Hollie Mcintyre was told the lump in her breast was nothing to worry about.

Six months later, the 30-year-old was diagnosed with cancer and given just months to live.

Northland District Health Board admit that if they had done a biopsy initially, the cancer would have been detected but they are adamant their surgeon followed international guidelines for what appeared to be a benign cyst.

Now, Mcintyre is fighting for an ACC treatment injury claim that has been denied due to lack of clinical evidence showing her terminal outcome could have been different if it had been picked up earlier.

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Hollie Mcintyre (30) should be planning her wedding and thinking about the kids she'll have with her partner. Photo/Greg Bowker
Hollie Mcintyre (30) should be planning her wedding and thinking about the kids she'll have with her partner. Photo/Greg Bowker

Mcintyre should be planning her wedding and thinking about the children she would have with her partner Andy Welsh, who she lives with in Whangarei.

"If my lump had been investigated further, it's possible I would've been saved."

Mcintyre's story stems back to February last year when she discovered the lump.

She booked an appointment with her GP and was sent to a breast clinic for an ultrasound before getting referred to a Northland DHB surgeon.

Though the breast clinic recommended she get a biopsy called a fine needle aspiration, the surgeon told her it was a benign cyst and there was no need.

"He convinced me there was nothing to worry about.

"He told me my body would absorb the lump and it would eventually disappear. He then gave me a leaflet about benign cysts which stated that they could not be cancerous, and that was that."

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By October, the lump had grown and she'd started bleeding from her chest. She was rushed to Whangarei Hospital's emergency department and a biopsy was done. It was there she discovered she had triple-negative breast cancer - a very rare and aggressive type of cancer.

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She was told she had six months to live. Now, more than eight months on, she's still fighting.

The day after finding out her diagnosis, Mcintyre went to an IVF clinic to make plans for a baby but less than a week later doctors cancelled the process as she was not expected to survive long enough to give birth.

"That was probably harder to hear than the cancer diagnosis because I was so desperate to have a family."

"If I hadn't opted for treatment, I'd already be dead."

She had to quit her job as a retail manager at a pharmacy so she could have treatment while her partner had to cut back work to look after her.

McIntyre undergoing chemotherapy, alongside her partner Andy Welsh, and other family members. Photo / Supplied
McIntyre undergoing chemotherapy, alongside her partner Andy Welsh, and other family members. Photo / Supplied

Mcintyre has had three different types of chemotherapy but none have worked and her cancer has spread to her chest, spine and ovaries. She's now doing three weeks of radiation in Auckland but her lifeline is running out and she doesn't know how long she has left.

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Dr Michael Roberts, Northland DHB chief medical officer, stressed that all staff involved in Mcintyre's care passed on their sympathy and were "shocked and disappointed" that what appeared to be benign disease when she was first seen, turned out to be a cancer.

He rejects Mcintyre's claim it was a misdiagnosis, saying he had three radiologists review the ultrasound and all agreed it looked like a benign cyst.

Roberts said breast cysts were very common and it was extremely unusual for a cyst which appears benign – as it did in this patient's case – to turn out to be malignant.

"The guidelines support the surgeon's decision not to carry out a biopsy, given the appearance of the cyst on ultrasound."

When the Herald asked if the biopsy was a risky or costly procedure, Roberts said: "No, it's just a fine needle inserted into the breast to drain the fluid. Apart from some pain and bruising there's no risk involved."

When asked if there was anything that could be learnt from this case, Roberts said: "Yes, I have asked the radiologists this and they said they would be more open to an aspiration but even still it's extremely rare for a cyst to be cancer."

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Evangelia Henderson, chief executive of Breast Cancer Foundation NZ, said Mcintyre's story was incredibly heartbreaking.

"We know that breast cancer is less common in younger women but it does tend to be more aggressive for them, so early detection is absolutely crucial for improving survival chances.

"You shouldn't have to fight to get a correct diagnosis and if you don't think something is right, don't accept 'no' for an answer."

July is Pink Ribbon Breakfast month - an annual campaign to raise awareness about breast cancer in New Zealand.

The money raised helps fund breast cancer education, further research and supports patients and their families navigate through the health system.

About breast cancer:

• Every day nine women are diagnosed with breast cancer in New Zealand. One will be Māori.

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• If a lump is the first sign, the patient has a 75 per cent chance of surviving the next 10 years.

• If breast cancer is detected by a regular mammogram, the patient has a 92 per cent chance of surviving the next 10 years.

• More than 650 people die from breast cancer each year in New Zealand. A 30-year-old woman is dying of cancer after a Northland District Health Board surgeon told her the lump in her breast was nothing to worry about.