Student, 22, who thought she had mumps actually had thyroid cancer

Student, 22, who thought she had mumps after she spotted a golf ball-sized lump on her neck while getting ready for a night out reveals how she was told she had thyroid cancer after her mother insisted she go to the GP

  • Layla Phillips, 22, from Bath, was aged 20 when she was diagnosed with cancer
  • She first noticed golf-ball sized lump on her neck when at university in Swansea
  • Student told by doctors the chances of the lump being a sign of cancer were slim
  • However, after having an operation to have the lump removed and tested, Layla was left shocked when told over the phone that she had thyroid cancer 

A woman who thought she had mumps after noticing a lump on her neck has revealed how she was left devastated when being told she actually had thyroid cancer.

Student Layla Phillips, 22, was diagnosed with Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma two years ago while studying in Swansea.

She first noticed a golf ball-sized lump on her neck when putting on a necklace ahead of a night out with friends and initially thought she could have mumps because the infection was going around her university halls.

But weeks later, when back home in Bath for Christmas, she went to see her GP at her mother’s insistence.

Doctors assured her there was only a slim chance the lump would be cancerous. But after having the lump removed and tested, she was given the news that she had thyroid cancer. 

Student Layla Phillips first noticed a golf ball-sized lump on her neck (circled) when putting on a necklace ahead of a night out with friends and initially thought she could have mumps as an infection was going around her university halls


Weeks later, when at home for Christmas, Layla (pictured) went to see her GP at her mother’s insistence and was at first told by doctors that the chances of the lump being a sign of cancer were slim 

Layla, pictured in hospital, had the lump removed and tested and was given the news she had cancer

After radiotherapy, Layla is thankfully free of cancer and is sharing her story to raise awareness about the five main warning signs of cancer in young people, with awareness amongst those aged 18-24 being ‘concerningly low’, according to new research from Teenage Cancer Trust.

Recalling when she first noticed her symptoms, Layla exclusively told FEMAIL: ‘I was getting ready for a night out with my university friends – we were going clubbing. 

‘I was putting on a necklace when I felt a lump in my neck, and I thought it was a bit strange, but we had mumps going round university halls, so I thought it was that.

‘The lump felt huge – probably just a little smaller than a golf ball. I sort of forgot about it but when it didn’t develop into mumps I started to worry. It was visible, and if I looked up and swallowed in the mirror, I could see it moving up and down.’

A few weeks later Layla went home for Christmas and her mother insisted she should get the lump checked out by her GP, who referred her to hospital for an ultrasound and biopsy.

‘Because the Covid-19 pandemic had started, I had to go by myself. It was a little strange, but I just had to get on with it,’ said Layla.

She then had the lump removed and tested in June 2020, explaining: ‘I had to go into hospital for the operation by myself as we were in the middle of the pandemic. It was probably harder for my mum and dad that they couldn’t be there, and they felt so helpless. 


However, after having an operation to have the lump remove and tested, Layla (pictured) was left shocked when told over the phone that she had thyroid cancer

After radiotherapy, Layla (pictured) is thankfully free of cancer and is sharing her story to raise awareness about the five main warning signs of cancer in young people, with awareness amongst those aged 18-24 being ‘concerningly low’, according to new research from Teenage Cancer Trust

Recalling when she first noticed her symptoms, Layla (left) exclusively told FEMAIL: ‘I was getting ready for a night out with my university friends – we were going clubbing. I was putting on a necklace when I felt a lump in my neck’

‘None of us had been through anything like this, and they just had to wait at home for me to call to say that the operation went OK, and I had woken up. The staff were all amazing though.’ 

Recalling the moment she was told her diagnosis, Layla said: ‘I was told it was a very slim chance it was cancer, and a call was scheduled to check in post-op. 

‘I was recovering really well and was expecting positive news, it was a total shock. To be in your bedroom at home and find out you have cancer on the phone is awful.

‘I went downstairs and told my mum, and she’d already guessed it was cancer from the length of the phone call. 

WHAT IS THYROID CANCER? 

Thyroid cancer is a rare type of cancer that affects the thyroid gland, a small gland at the base of the neck that produces hormones.

Women are two to three times more likely to develop it than men.

Symptoms of thyroid cancer can include:

Around 9 in every 10 people are alive five years after diagnosis. Many of these are cured and will have a normal lifespan.

Source: NHS Choices

‘The doctor was so apologetic on the phone and overall, I think it was better that I got the news quickly, so my treatment could begin as soon as possible. 

‘Otherwise, because I was back at home in Bath, I would have had to go to Swansea for the news, then go back to Bath to self-isolate for two weeks in preparation for another operation, so it was quicker to just deliver the news over the phone.

‘It probably would have been easier for me to hear it face-to-face, but I appreciate the fact that they wanted me to start my treatment as soon as possible.’

Layla was soon put in contact with Anna, Teenage Cancer Trust’s Youth Support Coordinator, who was a ‘lovely extra support’ for the then 20-year-old.

‘As well as texts and phone calls, she FaceTimed me so I could see her face and she could see mine, which felt more personal,’ said Layla.

‘My medical team were amazing, but they were so busy, and I didn’t feel like I could ring them and ask random questions. 

‘With Anna, I knew that I could call her at any time in the day and get a response. If she didn’t know the answer, she had better access to the people who would.’ 

Layla had her second operation in July as well as radiotherapy. 

