Nursing student's 'muscle strain' turned out to be stage-four cancer

Alix Maitland, 20, felt no other unusual symptoms when she was given the heartbreaking news last November.

Paisley student nurse, 20, diagnosed with stage-four cancer after finding pea-sized lump in neck

A nursing student has been diagnosed with stage-four cancer after finding a pea-sized lump in her neck.

Alix Maitland, 20, from Paisley, said she was told by doctors she had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma after she pushed for further tests at her local GP.

She was initially told it was a muscle strain and nothing to worry about.

The second-year student has deferred her studies at Edinburgh Napier University to undergo chemotherapy after the cancer had spread to her chest, bones and spleen.

Alix has regularly suffered swollen lymph nodes since childhood – but when she discovered a lump in a different area of her neck in August, she went to get it checked.

She experienced no other symptoms except tiredness, which she put down to juggling her studies with commuting to Edinburgh for her 12-hour hospital shifts and her weekend job at an ice rink.

Alix cut off her long hair for the Little Princess Trust.

She told STV News: “The GP thought it was a muscle strain and there was nothing to worry about. But I have really bad health anxiety so I wanted to relieve that and tick a box, so he carried out blood tests.

“They came back normal but we pushed to be referred for further tests. I was referred for an ultrasound and the ENT was really upbeat.

“I was never told to prepare for the worst.”

Alix recalled finishing her shift at the hospital on Friday, November 11 and seeing she had missed several calls from the hospital asking for her to come to a CT scan.

She was so distraught that her dad had to pick her up from Edinburgh.

She said: “I was in hysterics. I was in the worst place mentally the whole weekend.

Alix during treatment

“Working in that field, I just knew something was wrong. My family tried to reassure me. I’d gather myself one minute and be fine, then think about everything and break down again.”

When Alix was also asked to come for a PET scan on Monday, November 14, she felt her gut instinct had been confirmed.

The following week, the ENT consultant delivered the devastating news that she had stage-four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Alix was juggling her studies with placement shifts in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary

“By the time I was told, I had no tears left to cry,” she added.

Hogkin’s Lymphoma is a cancer that spreads through the lymphatic system and is one of the most curable forms of cancer.

A regular gym-goer and former figure skater, Alix led a very active lifestyle leading up to her diagnosis, going on nights out and weekends away with friends.

Now she has put her life on hold to undergo 12 rounds of chemotherapy and hopes to finish her treatment as scheduled in May.

Unfortunately she suffered an early setback over the new year, when she was hospitalised with sepsis following her first session.

The student struggled to come to terms with other symptoms including losing her hair – but decided to put her locks to good use.

She cut off 15 inches and raised more than £6,700 for the Little Princess Trust, which makes wigs for children and young people.

She added: “It helped me cope – and it’s good to know you’re helping someone else and not letting my hair go to waste.

“I didn’t think I would love it so much as I was scared to get it done.”

Alix found a lump in her neck last summer

Alix admitted she often worries how her harrowing health journey will play out in the near future.

“Cancer is a huge thing in itself, but I’m accepting that the body will obviously change and your hair will go, which is especially hard to deal with in your 20s,” she said.

“But as cringey as it sounds, learning to love yourself in the aftermath is important too.”

Alix is choosing to keep a positive mindset and is already making plans for after completing chemotherapy.

She hopes plans to jet off to New York will go ahead this winter after her trip was postponed and also intends to go back to university.

She said her friends and family have been a “huge support” to her and are helping her through.

“It has been disheartening at times, but my fingers are crossed the treatment works,” she said.

“Before this I was quite a shallow person. All those materialistic things, designer clothes, nice car – something like this happening has been a huge reality check.

“I feel like this experience will either scar or me shape me to become a better nurse.”

Alix is urging other people not to neglect their health and said there’s not enough awareness around cancers such as Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which is more common in children and young adults.

“Young people are too easily dismissed. I’ve actually seen a few stories which are similar to mine recently which is awful,” she said.

“I was fit and healthy to the naked eye – you never think it could be you.

“Trust your gut and push to get checked if you feel something is not as it should be. You are entitled to. I’m so grateful that I did.”

More on