ACT News

Mother of two dies after medical blunder saw doctors miss cancer

Rachael Netting died of a curable liver cancer
Rachael Netting died of a curable liver cancer Photo: Kylee Sharples

Rachael Netting believed happiness was not a destination, but a way of life. 

Her husband Paul saw it in the way she treasured and loved her two sons. He saw it in the joy she took in her work as a personal trainer, and the profound impact she had on everyone she met. 

Rachael's spark, Paul said, inspired many. 

But her's was a spark that was extinguished too soon, in the cruellest and most tragic of circumstances. 

A medical blunder saw her curable liver cancer missed by doctors, allowing it to spread to an incurable state. 

Rachael, 37, passed away on Thursday, a little more than two years after she first noticed something was wrong.

She had been working at the Australian Tax Office at the time, when severe abdominal pain prompted her to go to Calvary Hospital.

Medical staff conducted two ultrasounds; one picking up a mass in her liver, and the other an ovarian cyst.

The nature of the liver mass was unclear, so a multiphase CT scan was recommended to further investigate.

The CT scan would have shown a liver cancer that her lawyers say was completely curable.

In what would prove a tragic mistake however, the scan was never done, and the ultrasound report allegedly never looked at.

Instead, Rachael's cyst was removed and she was sent home, oblivious to the cancer spreading through her body. 

More than a year later, she came back to the hospital, again complaining of pain. 

It was too late. 

The CT scan showed the liver cancer had become incurable, and Rachael was given just months to live. 

Rachael fought on, undergoing chemotherapy and treatment interstate. 

Her death this week has prompted an outpouring of tributes from friends and family. 

"We have been inundated with messages of love and support from all walks of life which is a tribute to who she was as a person," her husband, Paul, said on Friday. 

"Rachael loved her kids dearly and treasured whatever activities they could do together."

"Her love, her friendship, her generosity, her spark, her drive and her passion inspired many."

"Rachael had an incredible passion for life and lived this through a large network of friends and family." 

She had a strong and proud work ethic, he said, something that shone through in her work in the ATO and as a personal trainer.

"She was committed to health and wellbeing and would exercise on a daily basis for both body and mind which carried through to activities with her beautiful children,"

"Rachael loved to help anyone she could to achieve their goals in personal health and fitness and took great pride in whatever results people were able to achieve.  

Her death has left many in Canberra shocked, including those at the close-knit Belconnen Magpies Football Club, where Rachael and her husband were heavily involved. 

Club vice-president Jo Foster said she would always remember Rachael's warm smile, kindness, and permanently positive outlook on life.

That positivity remained even through the cancer, Ms Foster said.

"I think everyone's just sort of gutted that they knew it was coming, but when it happens, you don't really know what you can do," she said.

"Just to think those kids are going to grow up without their mum, and Netto [Paul] is going to grow old without his partner, the love of his life, it's horrible."

"Although she will be watching them from above."

She said there were plans within the club to honour Rachael, possibly through fundraising for liver cancer research, black armbands in round one, or naming an award for the women's teams after her. 

Paul expressed his thanks for the medical teams which treated his wife, including Dr James Fergusson and Professor Geoff Farrell at The Canberra Hospital, Dr Yu Jo Chua and his team at the new cancer building, Dr David Boshell from St Vincent's Hospital, Professor David Morris at St George Hospital, and the magnificent team at Clare Holland House.

"All of these great, caring people did all they could to try and make an impact on this horrible disease and its impact on Rachael," he said.

Rachael, represented by law firm Bradley Allen Love, took Calvary Hospital to court over the error. 

They settled for $850,000. Prior to the settlement, Calvary had indicated it may argue that their mistake did not necessarily cause the cancer to become fatal. It was also set to contest claims that it didn't send the ultrasound to her general practitioner.