Young woman must have entire shoulder removed after finding 'avocado-sized tumour'

Cat Holden was a fit and healthy woman before she discovered she had cancer
-Credit: (Image: SWNS)

A self-confessed "it girl" is having her entire shoulder removed and replaced with metal after doctors discovered an avocado-sized tumour in her left shoulder joint. Cat Holden, 23, from Ingatestone, went from working in London and going on holidays abroad, to living back with her parents and needing 24-hour care and says the diagnosis ruined her life.

She experienced her first symptoms - a shoulder twinge and weak arms - a year before diagnosis, initially believing she'd injured herself at the gym. But after a round of physiotherapy and a misdiagnosis of tendonitis, Cat visited a private health clinic asking for an MRI.

On January 10, 2024, doctors spotted an avocado-sized tumour in her left shoulder and, on March 8, she was told it was cancerous. She's entering her fifth round of chemotherapy of 18 and looking at having her shoulder and humerus bone removed, but Cat says the ordeal has taught her to "appreciate life much more".

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Cat, an assistant underwriter, said: “Getting cancer was a really pivotal point in my life because everything was happy-go-lucky and I was confronted by something I never thought would happen. It’s devastating hearing, at 23, you’ll never have full function of your shoulder again.

“Being referred to Macmillan and told I’d need six to nine months of chemotherapy - it was the darkest day of my life. I still can’t get my head around it.” Cat was on a family adventure holiday in Great Yarmouth in March 2023 - when her left shoulder began twinging while rock climbing.

She said the pain continued after she came off the wall, but she wasn’t worried enough to go to the GP, thinking she’d slightly injured her muscle. But in August, she felt her shoulder twinge again while swimming at Bracklesham Bay, West Sussex - and she was “hardly able to keep her head above water”.

Cat going through chemotherapy after a cancerous tumour was found in her shoulder
Cat going through chemotherapy after a cancerous tumour was found in her shoulder -Credit:SWNS

When she got home, she booked an appointment to see what was going on. “The doctor said it looked really inflamed,” she said. “But they couldn’t see anything else on the ultrasound, so I was diagnosed with tendonitis. I was told it was an easy fix - I just needed rest and ibuprofen. I guess I always thought it was something more - maybe a tear in the tendon. I did some physio exercises on an app too - once a week for six weeks.”

Cat travelled to Sydney, Australia, after finishing the physiotherapy, for the “trip of a lifetime”. Bit while climbing the Sydney Bridge and skydiving - she began to notice “something was really wrong”. Her shoulder went from aching to disrupting her sleep and it would throb.

She said: “There was something very apparent to me that something was really wrong. I got home from Australia in mid-November - I had no lumps, no bumps. But I couldn’t lift my left shoulder above a right-angle. I’d lay awake every night and feel a pulse in my shoulder. Even my physiotherapist noticed I’d really lost strength in my arm.”

Cat was sent to a shoulder specialist on January 5 - after being referred by a private healthcare company. She was told she’d need an MRI as soon as possible and was referred for an appointment on January 10.

Cat lost her hair going through chemotherapy
Cat lost her hair going through chemotherapy -Credit:SWNS

“It was funny,” she said. “On the way to the appointment I said to my mum ‘I hope I’m not going to need any keyhole surgery or injections.’ We both just said it would’ve been really annoying. The consultant walked into the room and shook my hand - I knew something wasn’t right. He said ‘we’ve found something really unusual in your shoulder - a tumour.'”

After exploratory surgery and a biopsy, Cat was diagnosed on March 8 with a malignant giant cell tumour. This means a tumour found in the long bones in the arms and legs - they’re often benign, but Cat’s was a rare cancerous tumour. She was told she’d need six to nine months of chemotherapy, which she started straight away.

“The oncology team told me about all the potential chemo side-effects in one appointment,” Cat said. “Suffice to say, it lasted over two hours. I was told I could lose my hair, my hearing - and my immune system was going to go so low I’d be susceptible to things like sepsis.”

In the two months since, Cat has lost her hair, eyebrows and eyelashes - and has developed a permanent hearing impairment called tinnitus. She said: “You have to find the strength within you to get through it. I don’t recognise myself in the mirror anymore - I used to have long, blonde hair and was a healthy girl.

Cat's tumour in her shoulder
Cat's tumour in her shoulder -Credit:SWNS

“I underestimated the mental and physical battle people have to go through. I have days where I think I look like a goblin - I’m losing weight and I’m so pale. Chemo makes me feel like I’ve been hit by a bus - I get nausea, sickness, diarrhoea, fatigue and the most awful mouth sores.

"It even affects my future - I was told it'd have a detrimental effect on my fertility. I had a 40-60 per cent chance of it affecting my fertility. I had my eggs frozen on March 27 - it was quite harrowing." Cat will also need to have her shoulder removed and replaced with metal on June 11 - which will cause her lifelong mobility issues like not being able to raise her arm. She added: “I’m going to carry the trauma of this with me forever - but I’ll be appreciating life so much more after this.”