Myeloma sufferer: Premature birth of my son saved my life

A myeloma sufferer from Dingwall says her premature pregnancy “saved her life” after she began experiencing severe back pain due to a late cancer diagnosis.

Mother-of-two, Hannah Toohill, 31, was told in May 2018 that her excruciating back pain was a result of her pregnancy.

But she was diagnosed with the incurable blood cancer a few short months later, after her son Fraser was born 11 weeks early in August 2018.

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Doctors put her symptoms down to the pregnancy but, by the time, Hannah was diagnosed, she had suffered crushed discs in her back, lost five inches in height and had a broken sternum.

'He saved my life' - Hannah Toohill from Dingwall who suffered from myeloma, with her son Fraser.

The delayed cancer diagnosis is not uncommon – especially in patients of Hannah’s age – as half of myeloma sufferers say they were left with debilitating conditions such as spinal fractures and kidney failure, according to Myeloma UK.

“My consultant said my boy being born early saved my life,” she said. “If he had gone on his due day, I would probably not be here. He saved my life.”

Hannah also had protein in her urine and was anaemic, however, these symptoms were brushed off because she had experienced them during her first pregnancy with daughter, Catherine.

“By July I was couchbound in my house for 24 hours, unable to move. I couldn’t get up stairs,” she said.

Hannah Toohill with Fraser and Catharine and husband Robert

“I was in an unbelievable amount of pain in my back. I had never felt anything like that with my first child. I couldn’t work.

“But they said it was the pregnancy and that it was going to get better when I had the baby.

“My son was due in November but, in August, my waters broke early, at 26 weeks, and my baby arrived at 29 weeks.”

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But her pain persisted, and doctors suspected costochondritis, an inflammation of the cartilage that connects a rib to the breastbone, and prescribed steroids.

Myeloma sufferer Sarah Barron, from Falkirk, and husband Gordon.

Four weeks after giving, birth Hannah woke up in a puddle of her own blood and was rushed to A&E.

After discovering her kidneys were not functioning properly, Hannah was diagnosed with myeloma, which currently affects about 2,000 people in Scotland.

She said: “I had crushed discs in my back. I had lost five inches – I was 5ft 7in and now I’m 5ft 2in – and I had a broken sternum. They don’t know whether my sternum broke when I gave birth but my back was definitely already damaged when I gave birth.”

Hannah began treatment straight away and received a stem cell transplant in May 2019 at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.

Unfortunately, her body rejected it at first and she ended up in hospital for five weeks.

She said: “I was very depressed and spent all day worrying about missing a lot of my kids’ milestones and how I would be able to be a parent to my children.

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“Three years ago we had a totally normal life. Myeloma has meant I can’t enjoy all the activities I want to with my children.”

Sarah Barron, from Falkirk, had experienced debilitating lower back pain for over six weeks in July 2020, she felt something snap in her back.

A fluid filled tumour had crushed one of her vertebrae and Sarah was subsequently diagnosed with the blood disease and began radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Her first stem cell transplant was received successfully in July 2021, however, her second was met with delays because of the growing pressure of the pandemic.

Doctors told Sarah she should receive a second stem cell transplant six months after her first but it was cancelled due to staff shortages and hospital pressure.

Speaking of the disappointment, she said: “I can’t think about the second stem cell transplant because there’s nothing I can do about the fact that you’ve lost that opportunity.”

Her cancer has returned and she is now back on chemotherapy.

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“I didn’t expect to have a second round of chemotherapy so quickly,” she added.

Now keen to help Myeloma UK raise awareness of the impact delays in diagnosis can have on patients’ quality of life, Sarah said there is a lack of standards with the incurable blood cancer.

She said: “Myeloma is not one of the big cancers, like breast cancer, but people should be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

“I really want to help Myeloma UK. I feel that the work they do is really important and they’re really saving people’s lives.”

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