Surviving a cardiac tumour: Julie's story

Julie McNicholas, 59, from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, was diagnosed with atrial myxoma in 2010. She now wants to raise awareness of the condition.

Jane McNicholas

When I first started to feel unwell, I was a sales manager with a local travel company running a busy location.

I had an episode of palpitations and shortness of breath. I just sat down on the sofa. I knew something wasn’t right. I made an appointment to see my GP and she made a referral to the hospital. I thought nothing more of it. I had been working long hours and I thought I was just really tired, even though it was a desk job and I was sitting down all day.

The 24-hour ECG monitor I had a month later didn’t show anything and my symptoms went away. The consultant at the hospital suggested one more test, an echocardiogram, and this revealed the atrial myxoma.

A surprise diagnosis

They called me back in within days to reveal my diagnosis. My jaw dropped. I never expected it. It was like: boom – you’ve got a tumour! The doctor must have seen the expression on my face because he kept saying: ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry’. I was diagnosed on 5 November and had surgery less than two weeks later, on 17 November. I gather my tumour was quite large by the time they operated – the size of a golf ball, apparently!

The doctor must have seen the expression on my face because he kept saying: ‘Don’t worry, don’t worry’

I was 52 when I had the surgery. After five days, I came home. As I recovered, we religiously went for a 30-minute walk each day. This was in the depths of a bad winter, so we would go to a supermarket and do a brisk walk up and down the aisles and see how fast I could go. I have a close group of friends and family and I am grateful for that.

Cardiac rehabilitation started in January. I am really glad that I went because it’s a really good programme. It was a real confidence booster and the team had never met anyone with an atrial myxoma, so I was quite unusual. By the end I felt so much better, I bounded out of there like a spring chicken!

I went back to work after 12 weeks on a phased return, and went back to full time in April.

Staying active and raising awareness

My health has improved since then. I now attend twice-weekly sessions at a local ‘Long-Term Exercise Group’, which supports people with health issues and works with the cardiac rehabilitation team. This has been very beneficial. I also do yoga and have done for 16 years.

Nobody has heard of this condition and that’s what I want to change

I love to travel and since my surgery I have been completing my must-do list, including seeing the Northern Lights.

I have an echocardiogram scan every 12 to 18 months to check how my heart is doing.

Nobody has heard of this condition and that’s what I want to change. I want to raise awareness of this, so that people who have symptoms let their doctor know.

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