Karen Smith, 55, suffered agonizing back pain after a fall at work but doctors initially dismissed her concerns before a spinal consultant told her she had rare blood cancer
Image: Stoke Sentinel/BPM Media)
A mum was prescribed over the counter drugs as doctors dismissed her back pain before she was diagnosed with an incurable blood cancer.
Karen Smith’s agony began with a fall at work which left her struggling to walk and meant she could only sleep propped up on a chair.
During repeated visits to her GP at Higherland Surgery in Newcastle-under-Lyme the 55-year-old’s symptoms were dismissed as back pain owing to her job as a pharmacist, despite losing five inches from her height.
Karen, a keen weightlifter, finally got so fed up she paid for a private appointment with a spinal consultant.
Two days later she was diagnosed with myeloma, a cancer which kills 3,000 people every year in the UK, Stoke on Trent Live reported.
The mum of two said: “I just knew that something wasn’t right and it was getting worse.
“I was angry when I was first diagnosed but I gave myself a talking to and I haven’t had many down days. I haven’t cried much, even when I was diagnosed.
“I felt I was getting worse with the pain and didn’t seem to be standing as upright as normal. I was back and forth to the GP; over-the-counter painkillers weren’t making any difference. I was 5ft 5in and I’m now 5ft but no-one noticed.
“I was referred to a physiotherapist as initially my GP suspected mechanical back pain associated with my pharmacy job, but physiotherapy exacerbated the problem. I had uncontrollable spasms and couldn’t lie down in bed. I was sleeping propped up in a chair as best I could manage to try to grasp a few hours of sleep.
“I wasn’t happy with my GP at all and I felt like I was being dismissed. I was asking for help and getting nowhere. How many times do you have to go back before it raises a red flag?
“The pain would come on randomly and take my breath away. It was like someone tightening a rope around my ribs and sticking pins in me at the same time.”
By the time she was diagnosed she was found to have two broken vertebrae and a compressed disc, and was forced to wear a back brace for four months and relied on a walker.
After six cycles of chemotherapy, Karen steadily started to walk and drive again and life more or less returned to normal when she heard a loud cracking sound in her jaw at the end of 2021.
Tests revealed her cancer had returned causing her jaw to fracture, and she underwent five sessions of radiotherapy in January.
She is currently undergoing a new private treatment to target the myeloma twice a week at the Nuffield hospitals in Newcastle and Wolverhampton.
Karen, mum to Tasmin, 32, and 14-year-old Daniel is backing blood cancer charity Myeloma UK’s campaign to raise awareness of the impact of delayed diagnosis on patients’ quality of life.
She added: “I’m living my normal life now, just at a slightly slower pace.
“You can’t be the same person you were, but you just have to adapt and change your mindset.
“Life is good.”