Mum-to-be diagnosed with cancer after symptoms masked by morning sickness


A woman was diagnosed with cancer at five months pregnant after putting her symptoms down to extreme morning sickness.

Caitlin McAlinden, 24, initially believed her symptoms, such as nausea, fatigue, weight loss and even a golf ball-sized lump on her neck, were all caused by the morning sickness.

However, after losing two stone in four months, she was diagnosed with stage one Hodgkin lymphoma in March 2024.

"This isn’t the pregnancy I was hoping for – I haven’t felt well this entire time," McAlinden, a primary school teacher from the Wirral, Merseyside, says.

"Everything I want to do after my baby is born has to be put on pause due to the chemo. My odds are really good, but having my baby will be a good distraction for everything I’m going through."

McAlinden, who is currently eight months pregnant, is expected to make a full recovery after her baby boy is born next month.

Caitlin McAlinden was diagnosed with cancer at nearly eight months pregnant. (SWNS)
Caitlin McAlinden was diagnosed with cancer at nearly eight months pregnant. (SWNS)

She first found out she was pregnant in September last year after feeling nauseous at her birthday dinner. She says that her first trimester was ‘rocky’, and that she was vomiting at least once a day and would fall asleep intermittently throughout the day – but she put both of these symptoms down to morning sickness.

It wasn’t until Christmas Day that she first noticed a pain in her neck and, after weighing herself, realised she’d lost two stone.

"I went back to County Armagh to visit my family for Christmas," she says. "I remember Christmas Day, falling asleep on the sofa and waking up with a really sore neck.

"I thought I’d just slept funny, but I started massaging my neck. That’s when I found a lump, about the size of a pea."

She initially thought the lump was just ‘another weird sign of pregnancy’ but a week later it had tripled in size and she was feeling more tired.

"I was so, so tired," she explains. "Walking up the stairs alone would make me need to go for a lie down. I felt my neck again one day and the lump had become golf ball-sized."

Caitlin says extreme fatigue was one of her first symptoms. (SWNS)
Caitlin says extreme fatigue was one of her first symptoms. (SWNS)

McAlinden’s partner Connor, 27, encouraged her to see a doctor as soon as possible and she had an appointment with her GP on January 2 this year, where she was then referred onwards for an ultrasound, and then a biopsy on her neck.

She was sent for blood tests after telling the doctor than her cousin had been diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma years earlier, which confirmed that she also had the disease.

In March, McAlinden began steroid treatment to shrink the lump on her neck and she will begin chemotherapy after her baby is born.

"In Catholic culture, we’re expected to christen our baby within the first few days of birth," she explains. "But that coincides with chemotherapy, so I can’t. I really wanted to breastfeed, but chemo is stopping me from doing that, too."

She isn’t due until early May, but says doctors may try to induce her as early as next week.

"They might try and induce me next week, as I’ve got my cervical sweep booked," McAlinden explains.

"The waiting times back home in Northern Ireland for treatment are a lot longer than here, so I’m really lucky with how fast everything has moved."

Caitlin's says her partner Connor has been her 'rock'. (SWNS)
Caitlin's says her partner Connor has been her 'rock'. (SWNS)

McAlinden says Connor has been her ‘rock’ throughout the process, and that her family have made several trips back and forth between England and Northern Ireland.

Hodgkin lymphoma develops in your lymphatic system, and the NHS says that the most common symptom is painless swelling in a lymph node, which is usually found in the neck, armpit or groin.

Other symptoms include night sweats, unintentional weight loss, and tiredness or fatigue.

Around 2,100 people are diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in the UK each year, and it can develop at any age but is most commonly found in people aged between 20 and 40, and people over 75.

Additional reporting by SWNS.

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