I thought I'd just strained my neck after looking up at the Sistine Chapel – but the reality nearly killed me | The Sun

STROLLING through Rome with his wife, Andrew Bate was enjoying a long weekend in the Italian capital.

But during their visit to the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City, the then 51-year-old started to feel unwell.



Initially, he thought he had strained his neck staring up at the art work, but when he returned to the UK, medics told him he had been living with a cancerous tumour.

After beating the cancer with treatment, months later, Andrew was told he had just seven years to live.

Speaking to The Sun, Andrew said he first brushed the pain off.

“But it got worse, I was struggling with the luggage at the airport and my wife had to carry more than I would usually allow her to.

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“The flight home was turbulent and with the aircraft bumping, I just became more and more uncomfortable.”

Struggling through passport control, staff stopped him as he had been struggling to walk.

Andrew and his wife, who live in Chelmsford, Essex, were then taken to hospital where docs initially said he had pulled a muscle.

But in the following weeks, Andrew collapsed in pain over his computer, but medics kept insisting that it was just a pulled muscle.

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The pain wasn’t getting any better, and Andrew, who worked in international freight movement was referred to the pain clinic.

“He ran his finger down my spin and I screamed in agony. He said ‘right that’s the problem’ and referred me for MRIs. X-rays and blood tests”, Andrew said.

In February 2006 an X-ray revealed a cancerous tumour, known as a plasmacytoma, had caused his neck to snap.

“I’d basically been walking around with a broken neck for over a month.

“I was treated with five weeks of radiotherapy, luckily the bone healed itself and I was being checked every month with blood tests.”

Andrew swiftly recovered from the radiotherapy, but this was short lived.

Just 11 months later, he was hit with the news that his plasmacytoma had progressed to myeloma, it was incurable.

He was given just seven years to live.

The symptoms of myeloma you need to know

EVERY year over 5,700 people are diagnosed with myeloma, Myeloma UK states.

The illness arises from plasma cells and the charity said at any one time in the UK, around 24,000 people are living with myeloma.

It can affect your body in several ways and most of the symptoms are caused by a buildup of the abnormal plasma cells in the bone marrow.

The main signs are:

  1. bone pain and damage
  2. fatigue
  3. infections
  4. spinal cord compression
  5. change to your kidneys
  6. bruising and bleeding

If you're worried about any of your symptoms then you should contact your GP.

In the event of an emergency, always call 999.

Andrew said: “To me it was a double whammy. To hear “cancer”, “incurable” and “seven years to live” in the same sentence was a lot,” he said. 

“My consultant’s opening comments were, ‘Well Andrew, I’m afraid you’ve got myeloma. It is treatable but incurable and the prognosis is that you probably have seven years or slightly more. That is all you can expect’. 

“This was devastating, but after a few seconds my reply was, ‘Well what are we going to do about it?’.

“We now had to tell our family for a second time that I had cancer and that this time it was incurable. “Everyone was so shocked and lost for words, but I was totally focused on ridding my body of myeloma, being strong and never giving in.”

Myeloma occurs in the bone marrow and currently affects over 24,000 people in the UK. While it is incurable, myeloma is treatable in the majority of cases.

Despite only being given seven years to live, Andrew, now 67, has surpassed this, with 2022 marking his fifteenth year still fighting.

It also marks the 25th anniversary of Myeloma UK, a charity close to his heart as it funds vital research toward treatments for patients like him.

In 2008, Andrew went on to receive chemotherapy as well as a tandem stem cell transplant; that is, a first stem cell transplant using his own cells followed six months later by a donor transplant from his sister Cathy.

“It was such an emotional time, I was crying, my wife was crying and so was Cathy.

“All I was determined to do was live and now I have my sister’s stem cells, Cathy has given me life,” Andrew said. 

'DETERMINED TO BEAT THIS'

Andrew said that now he feels incredibly lucky to be alive and has urged anyone who is in pain or is suffering strange symptoms to get themselves checked out.

“I talk to people who have been diagnosed with myeloma and living with it – all I want is for them to come away with, is that there is hope and there’s a lot of living to be done – it’s not a death sentence.

“I’m blessed to have a wonderful family, loving wife and a fantastic NHS service.

“Without that I wouldn’t be here. 

“I’m a lucky guy but I know I put my family through hell – they could see me in pain and they could see how ill I was and they couldn’t do anything about it.

“That is horrible for them and I was determined I would beat this,” he added.

Dr Sophie Castell, Chief Executive at Myeloma UK, said: “Although Andrew received a worrying diagnosis, his story is one of hope. He was fortunate enough to access myeloma drugs, the first of which was only rolled out across the UK in 2007. 

“Just 25 years ago, when Myeloma UK was founded, seeing a patient still thriving more than a decade on from their diagnosis would have been unimaginable. 

“That’s why it’s so vital to continue to fund research into new treatments and, ultimately, a cure.”

She added that 15 years on, Andrew is living life to the full, grateful to see his grandchildren grow up – something he never could have dreamed of when he was first diagnosed.

“Please help us ensure everyone has access to the right treatment when they need it by making a donation this Christmas. Our dearest wish is to give every patient the same chance to spend many more precious years with their loved ones,” she added. 


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