Pregnant woman ignored headaches – until finding a grapefruit-sized tumour

A first-time-mum who thought her exhaustion and migraines were just ‘pregnancy symptoms’ later found out they were caused by a cancerous tumour.

The tumour was the size of a grapefruit and would have been deadly had it not been caught in time.

Kirsty Axworthy started experiencing an array of symptoms including high blood pressure and night sweats, but doctors just put this down to pre-eclampsia.

At this point she was 12 weeks pregnant, but seven weeks after she gave birth to her daughter Elle last May, ‘alarm bells’ started to ring as her symptoms worsened.

The 26-year-old was diagnosed in July with stage one Non-Hodgkin’s primary mediastinal large b-cell Lymphoma.

It’s a type of cancer that develops when white blood cells become abnormal.

The sales executive then had chemotherapy to shrink the 13cm tumour located in her mediastinum, the area that separates the lungs.

In January 2022, she found out she was in remission and credits her daughter with helping her find ‘something to live for’.

Kirsty now wants to raise awareness of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, urging anyone who may have potential symptoms to visit their GP – and to press for answers until they’re received.

Kirsty, from Perthshire, Scotland, said: ‘I’m really lucky that it was caught in time. It was like a ticking-time-bomb. It’s quite scary actually.

‘The tumour was around 13cm when I was diagnosed and they said it was about the size of a grapefruit.

‘That’s obviously why I was getting shortness of breath, because it was pushing against my lungs.’

Her pregnancy saw her in and out of hospital due to her symptoms.

Kirsty said: ‘Very early on in the pregnancy, about maybe 12 weeks, I started getting migraines with aura but without the headache.

‘It was like this visual disturbance every couple of days where my eyesight would go for about an hour.

‘I had high blood pressure, was getting night sweats and itchy skin.

‘My skin was also sore to touch as well. It was like I needed to go for a hot bath and I was just really really tired constantly.

‘I just put everything down to pregnancy because it’s new and I’d never experienced that before.

The mum-of-one said that another symptom she had was unexplained weight loss, despite eating well, and exhaustion, but thought these were just part and parcel of becoming a parent.

‘I was always so fit and healthy and it wasn’t like me,’she said. ‘Obviously, it takes a while to bounce back after giving birth, but I just knew that something wasn’t right.’

In total, she had six rounds of chemotherapy and contracted pneumonia halfway through.

Kirsty said: ‘I literally went from being pregnant, to giving birth and then seven weeks later being diagnosed with cancer and having to deal with chemotherapy. It was just so difficult.

‘I was in complete shock and denial.

‘It’s hard enough going through chemotherapy at any stage but when you’ve just given birth and that’s supposed to be such a special time. It just felt so unfair.

‘I knew I had to get home and get better for [Elle].’

Now Kirsty has dedicated an Instagram account to raising awareness of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Kirsty said: ‘If there’s anything that you’re worried about at all, go to the doctors.

‘I know how busy day-to-day life can be, especially for mums. You think you don’t have time to go to the doctors if there’s something wrong.

‘But with these things, and especially with my example because it was so fast-growing and aggressive, you really have to catch these things quickly because if they spread it just makes it so much more difficult to treat.

‘If you think there’s something not right, doctors can put a lot of things down to anxiety and just give you tablets to mask things, but you really have to get to the root of the problem, that’s key.

‘Just press on GPs for answers, 100%.’

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