A woman’s wait for cancer surgery becomes ‘life or death’

Rose Kerr has cancerous growths in her left lung that need to be removed to save her life, but after waiting three months for a surgery date, she still doesn’t know when it will happen.

The daughter of the Christchurch woman has flown from Australia to care for her mother, but when the operation was still not confirmed two weeks after her arrival, she had to return home.

Kerr, 67, went to her GP in December, concerned because she was coughing up blood.

She underwent an MRI scan before Christmas and a few days later was told she had a mass the size of a golf ball on her lung.

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Further tests in January revealed that Kerr had squamous cell lung carcinoma and that it had spread to the lower part of her lung. She needed a pneumonectomy—an operation to remove the lung.

“I need surgery or I’m gone,” Kerr said.

She underwent several tests after her diagnosis to make sure the surgery could go ahead safely.

“It has been a very difficult journey. The specialists have been very good. It’s just the length of waiting for the surgery.”

It comes as Christchurch surgeons say they are being forced to decide which patients “have the worst cancer and will not survive” if their surgery is not prioritized.


Anthony Coulter, 69, is partially paralyzed from spinal stenosis. His condition could be corrected with surgery, but he cannot be placed on the waiting list

Kerr called the hospital two weeks ago to get an idea of ​​when her surgery might take place, only to be told it wouldn’t be next week and there were more for her.

“I know it’s not their fault, they’re doing their best. I know it’s not just me, but it’s a life and death situation right now.

“It’s the mental anguish of waiting, not knowing if, with the delays, it’s going to spread,” she said.

Precancerous tumors were first found in Kerr’s lung four years ago, she said.

“I should have had more tests then, but because of Covid there was no follow up.”

Rose Kerr struggles with the mental anguish of fearing her lung cancer will spread as she waits for surgery.


Rose Kerr struggles with the mental anguish of fearing her lung cancer will spread as she waits for surgery.

While waiting for news of her surgery, Kerr tried to keep her spirits high and took regular walks to keep her fitness up.

“It’s a mental challenge. I can’t go down mentally, I have to be as strong as possible.

“They have to get this running right or people are going to die.”

Colorectal surgeon Frank Frizelle said that while there had been more emphasis on organizing and sharing resources, they were still struggling this week at Christchurch Hospital.

Surgeons had to work together to combine their operation lists.

Three surgeons this week had to combine their lists into one, choosing the worst on their list to get surgery first, Frizelle said.

Professor Frank Frizelle says the surgical challenges are a national issue


Professor Frank Frizelle says the surgical challenges are a national issue with “no magic answers”.

“There’s no spaceship coming to solve this, there are no magical answers. They shouldn’t get overwhelmed and sit down to sort this out. It’s a national problem, it won’t just solve itself. It will continue to fester.”

A spokesman for Te Whatu Ora Waitaha (Canterbury) said: We have not canceled any further scheduled care lists [this week] and were even able to run two additional half-day lists [on Thursday].”

Meanwhile, further north, a Waikato man who had waited months for a surgeon’s appointment worried that it would take years to get the life-changing surgery he so desperately needed.

The man, who declined to be named, underwent an emergency procedure at Hartmanns that involved the removal of part of the bowel and required a temporary bag. He was told the procedure could be reversed in six months, but eight months later he hasn’t even seen a surgeon.

The uncertainty caused significant physical, mental and financial strain and had affected his relationship, he said.

“My partner of 19 years doesn’t even sleep in the same room as me because of the smell coming from my bag.

“The occasional accidental spill has also caused a lot of friction between us.”

After giving up hope of a date, the man had decided to try and find the $30,000 it would take to go private.

‘I can not wait that long. I’ve completely lost faith in the system, I’m tired of it. This is my life and hopefully I can bring it back to life.”