My partner James and I had an eight-month-old little girl Lucia, and we had just discovered that I was pregnant again. The pregnancy had come as a surprise however the surprise quickly turned in to excitement and we were looking forward to our first midwife appointment. We were lucky enough to see the same midwife that had taken care of us during my first pregnancy with Lucia. At the appointment everything appeared to be fine, we discussed the fatigue and the sickness that I was experiencing but these are common symptoms during pregnancy, our midwife also carried out the routine checks and blood tests.
Later that day I received a telephone call from Tameside Hospital asking me to attend an appointment at their personal investigations unit as my white blood cells were high. At first I thought that this might just be a precaution because of the pregnancy. Apart from my pregnancy symptoms I felt fine, how could there be anything to worry about? The following day arrived and James and I attended the appointment. The consultant greeted us and further blood tests were carried out. We still didn’t know why we were there and alarm bells had started to ring. Deep down at this point I knew that this was something serious, however I still didn’t anticipate what we were about to hear. After an antagonising wait the consultant returned. I can still describe what I was wearing that day but the vital conversation with the consultant is a complete blur; all I retained was the word LEUKAEMIA.
We left the appointment devastated. I was in the early stages of pregnancy we hadn’t even informed our families of the pregnancy and now our exciting news had to be broken to our loved ones alongside the new diagnosis of Leukaemia. At this stage we were worried about the impact this would have on the pregnancy and our eight month old little girl Lucia. My mind had began to spiral out of control. How has this happened? Who gets diagnosed with cancer during pregnancy? What next?
I was admitted to Manchester Royal Infirmary where further blood tests and a bone marrow biopsy were conducted. It was then confirmed that I had Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia. After discussing the diagnosis with my haematologist it became apparent exactly how rare my circumstances were. The diagnosis of Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia during pregnancy has an annual incidence of 1 per 100 000 pregnancies. The diagnosis of Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia during my pregnancy had been made more complicated as the physiological changes that accompany pregnancy had been masking my symptoms. I had put my fatigue down to my recent return to work and being in the first trimester of pregnancy, I assumed that the sickness that I was experiencing was morning sickness, and my weight loss was just my body bouncing back after having Lucia. Everything felt surreal, things were changing so quickly and I didn’t know whom to turn to for advice.
Now came the news that I would not be able to start the required treatment whilst I was pregnant. We met with several specialists and discussed at great length all of our options and the possible outcomes. We were counselled as to the risks of my disease being left untreated and the likelihood that it would result in maternal and fetal mortality. We were guided as to the chance that the Leukaemia could be passed to the fetus. Additional to this there was a suggestion of an increase in the risk of premature birth and fetal abnormalities. After extensive consultations it was decided that due to medical risks and complications the pregnancy would not go ahead. James and I were grief stricken. I was immediately started on targeted therapy called Imatinib. I will remain on Imatinib for the rest of my life.
After what had felt like the longest couple of weeks of my life I was finally able to go home. I recall sitting in the car feeling so tired and emotionally drained. It is unbelievably hard to not only deal with your own emotions but the additional emotions of your loved ones. The sympathetic glances, the awkward conversations and the horror and sadness that you can see in your loved ones faces as they look at the patients in the neighbouring beds and wonder what is in store for you. My first reaction was to try and stay strong for those around me but I was crumbling inside. All I wanted to do was go home and cuddle Lucia. At this stage the psychological impact of having cancer was affecting me more than the physical. Luckily a fantastic support network surrounded me.
If I had not fallen pregnant my Leukaemia may not have been diagnosed until the advanced stages, as I would not have necessarily visited the doctor because I was feeling sick or tired. It just goes to show how easily diseases can be masked.
A couple of weeks later I read about Mummy’s Star, it felt like someone had thrown me a lifeline. It felt good to know that I wasn’t alone anymore. My only wish is that I had discovered them sooner.
A pregnancy and a new child being born in to the family is such a joyous occasion and many people would not expect such a special and exciting time to be tainted by the unexpected news of cancer.