Mum who thought she had bad back told she has incurable cancer

Myeloma Awareness Week campaign highlights disease

A mum whose incurable cancer had been missed for nearly a year was left with a broken back and shoulders, as well as holes in her skull, legs and arm by the time she was diagnosed. Mia Savage, from Carmarthen in Wales, discovered she had myeloma after more than 10 months of excruciating back and rib pain.

The 47-year-old first knew something was wrong when she started to feel extremely worn out and in pain.

“Something felt wrong,” said Mia, who is a single parent and full-time carer.

“I just didn’t feel like myself. I felt like I had done 10 rounds with the Incredible Hulk but had no reason for it. I had pain in my hips and ribs.

“Imagine running up the highest hill you know and never recovering from it. All I wanted to do was sleep and still do. It wasn’t normal for me.

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Mia Savage, 47, was diagnosed with myeloma after suffering extreme pain (Image: Myeloma UK)

“I woke up and half an hour later, I felt it was time for bed again. I had reduced sensation in my legs, a bit like walking around on memory foam, and tingling toes like when pins and needles start going away.”

Mia’s doctor thought she had just pulled her back and prescribed painkillers. Catching Covid in June 2023 further “muddied the waters” when it came to getting a diagnosis.

Mia said: “I kept testing positive over and over. I went to A&E because I was in pain, had the tiredness, everything, and was diagnosed with long Covid. Little did they know it was the myeloma making it harder for the Covid to disappear.”

Mia kept losing weight. She had back-and-forth appointments to the GP, but saw a different doctor every time and was prescribed increasingly stronger painkillers.

Mia Savage with her daughter

Mia Savage with her daughter (Image: Myeloma UK)

But things took a turn for the worse in November 2023 when Mia felt a “ping” in her lower spine, walking down her mother’s garden. This was actually caused by a vertebra in her back snapping.

“It just happened, no rhyme or reason, just ping – as if someone was flicking me with their finger – and, boy, after that was the pain bad,” she said. “I couldn’t stand without pain, couldn’t sit or lay down. Going from being almost fine to suddenly immobile is awful.”

She went back to A&E and was sent home with Valium. Further similar pain prompted her to go back to A&E were tests were carried out, revealing the truth – that she had myeloma.

Scans showed a small mass was pushing against her spinal cord.

Mia Savage

Mia undergoing treatment in hospital. She is keen to raise awareness of the disease to help others (Image: Myeloma UK)

The cancer has started weakening her bones and she had two broken shoulders, a broken vertebra as well as holes in her skull, legs and arms.

“When they told me, it was a relief,” she said. “I was glad to know. I’m very much a realist and I don’t believe in burying your head in the sand.

“But I did have a few moments when I thought, ‘I can’t handle this right now’. Myeloma has affected us as a family as a whole.”

Myeloma is a type of cancer that develops from blood cells in the bone marrow. This can cause symptoms such as bone pain, fractures, fatigue and frequent infections.

According to Cancer Research UK, around 6,000 people are diagnosed with myeloma in the UK each year, and it accounts for around 3,100 deaths annually.

Mia signed up to a clinical trial in January and is now awaiting a stem cell transplant.

“I don’t want to be overly optimistic because the next stage will be hard,” she said. “But I’m hoping that part of me is stronger and manages to cope with the symptoms. I just push myself through and the trial is going to give me a better chance. I’m doing it for my daughter.”

Mia is now backing charity Myeloma UK’s #InMyeOwnWords campaign to spread the word about myeloma and its tell-tale symptoms before it’s too late.

By sharing her story, she hopes to empower the public to spot the signs and speak to their GP as soon as possible if something doesn’t feel right.

Mia added: “It was obvious that something needed to be fixed even though I didn’t know what it was. My advice to anyone in the same position would be to go back. You know your body. If your doctor tells you it’s a pulled muscle and it’s not getting better, follow up, go back.”

The main signs and symptoms of myeloma are:

  • Bone pain – often in your back, hips, shoulders or ribs
  • Broken bones (fractures)
  • Tiredness (fatigue), shortness of breath and weakness – these are symptoms of low red blood cells (anaemia)
  • Pain, changes in sensation or weakness – these are symptoms of spinal cord compression
  • Lots of infections or infections that don’t go away
  • Feeling thirsty, passing urine more frequently, confusion and drowsiness – these are all symptoms of high calcium levels in the blood.

If you experience symptoms you should speak to your GP.

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