My 'extreme morning sickness' turned out to be cancer

Caitlin McAlinden shares her story
Caitlin McAlinden was five months pregnant when she was diagnosed with cancer -Credit:Caitlin McAlinden SWNS

A pregnant woman's morning sickness was actually to be a symptom of cancer.

Wirral primary school teacher Caitlin McAlinden, 24, initially attributed her nausea, fatigue and a lump the size of a golf ball on her neck, to her pregnancy.

But after she lost two stone over a four-month period, medics at Arrowe Park Hospital referred her to their haematology team. This led to a neck biopsy in March 2024 which uncovered stage one Hodgkin lymphoma.

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Caitlin is poised for a full recovery and is currently taking daily steroid injections and a blood thinner. Once her son is born on May 8, she will undertake a four-week chemotherapy treatment plan.

The mum-to-be said, "This isn't the pregnancy I was hoping for - I haven't felt well this entire time. Everything I want to do after my baby is born has to be put on pause due to the chemo."

She remains hopeful despite the circumstances, adding, "My odds are really good - but having my baby will be a good distraction for everything I'm going through.", reports Wales Online.

Caitlin found out she was pregnant on September 16, 2023, after feeling nauseous at her birthday dinner.

From the onset, her first trimester was turbulent. She suspected she was battling an extreme form of morning sickness as she would vomit at least once daily and nod off sporadically during the day.

But it wasn't until Christmas Day that she first noticed the pain in her neck and after weighing herself, noticed she'd lost two stone.

She said: "I went back to County Armagh to visit my family for Christmas.

"I remember Christmas Day, falling asleep on the sofa and waking up with a really sore neck. I thought I'd just slept funny, but I started massaging my neck.

"That's when I found a lump, about the size of a pea."

Caitlin didn't want to see a GP at first - believing the lump was just another "weird" pregnancy symptom. But in just a week, her tiredness became worse and the pea-size lump tripled in size.

She said: "I was so, so tired. Walking up the stairs alone would make me need to go for a lie down. I felt my neck again one day and the lump had become golf ball-sized."

Her partner, Connor, 27, a procurement manager, told Caitlin she needed to see a doctor as soon as possible. She visited her GP on January 2 and was referred for an initial ultrasound on her neck.

They gave her a biopsy on January 16 and the clinician asked Caitlin if she had any family history of Hodgkin lymphoma.

She told them one of her second cousins had gone through it years before and they urgently sent her for more blood tests.

Caitln said: "My doctor's whole demeanour changed when I said I had a family history of it. I went for a blood test on the same day."

Caitlin was first diagnosed with stage one Hodgkin lymphoma on March 12, 2024, and immediately began a steroid treatment in an effort to reduce the neck mass. Her doctors informed her that she won't require surgery and expressed confidence that she'll be fit for chemotherapy after her expected delivery on May 8.

Although the cancer she has is treatable, the impending chemotherapy will prevent Caitlin from embracing cherished moments after her baby boy arrives.

She said: "In Catholic culture, we're expected to christen our baby within the first few days of birth. But that coincides with chemotherapy - so I can't."

"I really wanted to breastfeed, but chemo is stopping me from doing that, too."

A haematologist needs to be present at all of Caitlin's obstetrics and gynaecology appointments - and doctors may try to induce her earlier than her due date.

She said: "They might try and induce me next week, as I've got my cervical sweep booked. The waiting times back home in Northern Ireland for treatment are a lot longer than here, so I'm really lucky with how fast everything has moved."

Caitlin says Connor has been her "rock" throughout the ordeal - and the pair have since found out they're going to have a baby boy, but will be keeping his name a secret. "Connor has been amazing," she said.

"My family have also been making lots of trips back-and-forth from Ireland to England."

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