I was tired and had a much larger bump in comparison to my first pregnancy, but I didn’t think anything of it. An abnormal mass was spotted during my 12 week pregnancy scan but it wasn’t until 20 weeks that I was given a formal diagnosis, Retroperitoneal liposarcoma (a large tumour in the abdomen). I had a biopsy in the stomach in order to identify what the abnormality was, which was quite worrying with the area being so close to the baby, but I had lots of reassurance from medical staff.
I had to travel 3 hours south from Aberdeen to Glasgow Royal infirmary to discuss my options with a team of sarcoma specialists. They explained that I had a choice of terminating the pregnancy which would allow me to have surgery immediately, or to continue with the pregnancy and delay my operation. They told me they did not expect me to go beyond 28 weeks by the sheer size of the tumour but admitted they had no experience of treating a pregnant woman with this type of cancer before. It was uncharted territory for all of us, but I knew I was not giving up this baby without a fight.
It wasn’t until later on (28 weeks) in the pregnancy that I began to experience painful symptoms. There was a battle for space between the tumour and the baby and as she grew I was experiencing increasing levels of pain and discomfort.
I managed to hold on until 34 weeks.
I had major surgery in the weeks after giving birth. The time apart from my new born baby was heart-breaking, especially being separated so soon after her arrival. I was determined to express during my hospital stay in order to continue breastfeeding on my return home. I was advised that I’d probably be too unwell to express post op but I was determined to try. I woke up in intensive care and in less than 12 hours after surgery I was expressing. I struggled, was in unimaginable pain and needed a lot of assistance but I was so happy I could do it for my baby.
It was at this time Mummy’s star have gave me financial support, which allowed my family to visit whilst I was in hospital 3 hours away in Glasgow. I was told from the beginning that my surgery could not be performed locally and that I would have to travel south for specialist treatment. For me this was the hardest thing about the whole ordeal. How can a mum leave a new born for 3 weeks? Family visits made the stay a little more bearable and I like to think I recovered faster.
I also have a 2-year-old daughter who was resilient despite all that was going on. I had a number of short hospital stays initially until I was admitted for the last few weeks of the pregnancy. After receiving my diagnosis, I moved house to be closer to my family. This made life much easier with the increased support around me. Our amazing childminder was great at keeping life as normal as possible for my daughter in my absence. We also have a great health visitor who went above and beyond in supporting us. I would not have coped without their help.
I felt very isolated at times especially as my cancer type was so rare. Mummy’s Star gave me the opportunity to connect with other people in similar situations, gave me somewhere to turn to and made me feel less alone in what I was going through. The financial and emotional support received through mummy’s star has really made my battle that little bit easier.
Cancer has definitely had a huge impact of my life, however there are positive aspects I can take from the experience. I like to think I am a better person and have grown stronger and more resilient because of it. I live life to the full now but stop to appreciate the small things once in a while. I cannot relate to the person I was last year. There is a 50% recurrence rate and survival statistics are a constant worry. It can be a struggle to pull myself out of the dark moments, but I try not to think about things otherwise it can consume you.
I have tried to live life as normally as possible throughout. I chose not to tell anyone about the cancer and even withheld the finer details to my family. I downplayed it and wanted to protect them. There were so many unknowns about the baby and about my own health that I couldn’t cope discussing how I truly felt about things. Maintaining my daily routine helped to ground me at a time where I felt my life was out of control. I also enjoyed exercising and was still going to the gym right up until my hospital admission at 30 weeks pregnant. It was all about getting as far as I could in the pregnancy, so it was really important for me to distract myself from the cancer and keep as busy as possible.
It can be incredibly hard staying strong and positive when you have a cancer diagnosis, especially during pregnancy. But take one day at a time. I have struggled to plan too far ahead in case I am tempting fate, but the fog does lift and life has slowly crept back. Both the physical and emotional strain on my body has been immense but it’s amazing what you will do for your children.