Woman diagnosed with blood cancer reveals two warning signs
A blood cancer patient with holes in her spine was initially misdiagnosed as a ‘busy mum’.
Mum-of-three Donna Hicks, 49, went to her GP when her youngest child was one complaining of constant fatigue and back pain.
He was finally diagnosed with myeloma – an incurable form of blood cancer – in September 2014 at the age of 41.
Donna, from Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute, had two sons, aged nine and seven, as well as a young daughter, and had lost her mother when she was diagnosed.
She had to quit her job as a social work manager, a decision she found devastating.
Donna said: “I had this chronic fatigue that I couldn’t shake.
“It wouldn’t lift and I had really bad back pain that was constantly put down to having babies.
“I eventually went to the GP because it was getting me down and the fatigue was really affecting my life.
“The GP was very dismissive. He looked at his watch a couple of times and finally said, ‘You’re over 40, you work full-time, you have three children, including a baby boy. And you’re wondering why you’re tired?’, and basically sent me packing.
“I sat in the car in the car park crying for ages because I knew something was wrong.
“I wasn’t feeling like myself and it was getting worse. It was scary.”
Myeloma is the third most common form of blood cancer – affecting around 2,000 Scots – but more than half of patients wait more than five months for a diagnosis and almost a third of cases are only picked up in A&E at the last stage. .
Common symptoms, including back pain, easily broken bones, fatigue and frequent infections, are often mistaken for aging or other minor conditions.
Although incurable, most myeloma patients can respond to treatment to prolong their lives if the disease is caught early.
Donna saw another GP who suspected something was seriously wrong and ordered a blood test.
Myeloma was diagnosed a fortnight after Donna’s mother was diagnosed with lung cancer, and she died 10 weeks later.
Donna said: “I was stuck in the situation of having a really young family and losing my mum.
“I just felt really hopeless. It was really hard to see beyond that place of darkness because I was so scared.
“I just felt like life as I knew it stopped. My work was really important to me. It was more than just a job to me. It’s a loss of identity.”
Donna was referred to Vale of Lyon Hospital by her consultant who initially expected to have a “one-off appointment” with Dr Richard Suter, a myeloma specialist based at Bateson in Glasgow.
Since then she has been under his care.
She said: “I remember the first night after seeing Dr Sutar, saying to my husband, ‘I’m going to be here exactly 10 years later’.
Donna underwent radiotherapy to repair her spinal fracture, followed by chemotherapy and two life-saving stem cell transplants in 2020 and 2021.
He is now in what is called “good partial remission” from the disease, and has nothing but praise for his treatment at Bateson.
She said: “I have a lot of respect for Dr Sutar. He is very forward and he is also very caring.
“It’s so sweet to feel that you have such a relationship with your doctor.
“I feel very fortunate to have a team at Bateson that knows everything there is to know about myeloma.
“I know there are many myeloma patients who never see someone who is an expert in this area.
“The reality is that some people are just not lucky with myeloma and it’s very unpredictable and despite the best efforts and your best mindset around it, it still may not be enough, but I’m still eight years later. I am here.
“Life will never be the same again, there’s no doubt about it. The way I see it, there’s a volcano inside me.
“At the moment it is dormant but at some point in the future it is going to erupt again.
“But while it’s inactive I’m going to get on with things and do as much as possible.”
Donna is sharing her experience as the charity Myeloma UK prepares to present the Beatson team with its Clinical Service Excellence Program (CSEP) award for the second time tomorrow.
The accolade recognizes hospitals that go above and beyond to provide compassionate care.
Myeloma UK’s Monica Morris said: “We were impressed by Bateson’s willingness to meet the needs of patients.
“The team really go the extra mile to understand and support patients when they are at their most vulnerable.
“For example, when needed, patients can see a specialist pharmacist for pain management as part of their regular appointment, saving them fatigue and, in the context of a cost-of-living crisis, potentially But expensive back-and-forth separate visits to the pain clinic.”