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Doctor failed to notice woman's football-sized cancerous tumour

Emma Olsen
Shannon Menger
Shannon Menger on May 2 at Auckland Hospital after a round of chemotherapy.  Shannon Menger

GRAPHIC CONTENT: Shannon Menger's doctor told her it was constipation. It wasn’t. It was a 3kg cancerous tumour in her ovaries.

Shannon Menger, 20, is having chemotherapy after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer on March 30.

In the six months leading up to her surgery, Menger’s periods had been increasingly irregular.

The personal trainer from Ellerslie, Auckland, started feeling sharp pains in her stomach, lasting a couple of hours and leaving her unable to move.

Menger's GP told her she was constipated. She was sent home with laxatives and Tramadol.

"I was brushed off every time saying it could be this or could be that, even after having the ultrasound and the doctors seeing there was a large mass they still wanted to wait and see me for further testing."

Eventually, after her mother pressured the GP, Menger got a referral for an ultrasound. After that and some blood tests, Menger found she had a tumour "about the size of two hands."

The tumour removed from Shannon Menger's ovaries at Middlemore Hospital, Auckland, on March 31. Supplied

After five weeks of chemotherapy, Menger said she felt "pretty good". She has another seven weeks to go.

"So far the biggest struggle has actually been not working or training, before this I was super active, so it's really hard feeling so weak and unable to do much for myself. I definitely took for granted how lucky I was to be healthy and functioning because now I would love to even be able to walk without feeling dizzy or tired."

Menger believed more people needed to know about the symptoms to look for, or even what tests they could take to check.

"If I had gotten a blood test maybe even a week or two earlier to check for tumour markers they could've found it before it damaged my ovaries."

She said GPs should be more thorough with testing. "It is better to be safe than sorry, even if it does feel extreme to be checking for cancer because of a sore stomach."

Menger is not the only one who has experienced their GP not picking up a cancerous tumour.

In 2013, Enya Leigh Booth Beynon, a 21-year-old woman from Christchurch, went to her GP after gaining weight around her middle area. She was experiencing abdominal pain, which became progressively worse.

Her GP told her repeatedly over the course of a year that she just needed to lose weight.

Pre and post surgery
Enya Beynon before and after having her 8kg tumour removed. Supplied

"I was very frustrated. I guess at the time you take their word for it because they've studied. You think, ‘Surely they know what they're doing."

Beynon became so fed up with her abnormal growth and pains that she told the GP she thought it was gallstones. She finally got a referral for an ultrasound, which picked up a basketball-sized 8kg cancerous tumour.

"I was pissed… but relieved that I wasn't crazy. It wasn't just me being naive. I finally had justification for everything I had gone through. I kind of wanted to rub it in her face a little bit. I have no faith in GPs anymore."

Now studying nursing, Beynon said if someone came in with stomach pains she would do an abdominal assessment, something her nurse never did.

"Had she taken the time to do that, she would've known straight away that something was wrong."

During chemotherapy, Beynon went through absolute hell. "I try to downplay it, but it was exhausting."

She was constantly fatigued, unwell and unable to finish her last year of high school. She had black outs. Luckily for Beynon, she was cancer free after nine weeks of chemotherapy.

Beynon encouraged women to listen to their bodies.

"You know when something is different, no matter how small it may seem. Don't brush it off. Make sure your voice is heard. Don't go away thinking it's all in your head."

Ovarian cancer kills 180 Kiwi women each year. Globally, more than 184,000 women die from it.

May 8 is World Ovarian Cancer Day.

Ovarian cancer has the lowest survival rate of all female cancers and most women are often diagnosed when the cancer has already spread.

Shannon Menger and her friends in hospital post-surgery. Supplied