A RETIRED police officer was left with a thigh bone "as thin as a Coke can" after developing an incurable form of blood cancer that went undetected for at least six months.

James Rice, a father-of-three, said there was a "black hole" where his bone should have been after the disease was left to eat away at the inside of his femur.

The 54-year-old, who was finally diagnosed with myeloma in May 2021, is speaking out about his own experience amid fears that a drop in diagnoses during the pandemic means that more than 850 cases in the UK have been missed.

It also comes as the Scottish Government prepares to publish its long-awaited cancer strategy today, which is expected to include a focus on catching up with Covid-related backlogs and speeding up the time it takes for patients to be diagnosed and treated.

READ MORE: Covid lockdown and cancer survival - what really happened?

Mr Rice was 52 when he began experiencing stiffness in his hip.

By the time he went on a walking holiday to Skye in November 2020, the discomfort had become hard to ignore.

He said: “I would stiffen up and I would limp after a walk and the next walk I would be fine again. It progressed from there, but I thought it was a sports or overuse injury.”

The Herald: James Rice is currently in remission following treatment for myeloma but is keen to raise awareness of the symptoms amid figures indicating that around 850 cases in the UK have been missed during the pandemicJames Rice is currently in remission following treatment for myeloma but is keen to raise awareness of the symptoms amid figures indicating that around 850 cases in the UK have been missed during the pandemic (Image: Peter Jolly)

He started seeing a physiotherapist but the pain got worse and he was eventually referred for an X-ray.

Shockingly the scan revealed that his thigh bone was "not far off breaking".

“There was a black hole where my bone should be," said Mr Rice.

“But I was fortunate in the end. If my leg had shattered, I couldn’t have got back to where I am now.”

Myeloma develops in the bone marrow, the spongy tissue which manufactures the body's blood cells.

Over time it weakens bones, increasing the risk of fractures, and interferes with the production of healthy blood cells including those needed for a functional immune system.

As a result patients are particularly vulnerable to infections and broken bones.

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Symptoms can also include tiredness due to anaemia, weight loss, dizziness, persistent bone pain - usually in the back, ribs or hips - and high levels of calcium in the blood leading to stomach pain, extreme thirst or confusion.

Mr Rice added: “The X-ray was done to rule out myeloma but it ruled it straight in.

“The bone was as thin as a Coke can. It was a bit of a shock obviously.

“But they told me I could get an average of 10 years.

"All I was thinking at the time was, I’ve got a little bit of time. I took comfort from that.

"You’ve got to hope for the best case.”

The Herald: The disease was detected following an X-ray The disease was detected following an X-ray (Image: PA)

READ MORE: 'Diagnosis was the trickiest part - after that it went like clockwork'

Myeloma affects around 2,000 in Scotland. It is the third most common type of blood cancer, but is frequently diagnosed at a late stage as symptoms are vague or mistaken for signs of ageing.

One in four people wait more than 10 months for a diagnosis, one of the longest delays for any type of cancer.

During the pandemic the number of confirmed cases fell by 851 across the UK compared to pre-Covid trends.

While it is incurable, treatments can relieve patients' symptoms and significantly extend survival.

Mr Rice is now in remission following a stem cell transplant in October 2021.

He took early retirement from the police following his diagnosis but it took a year for him to start walking, cycling and golfing properly again.

The Herald: James Rice and his daughter Katie following a charity fundraising cycle in 2022James Rice and his daughter Katie following a charity fundraising cycle in 2022 (Image: Myeloma UK)

In April 2022, Mr Rice and his daughter Katie braved the wind and cold to cycle 66 miles around Loch Ness in aid of Myeloma UK, raising nearly £3000 for the charity.

He is now keen to help raise awareness of the disease and its tell-tale symptoms.

He said: “It’s really important to raise awareness.

"I guarantee most of the people I know who became aware of my diagnosis would have said, ‘What is that?’.

"You never know, someone might find out about the symptoms and say, ‘My father has been complaining about his back…’.

"It’s that old adage: if the awareness is there, you’re more likely to raise the questions with your GP.

“And men are the worst for going to their GP – I hadn’t been to my GP for 10-15 years.”

READ MORE: Why are cancer deaths lower in 2022 than before Covid? 

Dr Sophie Castell , CEO for Myeloma UK, said: “James’ story is unfortunately one of many.

"We know that that half of all myeloma patients are diagnosed late, by which point many have broken bones or spines, irreversible kidney damage and other complications.

"The symptoms of myeloma are vague.

"I would encourage people to trust their gut if you’re not feeling yourself, have persistent and unexplained pain, like James, severe fatigue, or repeated infections you simply can’t shake, then visit your GP.

"If your symptoms just aren’t going away – please keep pushing or ask for a second opinion.”