Woman finds out she has cancer after developing back hunch

·2-min read
Alison McDonald (R) and her daughter Vicci Hughes (L) (Vicci Hughes / SWNS)
Alison McDonald (R) and her daughter Vicci Hughes (L) (Vicci Hughes / SWNS)

A woman has been diagnosed with cancer after her daughter noticed that she appeared to have shrunk by four inches due to a back hunch.

Alison McDonald, 56, from Edinburgh, had been suffering from severe back pain but doctors had not suspected cancer until her daughter noticed she looked considerably shorter.

Months after raising concerns about the strange symptom, McDonald has been diagnosed with myeloma – a form of treatable but incurable blood cancer.

Vicci Hughes first spotted that her mother appeared to have shrunk from 5 ft and six inches to 5 ft and two inches while standing next to her in December 2020.

Hughes said she immediately measured McDonald’s height with a tape measure. “The day we realised, we were in mum’s kitchen and I thought, something’s not right,” she said.

“She was hunched and she’d never been hunched before. So we got the tape measure out and put her against the wall to measure her.

“I can’t say she lost all that height within just a couple of weeks because it could have been gradual,” she added.

At the time, McDonald had been taking tramadol, an opioid pain medication, to treat her back pain. As her condition had not improved, she had become increasingly hunched over.

Upon the advice of her daughter, McDonald visited her GP who referred her to emergency health services.

At the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, X-Rays identified multiple unexplained fractures in her spine.

At the time, McDonald was given painkillers and a back brace, but the back brace was so uncomfortable she couldn’t wear it.

A follow-up MRI scan in April this year showed that McDonald had holes in her bones, a symptom of myeloma.

McDonald is currently undergoing chemotherapy and will begin stem cell harvesting in November. This is a process by which stem cells are collected from the blood.

Her family hopes the treatments will finish in time for Christmas, so that she may enjoy the holiday season.

“She has not been crazily ill all the time, she has a lot of days where she feels better,” Hughes said.

“Her pain in her back and bones is almost gone, so that has given her a lot more freedom.”

Hughes, a police officer, said she believes doctors should not have delayed between the X-ray and follow-up in April, as they may have been able to spot her mother’s cancer sooner.

“When they knew my mum had fractures that were unexplained, somebody has dropped the ball somewhere and not followed up as quickly as they should have.

“My mum probably could have had her treatment sooner,” she said.

Dr Tracey Gillies, the medical director of NHS Lothian, said: “We are unable to comment on individual patient cases without their consent.

“We would ask anyone who has any questions or concerns about their care or treatment to contact us and discuss directly.”

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