Dealing with stage IV cancer… and Portugal’s SNS Health Service

SOS Algarve Animals/Sterilise Our Strays hero expresses frustration with Portugal’s National Health Service after being given terminal cancer diagnosis and waiting months for vital operation

 Algarve animal rescuer Ginie de Weerd, who has helped sterilise and rehome thousands of animals in the region, has expressed her frustration at Portugal’s National Health Service (SNS) after being diagnosed with stage IV cancer and being given three to five years to live, with or without chemotherapy treatment.

At issue is the way that the public health service has handled Ginie de Weerd’s entire case from the start, from “lack of communication” to “potentially life-threatening delays”.

Ginie, 57, a Dutch citizen who has lived in the Algarve and dedicated her life to animal charities (first SOS Algarve Animals and later Sterilise Our Strays) in the region for 14 years, has spoken to the Resident to pinpoint the issues she has found during her so far “nightmarish experience” with the SNS, which has left her in both emotional and physical pain.

The story dates back to June 1, 2023, when a tumour was found in Ginie’s ovary by her private gynaecologist, followed by blood tests and a 3D ultrasound also carried out privately. Concerns about her health problem led Ginie to visit her GP at her local health centre, where she was urgently referred to Portimão Hospital, with several appointments and exams being carried out.

Ginie de Weerd

While the word “cancer” was never mentioned, Ginie knew that her situation was serious. Her suspicions were only confirmed when she was referred to the IPO (Portuguese Institute of Oncology) Hospital in Lisbon.

It was only by November 2 – four months after the tumour was found and after having travelled once to Lisbon only to be told nothing could be done at the time because her exam results were somehow missing from her file – that Ginie was finally told by a doctor that she had cancer and exactly how serious it was.

 

“He was shocked that I didn’t know yet. He told me that I had stage IV cancer in my ovaries, and maybe my colon too,” Ginie told the Resident.

She was also told that her life expectancy was between three and five years, regardless of whether she decides to undergo chemotherapy.

The shock of receiving such a diagnosis was earth-shattering, but what made the situation worse was what was to follow – a “complete lack of communication from any public health authority”, as Ginie puts it.

Ginie de Weerd

She had been told that the operation to remove the tumour from her ovary would normally take place four to six weeks after the diagnosis, with a four-week notice. This deadline came and went, however, and Ginie continued to hear nothing back from the IPO Hospital despite her multiple attempts to contact them.

It was only on Friday, December 15 that Ginie was finally told that her operation would take place … just six days later, on December 21.

The most traumatising experience was yet to come. When Ginie was all but moments away from undergoing the operation, the surgeon in charge informed her that the procedure had to be cancelled due to a nurses’ strike.

“I’m not the kind of person who is easily shocked, but I have been left completely shocked and traumatised by this whole situation. I wonder how many people are losing their lives because of the actions of the Portuguese Health Service,” Ginie told the Resident.

While Ginie’s operation has been rescheduled for the beginning of January, she is fearful that the same thing might happen again – all the while having to deal with the painful, physical (and emotional) symptoms of her diagnosis.

Ginie de Weerd

As she waits for her operation, which at the very least she hopes will serve to remove the tumour and give her some quality of life, and perhaps the chance to continue her animal charity work, Ginie is hoping to get her story out there to shine the spotlight on the shortcomings of the country’s public health service.

The likelihood of others experiencing similar difficulties with the SNS is high, given the daily reports in the Portuguese media about its ongoing crisis, with overworked doctors and nurses said to be practising “disaster medicine” in some hospitals and health units, and constant strikes and closures of vital A&E department and medical specialties affecting the quality of healthcare provided.

A GoFundMe page has been set up by friends to raise money to help Ginie pay for her medical bills and complete her bucket list of wishes.

By Michael Bruxo
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