'Exhausted' Scots mum diagnosed with incurable blood cancer after months of strange symptoms

Carol (left) wants others to go to their GP with their symptoms.
-Credit: (Image: (Image: Myeloma UK))

A Scots mum who endured months of strange symptoms and was left "feeling like she had been plugged into the mains" is urging others to speak to their GP. Carol McGachie, from West Lothian, had intense tingling in her fingers and toes and couldn't sleep at night.

In November 2021, she was diagnosed with an incurable blood cancer - myeloma. The nurse 56, is keen to raise awareness of the tell-tale symptoms "before it's too late".

The mum-of-two, who also has two step-children, said she felt relief when she received her diagnosis, knowing it wasn't all in her head. Carol said: "I was exhausted all the time. I used to regularly bake and cook, I loved gardening.

"I would walk our dog for miles - but I just didn't have the energy for it anymore. I declined invites to social occasions because I knew I would suffer the next day."

The 56-year-old claimed GPs don't know an awful lot about blood cancer, and "didn't put two and two together" for her. As a nurse herself, she had been aware of myeloma but didn't know what it was or its impact.

Carol McGachie, 56 -Credit:(Image: Myeloma UK)
Carol McGachie, 56 -Credit:(Image: Myeloma UK)

She continued: "I would not have associated back pain with blood cancer. That’s why awareness is so important.

"Now I try to raise awareness through work and I’ve told some of my patients about my diagnosis and symptoms. I think I left it too long and tried to manage the pain myself.

"My advice would be: You know your own body so be more vocal and push a bit more with the doctor, rather than accept their word that it’s nothing to worry about. You know what you used to be able to do before but can’t do now.

"If you don’t go in and ask questions you’re not going to get any answers. "Carol revealed her first symptoms appeared in late 2020, when she began experiencing back and hip pain.

Her doctor quickly ruled out sciatic pain, and she was prescribed painkillers and advised to attend physiotherapy. She then suffered two episodes of shingles that winter. Carol added: "I’m a nurse so I’d put it down to having ‘nurse’s back’.

“But things kept getting worse and that’s when the tingling in my fingers and toes started at night. It went on for months and months. I thought it might be something along the lines of MS."

It took months before she was referred to a haematologist and given her diagnosis. She added: "I felt relief that I wasn’t going mad and that there was actually something wrong.

"But it was also hard because it was not something they could cut away. You hear the word ‘incurable’ and you know it’s a cancer that’s going to be with you forever.

"I’m not sure why it took so long to get diagnosed but thankfully they found it before I had any organ damage. Since I was diagnosed and attached to a consultant, the care has been impeccable and having a direct number to the myeloma nurse specialist is invaluable, no question is too small."

Carol began chemotherapy at the Western General in October 2022, and is now in remission. She said she is "more determined than ever to live a full life".

Carol with her family -Credit:(Image: Myeloma UK)
Carol with her family -Credit:(Image: Myeloma UK)

She's excited to become a doting grandmother, thanks to ongoing improvements in treatment. She said: "I know it’s incurable and it will come back.

"Every time you get aches and pains you think 'is it back?' Sometimes it feels like you live from test results to test results every three months. But I've got quite a logical mind and I've had a few years for it to sink in. There are so many treatments now.

“We were always living for today but even more so now. We’re just enjoying life and this year we’re going to travel to Canada to visit our son Ross.

"Then our daughter Emma is getting married in November. In the beginning my whole life was myeloma. I know it’s always going to be there and I don’t block it out, but I try to move on a bit and it’s not my central focus anymore.

"Now I see a future, more so than I did a few years ago." According to Myeloma UK, around 5,900 people are diagnosed with myeloma in this country every year.

More than 2,300 patients are dealing with the disease in Scotland. A spokesperson for Myeloma UK said: "Despite being the third most common type of blood cancer, myeloma is frequently missed, as its symptoms, including back pain, easily broken bones, fatigue and recurring infection, are vague and often linked to general ageing or minor conditions.

"One in four people wait more than 10 months for a diagnosis. These are some of the longest delays out of any cancer in the UK. Yet, a simple blood test can, in most cases, pick up signs of myeloma."