Shocking Medical Mistakes
Molly went in for surgery on her neck, and soon afterward, doctors noticed a slight swelling under her arm. Just to be safe, her medical team ordered a biopsy on her breast tissue.
The results came back 24 hours later. "My husband picked up the phone, and he was talking to one of my doctors," she says. "I remember him saying, 'The tests came back for breast cancer.' I remember being upstairs crying and just saying, 'Okay, I have two cancers now.'"
Doctors diagnosed Molly with a rare form of breast cancer in which there are cancerous cells but no tumor. They recommended a mastectomy.
Molly had her right breast and 24 lymph nodes removed and then returned home to wait for more news. "I was at home waiting for the call. … How many lymph nodes have been affected? Where is it?" she says.
Eight days after the mastectomy, Molly got an urgent call from her surgeon asking her to come in. "At that point, I was thinking to myself, 'Okay, it's not going to be good,'" she says.
Then, the doctor broke some shocking news…Molly never had breast cancer. During testing, a medical technician accidentally switched her biopsy slide with another woman's sample. That woman had breast cancer but was mistakenly told she was cancer-free.
As the information started to sink in, Molly says things began to move in slow motion. "I just couldn't believe what was coming out of her mouth. Like: 'Wait a minute. I didn't have breast cancer?'" she says. "I was relieved because I thought: 'Okay, now I'll go back to my neck cancer, but what about that lady? What about the lady whose slide was switched with mine? Do you know who she is?' … The carpet's pulled out from under you, and you're just left there thinking, 'Now what?'"
Molly quickly began treating her neck cancer with chemotherapy and radiation, which had been postponed so doctors could focus on the breast cancer. Thankfully, the treatment was a success. She's been cancer-free for almost four years.
Since I'm on the inside, I'm telling you what it's like. Once the first couple [of doctors] that you trust come up with a diagnosis, you don't usually challenge them that frequently," he says. "Guess who's left to challenge them? It's you."
If only a few patients speak up and ask for second opinions, Dr. Oz says they may be labeled as "difficult." But if everyone takes the extra step to protect themselves, it will make a difference in the medical community.
"The purpose of this show is to make it the norm that everybody out there says: 'You know what? I'm going to make a difference. I've going to be brave. I'm going to stand forth, not just for me, but because people are going to see this story,'" he says. "They're going to become part of the smart patient army ."
Molly also wants patients—and doctors—to know that people like her matter. "I hope my doctors and everybody that was a part of [my mastectomy] are actually practicing better medicine," she says.
Earning that honor was hard work, and Grant's grueling 20-hour work days started to take a toll. One day, he noticed a very small, white spot on the left side of his tongue. Grant ignored the spot for months before asking his dentist about it. He says she thought it was probably related to stress and was nothing to worry about. Grant went to get a second opinion from a general practitioner, who told him the same thing. Eventually, the pain became so intense that eating became difficult, and Grant says he lost 20 pounds.
The first doctor recommended the removal of the middle of Grant's tongue, a radical neck dissection and removal of part of his jaw. Grant says this treatment was too harsh to accept. "Cooking and tasting and creating food is my passion," he says. "Certainly what they were recommending was a very severe treatment that would compromise a lot of aspects of my life, but they were going to remove my soul, essentially."
Grant began searching for other options, but the first four specialists he met all recommended the same thing—immediate surgery on his tongue, neck and jaw to remove the cancer. "We just kept saying no. There has to be something better. There has to be something more humane, something more contemporary," he says.
Grant says the experience taught him the importance of being your own medical advocate. "When somebody tells you that this is the recommended treatment, if it doesn't sound agreeable to you, go get another opinion," he says. "Everybody knows about their body."
"It's about realizing that you are the world expert on your body, that you can hear your body shouting out things to you," he says. "And if you're not getting the feedback that you think you need to get, to keep pushing."
Being a smart patient—taking an active role in advocating for the best care available—does not make you selfish. "It's being brave enough to stand up and say, 'I'm going to do this not just for me but for the guy behind me, because they're going to benefit as well,'" he says. "That's how we'll make healthcare safer in America."
Take control of your health—become a smart patient
The medical mistake that nearly killed Dennis Quaid's newborn twins