Mum with broken back and holes in ribs dismissed by doctors

A mother of two has been given just a few years to live after doctors misdiagnosed excruciating pain which left her “crying on her way to work”. Brave Emma Watkins, 44, continued to work as a teaching assistant in a special needs school while she endured nine months of agony due to her back ache and fatigue. Doctors sent her to physiotherapist and entirely missed the fact that she had an incurable blood cancer that was eating away at her bone marrow.

Emma said: “I saw a few different GPs within my doctors’ surgery for my back problems over the months but they just dismissed it as back pain. It took me having a lack of appetite, feeling sick and sleeping a lot for them to do a blood test to check for anaemia and to finally send me for an X-ray as I complained of the pain spreading around my chest.” READ MORE: Calls to fine NHS patients who fail to turn up for GP appointments

The X-ray showed the busy mum had lesions in her ribs and a collapsed vertebra – all complications of the incurable blood cancer myeloma. She was given five years to live and had to wear a back brace for four months to stop her weak bones from fracturing. By this point, the former Scout leader was unable to live a normal life and even had to ask her children to help her put on her socks. “If they had done a blood test or sent me for an X-ray sooner, I wouldn’t have missed out on nearly a year of being my normal self with my children,” she said.

Myeloma is a blood cancer which affects 24,000 people in the UK. It occurs in the bone marrow and the majority of cases are in those over 65 years old. The common symptoms of myeloma are often missed by doctors with 50 per cent of sufferers waiting more than five months to get diagnosed.

‘I know that it will come back’

Emma is now in remission following chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, but her mobility will never be the same again. She has vowed to ensure others don’t ever have to endure what she did, by sharing her story and raising awareness and funds for the specialist charity Myeloma UK.

She added: “There’s no miraculous cure. I’m in remission but I know that it will come back. I still struggle with it.

I can’t do all the things I used to enjoy like being a Scout leader – I had to give that up. I can’t go on hikes or camping. It’s too painful.

“Medical staff shouldn’t be dismissing symptoms. There needs to be wider awareness of the complications it causes. I want more understanding of this complicated cancer.”

Myeloma UK Chief Executive, Dr Sophie CastellDr Sophie Castell, Chief Executive of Myeloma UK

Myeloma UK, is the only organisation in the UK exclusively dedicated to the blood cancer, and its chief executive, Dr Sophie Castell, urges people to “trust your gut”.

She continued: “If you’re not feeling yourself, have persistent and unexplained back pain, severe fatigue or repeated infections, please keep pushing. “Diagnosing myeloma early is crucially important. Many myeloma patients are diagnosed late, by which point many have broken bones or spines, irreversible kidney damage and other complications.”

Emma says she feels there needs to be more awareness of this stealth and complicated cancer which claims the life of 3,000 people each year.

10 red-flag symptoms of myeloma

  • Persistent or unexplained pain for more than four to six weeks, particularly in the back or ribs
  • Spontaneous fractures, including osteoporotic vertebral fractures
  • Hypercalcaemia (high calcium levels in the blood)
  • Reduction in kidney function
  • Recurrent or persistent infections
  • Unexplained anaemia
  • Nosebleeds or unexplained bleeding
  • Unexplained breathlessness
  • Feeling generally unwell – fatigue, weight loss, suspicion of underlying cancer
  • Unexplained peripheral neuropathy, that is damage to the nerves that make up the peripheral nervous system. In myeloma the nerves that are most commonly affected are those of the hands and feet
  • Unexplained peripheral neuropathy, that is damage to the nerves that make up the peripheral nervous system. In myeloma the nerves that are most commonly affected are those of the hands and feet

Myeloma UK run a free helpline for any one concerned.

Call 0800 980 3332 Monday to Friday from 9am-5pm.

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