‘Because I was radioactive, I had to stay in lead-lined room at the hospital on my own for 48-hours after my first treatment. It was absolutely bizarre – I was attending university lectures on Zoom in there,’ she said.

‘After my last treatment they did a full body scan to see if the cancer had gone, but it was unclear, so they said to come back the next day and I went back to the house I share with my university friends.


A few weeks later Layla (pictured) went home for Christmas and her mother insisted she should get the lump checked out by her GP, who referred her to hospital for an ultrasound and biopsy

Layla (pictured) then had the lump removed and tested in June 2020, explaining: ‘I had to go into hospital for the operation by myself as we were in the middle of the pandemic. It was probably harder for my mum and dad that they couldn’t be there, and they felt so helpless’

Layla (pictured with her boyfriend) had her second operation in July as well as radiotherapy

‘I had to stay in my room on my own that night, nobody could come close to me as I was still slightly radioactive. I spent the night panicking that the cancer had spread – “was it now in my head or my heart?” 

‘I coped well during treatment so this was definitely my lowest point, I couldn’t cope with the uncertainty. I called Mum in a panic and she drove to Swansea from Bath, and my friend let her stay in her room downstairs. Knowing she was there helped.’

Layla praised her friends, family, boyfriend and Anna for supporting her throughout her ordeal.

THE FIVE MOST COMMON CANCER WARNING SIGNS IN YOUNG PEOPLE 

There are many signs and symptoms of cancer and it’s important to call your GP and get checked out if you have any of the symptoms below – especially if they last for a while and you can’t explain them, says the Teenage Cancer Trust.

The five most common signs of cancer in young people are:

Other signs and symptoms to watch out for are:

  • Headaches or dizziness that won’t go away
  • Getting out of breath more easily than normal
  • Bleeding you can’t explain – for instance in your urine or poo, after sex, between periods, or if you vomit
  • Unexplained bruising
  • Ongoing changes when you go to the toilet – like constipation or diarrhoea (or both), pain, or feeling like you’ve not quite finished going
  • Sweating a lot at night

Source: Teenage Cancer Trust

She said: ‘Throughout all of this my university housemates and friends were amazing. I chose to stay in Swansea rather than heading home for treatment because that’s where I was diagnosed and met the team who would support me. 

‘My boyfriend and friends became like a little family – they took me to appointments and picked me up. They probably know more about what’s happened to me than I did.

‘It definitely wasn’t the university experience I was expecting! But I’ve managed to keep up with my studies and when I graduate I hope to do a Masters, and then become a child psychologist.’

In Easter 2021, Layla had further scans and a face-to-face appointment in which medical staff showed her the screen and told her there was no evidence of cancer left.

‘Although it was an immediate relief to hear that – and easier to believe with the photos and a written “no evidence of cancer” note, it definitely took a few days to fully sink in,’ said Layla.

‘My favourite part of this whole journey was getting to tell all the people that I love that I was clear and healthy, and seeing their reactions a year on from my diagnosis was amazing after having to see their initial shock and worry.

‘I count myself very lucky because I think I have the most incredible boyfriend, friends and family that scooped me up and looked after me through every step of my treatment– even in the weird situation where the world was in lockdown.’

Layla’s story comes amid news that awareness of the five main warning signs of cancer in young people is ‘concerningly low’ amongst those aged 18-24, with seven in ten not being able to correctly identify all five warning signs, according to new research from Teenage Cancer Trust.

The charity’s research, which surveyed 2,000 UK adults and has been released on World Cancer Day, has revealed that from a list of the five most common warning signs of cancer in young people, only one – lumps bumps and swellings – could be identified by the majority of respondents aged 18-24 as a potential sign of cancer.

The other four warning signs of cancer in young people were notably less recognised by not only this age group, but by a sample of the general UK adult population as well.

Encouragingly, seven in ten 18-24-year-olds surveyed were able to correctly identify lumps, bumps and swellings as one of the five most-common warning signs, with six in ten stating that if they found a lump in their neck that hadn’t gone away after a few weeks they would book an appointment with their GP. 

This is slightly lower than for the general British public – seven in ten British adults would book an appointment with their GP.

Layla’s (pictured centre left with her friends) story comes amid news that awareness of the five main warning signs of cancer in young people is ‘concerningly low’ amongst those aged 18-24, with seven in ten not being able to correctly identify all five warning signs, according to new research from Teenage Cancer Trust

Dr Louise Soanes, Chief Nurse at Teenage Cancer Trust, said: ‘Cancer is far less likely to affect young people than older adults – but when it does it can have a devastating impact – so being able to spot potential warning signs that could lead to an earlier diagnosis really can make a difference.

‘Unfortunately, our research suggests that there is concerningly low awareness of the most common warning signs of cancer in the 18-24 age range, and this could be one of the reasons it takes longer for young people to be diagnosed with cancer than older adults. 

‘But because cancer in younger age groups is considered rare, it could also be that GPs and other healthcare professionals are less likely to suspect cancer and refer young people with symptoms on for further investigation.

‘Listen to your body and if you feel that something isn’t right seek medical help. It probably isn’t cancer, but it’s always best to check, so book an appointment with your GP to discuss your concerns. 

‘If you don’t feel like you’re getting the answers you need keep going back, because if a patient consistently presents with concerns, healthcare professionals should listen and take these seriously.’ 

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