UK mum's terminal ovarian cancer detected during childbirth after symptoms dismissed as 'anxiety' for months

Lois Walker and her partner and newborn
The mum-of-three has been told that her cancer is terminal after it was discovered during the birth of her youngest child. Photo credit: Lois Walker / Instagram

A new mother in the UK has revealed how medics discovered tumours on her ovaries, liver and bowels as she gave birth to her child via a caesarean section last September.

Lois Walker, a 38-year-old from South Yorkshire, had only just given birth to her son Ray when she was informed the tumours could be cancerous. 

A mere two weeks later, the mother-of-three received her test results - confirming she had stage 4 ovarian cancer and it had spread throughout her body.

Walker is now accusing Dove Valley Practice and Barnsley Hospital of "negligence", claiming there had been multiple opportunities to detect the cancer prior to her diagnosis last year.

Walker had been complaining of stomach pain for more than a year before the birth of her newborn son, claiming she'd made at least 20 calls to her general practitioner and presented at A&E several times, the Daily Mail reports.

Walker, who had previously been diagnosed with skin cancer, had expressed to her doctor that she was concerned her symptoms could be related to the disease.

However, Walker claims her complaints were dismissed as anxiety, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and age, with doctors advising her to avoid dairy and allegedly labelling her a hypochondriac. 

"It's been absolutely diabolical. They call themselves health professionals, and they're supposed to be giving us care, but that is negligence," Walker said, as reported by the Daily Mail.

"I just feel like it could have been caught sooner, so I wouldn't have this late diagnosis - and I'm leaving three kids.

"If the NHS [National Health Service] does not acknowledge that things need to change then I feel sorry for everybody and anybody."

According to local media, Walker first became unwell in June 2020 when she began experiencing unusual bathroom habits and swelling around her diaphragm. She frequently reported her symptoms to doctors at Dove Valley Practice and visited the local Barnsley Hospital, but her concerns continued to be dismissed as IBS.

A fundraiser set up by her sister Megan - which has so far raised more than £8000 (NZ$15,440) for Cancer Research - said Walker was unable to get a smear test because "doctors weren't doing them" due to COVID-19 restrictions.

As her symptoms persisted, Walker said she continued to seek medical attention in the hopes of finally getting a diagnosis or an answer to her ongoing issues, but alleged her doctors only offered her medication for hypochondria - an anxiety disorder where the person worries excessively that they are, or may become, seriously ill.

"I was going to the doctors, but I couldn't tell them anything new because it was always the same symptoms, so they treated me with antacids. Then, I got told it could be health anxiety, so they put me on citalopram," she said.

"I already suffered from skin cancer, so I said to my doctor, 'You don't think I could have cancer?' And he said, 'Oh no, it's just you getting old and bodies don't work as well'."

After discovering she was pregnant in December 2020, Walker endured "excruciating" and unbearable pain that rendered her unable to walk or eat. After reaching her breaking point, she was eventually admitted to hospital for pain management and morphine was administered. Her doctor later decided to conduct a more thorough probe and discovered a mass behind her uterus. As a result, the team decided Walker's baby needed to be delivered the next day.

On September 3, 2021, her third son was born - and the doctor delivering her baby told her she most likely had cancer.

"They called a few doctors in. They just said, basically, that my abdomen was so diseased that they needed to send off some biopsies and I'd have to wait. But I knew anyway. The doctor grabbed my hand and he cried and he actually said that he'd let me down."

Her abdomen "riddled with cancer", Walker underwent chemotherapy soon after her diagnosis. However, the cancer had already spread throughout her body, and she was informed the disease would be fatal.

Due to the prevalence of the tumours, a number of Walker's reproductive organs had fused together - "my liver had fused to my diaphragm, my bladder had fused to the back of my womb, and all my ovaries had fused" - with more cancerous masses detected on her stomach, liver and bowels.

"It's just about a comfortable life for however long I've got left, and that's where we are at the minute."

Speaking to the BBC, her partner Dale Wistow said: "It's just a bit sickening, especially with kids. We don't know what the future is going to bring now."

A spokesperson from Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust told the Daily Mail: "Barnsley Hospital is sorry to hear that Ms Walker has concerns about her care.

"We welcome any patient with concerns about the care they have received to get in touch with our Patient Advice and Complaints Team which investigates patient concerns to ensure action is taken in a timely and appropriate manner."