A BLOOD cancer patient who had holes in her spine by the time she was diagnosed said her GP had initially dismissed the symptoms as being down to motherhood.

Donna Hicks, from Helensburgh, had three children aged nine, seven and one when she went to her doctor complaining of constant fatigue and back pain.

She was eventually diagnosed with myeloma - an incurable form of blood cancer - aged 41, in September 2014.

She 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.

"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 carpark crying for ages because I knew something was not right. I didn’t feel like myself and it was getting worse. It was awful.”

HeraldScotland: Mrs Hicks with her husband Aaron and their children Mrs Hicks with her husband Aaron and their children (Image: Myeloma UK)

Myeloma is the third most common form of blood cancer - affecting around 2000 Scots - but more than half of patients wait over five months for a diagnosis and around a third of cases are only picked up at a late stage in A&E.

Common symptoms including back pain, easily broken bones, fatigue and recurring infections are often mistaken for ageing or other minor conditions.

While incurable, most myeloma patients can respond to treatment to extend their life if the disease is picked up in time.

READ MORE: Pandemic blood cancer patient said NHS treatment 'went like clockwork' - but diagnosis took months 

Mrs Hicks, now 49, saw another GP who suspected something was seriously wrong and ordered a blood test.

The myeloma diagnosis came just two weeks after her mother had discovered she had lung cancer. She died 10 weeks later.

“I was stuck in this situation of having a really young family and having lost my mum," said Mrs Hicks.

"I just felt really desperate. It was really difficult to see beyond that place of darkness to begin with because I was so frightened.”

The illness forced Mrs Hicks to give up her job as a social work manager, a decision she found devastating.

“I just felt that life as I knew it had stopped," she said.

"My job was really important to me. It was much more than a just a job to me. It’s the loss of identity."

Mrs Hicks was referred by her consultant at the Vale of Leven hospital 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.

She has remained under his care ever since.

She said: “I remember that first night after seeing Dr Soutar, saying to my husband, ‘I’m absolutely going to be here in 10 years’.”

READ MORE: Cancer Research UK executives says Beatson trial unit output 'poor quality'

Mrs Hicks 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.

She said: “I have a lot of respect for Dr Soutar. He’s very upfront and he’s also extremely caring.

"It’s so lovely to feel like you’ve got a relationship like that with your doctor. I feel very fortunate that at the Beatson there is a team that knows everything there is to know about myeloma.

“I know that there are lots of patients with myeloma who don’t ever really see anybody who is a specialist in that area."

Mrs Hicks is sharing her own experience as charity Myeloma UK prepares to the 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.

Monica Morris, of Myeloma UK, said: “We were extremely impressed by the Beatson’s willingness to adapt to patients’ needs.

"The team truly goes the extra mile to understand patients and support them when they’re 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 from exhausting and, in the wake of the cost-of-living crisis, potentially expensive back and forth trips to a separate pain clinic.”

READ MORE: Why are Scotland's cancer deaths lower in 2022 than before the pandemic? 

Mrs Hicks, who now volunteers and fundraises for cancer charities, added: “The reality is that some people aren’t lucky with myeloma and it’s very unpredictable and despite best efforts and the best mentality you have around it, it may still never be enough, but I’m still here eight years later.

“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.”