Cancer doesn’t always make a grand entrance. The warning signs can often be subtle and not necessarily alarming. When Donna Hicks, 49, from Helensburgh, Argyll and Bute, couldn’t shake off the constant symptoms that kept bothering her, she decided to see her GP. However, the doctor dismissed her due to her age and a busy schedule as a mum of three children. Eventually, Donna was diagnosed with blood cancer.
The first warning signs that rang alarm bells for Donna, the mum of two sons, aged nine and seven, as well as her toddler daughter at the time, were constant fatigue and back pain.
The mum-of-three said: “I had this chronic fatigue that I couldn’t shake.
“It wouldn’t lift and I had really bad back pain that had constantly been put down to having babies.
“I eventually went to the GP because it was getting me down and the fatigue was really impacting my life. The GP was very dismissive.
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“He looked at his watch a couple of times and eventually said, ‘You’re over 40, you work full-time, you’ve got three children including a baby 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 not right.
“I didn’t feel like myself and it was getting worse. It was awful.”
At 41 years old, in September 2014, Donna was eventually diagnosed with myeloma, which describes an incurable form of blood cancer.
Myeloma is considered to be the third most common form of blood cancer, but more than half of patients often have to wait over five months for a diagnosis.
Like in Donna’s case, the tell-tale signs include problems often mistaken for other causes like bone pain and fatigue. But nausea, constipation, weight loss, and recurring infections can all be symptoms of the condition as well.
The myeloma diagnosis came a fortnight after Donna’s mum discovered she had lung cancer, and died 10 weeks later.
Donna said: “I was stuck in this situation of having a really young family and having lost my mum.
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“I just felt really desperate. It was really difficult to see beyond that place of darkness to begin with because I was so frightened.”
Donna also had to give up her job as a social work manager, which was “really important” to her.
“It was much more than just a job to me,” she said. “It’s the loss of identity.”
The mum was referred for what was initially expected to be a “one-off appointment” with Dr Richard Soutar, an expert in myeloma based at the Beatson in Glasgow, but she remained under his care ever since.
She underwent radiotherapy to heal the fractures in her spine, followed by chemotherapy, and two life-saving stem cell transplants in 2020 and 2021.
She is now in what is known as a “good partial remission” from the disease, and has nothing but praise for her treatment at the Beatson.
Donna added: “Life is never going to be the same again, there’s no doubt about that. The way I see it is there’s a volcano inside me.
“At the moment, it’s dormant but at some point in the future it’s probably going to erupt again.
“But while it’s dormant, I’m going to get on with things and do as much as I possibly can.”
The mum-of-three is now sharing her cancer experience as charity Myeloma UK prepares to present the Beatson team with its Clinical Service Excellence Programme (CSEP) Award for a second time tomorrow.
The accolade recognises hospitals that go above and beyond to provide compassionate care.