Cancer patients’ families demand answers on chemo under-dosing

Rick Taylor.jpg

The Taylor family will always wonder whether their husband and father, Rick, might still be alive if he hadn’t been a patient of Dr John Grygiel.

In April, Rick Taylor lost his battle with cancer after relapsing.

His wife Anne Taylor said until that point he’d fought hard to beat it.

Anne Taylor

“I wish we’d been told that it was a lower dose, so that we could have said, no, we want the full dose,” she told 7.30.

“Because he wanted to fight.”

Only weeks before his relapse he’d learnt, through the 7.30 program, that his oncologist, Dr John Grygiel, had been treating patients with a flat low dose of the cancer drug carboplatin — treatment roundly condemned last month by NSW Health’s Cancer Institute.

There have been more than 100 head and neck cancer patients at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital who may have been affected, but hundreds more were treated by Grygiel for a variety of cancers in NSW’s far west for almost three decades.

NSW Health today acknowledged that 28 patients in the west of the state had been given off-protocol dosages by Dr Grygiel during fly-in, fly-out visits to Bathurst, Orange, Cowra, Parkes and Dubbo.

Dr John Grygiel

“What this report ends up focusing on is 28 patients out of a group of thousands who are treated by Dr Grygiel, and it finds that there is no evidence that any of those 28 patients suffered any harm as a result of Dr Grygiel’s treatment,” Dr Grygiel’s lawyer, Stephen Blanks, said.

“He’s been made a scapegoat by St Vincent’s hospital, which is significantly at fault in many of the practices here, Dr Grygiel is being made a scapegoat of, and he has at all times acted in the best interests of his patients.”

But that doesn’t satisfy Rick Taylor’s daughter, Kate Murphy.

“Bottom line — consent wasn’t given to give dad the low dose,” she told 7.30.

“There might have been other people willing to participate in that sort of thing, but everybody should have been given a chance to say whether they wanted to or not.

“And then you’re just left wondering what would have happened if he had had the right stuff?”

‘You ask yourself, why? What could have been different?’

Lynda Peters with her sister Tammy Harman in Dubbo Base hospital

Like the Taylors, Lynda Peters is wondering what might have happened.

She lost her sister, Tammy Harman, to cancer in June.

“You do sort of ask yourself the whys, and what could have been different,” she told 7.30.

In her last months, Tammy Harman helped campaign for a cancer clinic at Dubbo hospital.

She was devastated when she learnt she too had received a low dose from Dr Grygiel.

Dr Grygiel claims there’s no evidence a higher dose would be any more effective.

“The fact is that he didn’t ask his patients were they happy to have a lower dose of chemotherapy,” Lynda Peters said.

“What Dr Grygiel has is a detailed knowledge of the science underpinning these guidelines, and there are some guidelines — and it’s clear from this report — that there are some guidelines which are better based in medical evidence than others,” Stephen Blanks said.

“Experienced oncologists regularly depart from the guidelines, taking into account patients’ circumstances and their knowledge of the underlying science.”

‘So many families have been affected’

Kate Murphy and Rick Taylor

Kate Murphy is concerned about all the other families with unanswered questions.

“It’s not just my family that’s been upset by this,” Kate Murphy said.

“There’s so many families that have been affected and they need to speak out and speak up about it and ask questions.”

She hopes that other families can avoid going through what she went through with her father.

“I went down to be with him when they got the results and he was a broken man,” she said.

“It was heartbreaking.”

“I gave him a hug on Friday and said I’ll see you when you get home … and he didn’t come home.”

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