at the moment that surgery was months in the waiting while the cancer was growing. For me there’s been a catalogue of small errors at every turn.” Claire shared. “It’s systemic, it’s a problem with attitudes, particularly in primary care towards women and being told either you accept pain, or I felt a bit neurotic, like it was ‘she’s got nothing more to worry about that an upset stomach’, and it was obviously much worse than that.

I understand the complexities of running a massive system, that you can’t afford to treat everyone with urgency, but I wish I’d been listened to earlier because I think if I’d been diagnosed at my first appointment with the GP I would’ve saved myself months and I might have just had a fibroid removed.”

She concluded, “I think about all the women who don’t have the privilege or confidence that I have to self-advocate. The prognosis for this cancer at this stage is terrible, and I just think those statistics are probably that bad because there’s so many women who aren’t able to advocate or aren’t taken seriously.”

Thus far, the Health Board has been unable to comment regarding the ongoing inquiry. However, a spokesperson has stated, “We would ask Claire to contact our concerns team where they will be happy to discuss any concerns she has around her care.

Common Misdiagnosis

Sadly, Claire isn’t the only woman to face issues with being unheard, leading to misdiagnosis. According to reports, only 1/3 of suspected cancer patients were able to be seen, correctly diagnosed, and begin treatment early enough to have a high rate of survival. Meanwhile, in the US experts believe that around 5% of health matters result in misdiagnosis or “missed diagnosis”. However, the actual number is unknown due to factors such as whether or not patients think to make a report.

Recognizing a Misdiagnosis

If you’re concerned that you may have been given a misdiagnosis regarding your reproductive health, here are some obvious signs of certain types of gynecological cancer.

  • Abnormal Vaginal Discharge.
  • Itching, Burning, or Tenderness.
  • Pelvic/ Back pain, more intense/frequent than during menstruation.
  • Decreased or no appetite.
  • Bloating.

It’s important to note that in some instances, no symptoms may occur until later stages. Furthermore, correcting a misdiagnosis can help to save someone’s life. Therefore, it’s essential to speak up for yourself and encourage loved ones to do the same. In particular, when someone has a medical concern that has been overlooked or disregarded by healthcare professionals.

Keep Reading: She thought anxiety and drinking made her ill. The truth was scarier.


  1. What are the symptoms of gynecologic cancers? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved May 3, 2023.
  2. ‘my incurable cancer was dismissed as IBS – I wish I pushed back more’.” ITV News. Katie Fenton. May 2, 2023.