Woman Told She Has Terminal Cancer After Neck Pain Dismissed by Doctors

A woman whose neck pain was dismissed by doctors on several occasions was eventually diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Julie McAlaney, 57, from Glasgow, Scotland, finally found out she had the cancer when she was rushed to the ER after waking up one morning with an "overwhelming" pain in her neck.

The woman had visited her primary care physician multiple times over the previous six months complaining of pain in her neck, but was told the symptom was the result of her diet or her sleeping posture.

"It was everything other than it could be something sinister," McAlaney, who manages a thrift shop, told Glasgow Live.

A woman in a hospital bed
Stock image: A man holding the hand of a woman in a hospital bed. A Scottish woman who had pain in her neck dismissed by doctors on several occasions was diagnosed with terminal cancer. iStock

After her visit to the ER, medical staff conducted a CT scan which revealed a fracture in her neck that was linked to cancer. Doctors subsequently diagnosed her with a multiple myeloma in December, 2021.

Multiple myeloma is a cancer that forms in plasma cells—a type of white blood cell—according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Plasma cells are found in the bone marrow—the soft inner part of bones where new blood cells are produced.

When they are normal and healthy, plasma cells form an important part of the immune system, helping the body to fight off diseases by producing antibodies that attack pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses.

But in multiple myeloma patients, the plasma cells can become cancerous and grow out of control. In such cases, the cancerous plasma cells produce abnormal antibodies that can lead to a variety of complications.

Multiple myeloma is a relatively uncommon cancer—the lifetime risk of someone developing the disease in the United States is approximately one in 132, figures from the ACS show.

The society estimates that around 35,700 new cases of multiple myeloma will be diagnosed in the United States in 2023, with around 12,600 deaths expected to occur from the disease.

The symptoms of multiple myeloma vary depending on the individual, but may include bone pain, nausea, constipation, loss of appetite, mental fogginess or confusion, fatigue, frequent infections, weight loss, weakness or numbness in the legs, and excessive thirst, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Multiple myeloma can also weaken the bones, increasing the risk of fractures and bone pain. In some cases, there may be no apparent symptoms in the early stages of the disease.

The risk of developing multiple myeloma increases with age. Most people who develop the disease are diagnosed in their mid-60s. This cancer is more frequently seen in men than in women, and if you have a brother, sister or parent who has had the disease, your risk of developing the disease is also higher.

In the case of Julie McAlaney, doctors told her that the cancer had likely been present in her body for two years before she was diagnosed, with doctors giving her between two and five years to live.

"I kept saying they made a mistake but then I realized things were serious and it was quite frightening," McAlaney said. "I was looking at my family and thinking I'm the glue to this family, what are they going to do without me?"

She underwent chemotherapy last year and has also received a stem cell transplant, but said the disease has taken its toll on her.

"My life changed dramatically and I'm not the person I used to be. I get tired easily and am just exhausted at even making a bed," she said.

"I was working full time, always out and about and very active, now I'm just in the house. I don't socialize either and cannot have a lot of people in and watch I don't get infections."