Penny’s Story – Cancer and Pregnancy Awareness Week 2015 – Breast Cancer

IMG_0243 full (2)At 40 years old and 11 weeks pregnant we had our baby scan, everything was perfect. We were relieved (having had a complicated first pregnancy and miscarriages), elated and excited. That was on a Monday in April 2013. On the Wednesday we were told I had breast cancer and our world came crashing down.

I had found a dent in my breast when stood in front of a mirror getting ready. I assumed it was just a blocked milk duct. But when it hadn’t gone after a couple of weeks  I went to the doctor who referred us to the breast clinic. If I hadn’t been pregnant I never would have noticed the dent, you could say my daughter saved my life.

An ultrasound showed areas of concern so with baby bump shielded I had mammograms and was told there and then that it was cancer. They outlined the likely treatment plan and we even laughed and joked with the radiographer as she took the biopsies. I accepted everything that was going to happen to me, I wasn’t prepared for what the consultant was about to tell us.

Initially due I think to still being in my 1st trimester I was told I would have to terminate the pregnancy. I really just could not accept that.

We came home and had to tell my parents that not only did their only child have cancer but also that they may not be getting the 2nd grandchild they were so excited about.

I immediately started to research my options. I found the breast cancer care website and YBCN. Thank god for them both. I found that treatment could be given during pregnancy and went back to my consultant armed with information and questions. He agreed that whilst my treatment could not be delayed, and his priority was to fix me, the earliest we could start would mean I would actually be in my 2nd trimester and okay to have treatment, although there were obviously still risks to the pregnancy. So we agreed a treatment plan. I was prepared to do whatever was necessary so long as my baby was ok, and that some risk was better than no chance. Whether it was hormones or maternal instinct it was very strong and I couldn’t focus on anything other than protecting the little person growing inside me.
I had a mastectomy with skin sparing expander implant at 16weeks and started 4 rounds of chemo (FEC) from 24weeks. At 37 weeks I gave birth to my beautiful baby daughter, who is now 19 months old. 4 weeks later I started another 3 rounds of chemo (TAX) with Herceptin and I am now on tamoxifen.

Impact on my pregnancy, well it was stressful. We were closely monitored throughout the pregnancy and I can’t speak highly enough of the wonderful team of people who cared for us but that time when you should be so happy was just taken from us, I tried to focus on the pregnancy and not the cancer but it just seeps into your thoughts constantly. Sleepless nights became the norm.  The worst point was up to the operation.  I was so worried about the anaesthetic. But when I woke up, within 20 mins they had an ultrasound scanner at my bedside and we saw and heard the heartbeat. The relief was indescribable.

I was less scared about having the chemo, I was still nervous but, I had thankfully seen pictures, on YBCN, and talked to the mums of 2 babies born very recently, who had gone through what I was about to face. They say a picture paints a thousand words, seeing those photos, particularly the one of mum with no hair and baby with a full head of hair, made me realise it was actually possible to do this and have my baby. Thank you YBCN.

YBCN also gave me the support/information I needed to try and breast feed, if only for a short window between treatments,IMG_0269 but it was possible. Unfortunately my body let me down and my milk never came in but again having read on YBCN and through a member of Mummy’s Star I realised it may be possible to get donor breast milk. The NHS graciously funded this for the first 4 months, so Chiara still got the best start.

The only impact on my daughter appears to have been that due to the timing of my chemo, some of my immunity didn’t pass over as it usually would, so when my son got chicken pox when she was 3weeks old, so did Chiara.

Being a mum with cancer isn’t easy, having cancer isn’t easy, but the guilt and fear for my children is overwhelming at times.

I have tried to stay positive through this whole experience and that has helped me cope. To my mind having a baby to look forward to got me through. Most women going through this don’t have that.  I was/am lucky. I am a mum of 2 beautiful, character filled, children and whilst I may not be happy with my body or my short hair, I realise that in the grand scheme of things these are just blips to be overcome.

IMG_0267Don’t get me wrong going through chemo with a newborn and a 3year old wasn’t easy but on the up side it didn’t give me time to dwell on it. I had no choice but to get on with it, as best I could, thankfully with great support from my husband.

We had our first family holiday 14 months after diagnosis and at times it was emotional as there have been moments when I didn’t think I would get to do it, but it was amazing, especially to see my sons face when he met his Disney heroes.

I’m not the same person I was, but i am stronger. I’m still scared, but it isn’t all consuming anymore. I’m just lucky and grateful to have so much. I try to count my blessing each day but at times am overcome with emotion when I look at my babies. I hope and pray that I get to live a long and happy life with my family and that the wonderful care and treatment I have had/am having means that cancer doesn’t darken our world again.

I have a new outlook, to make and enjoy special moments, be they big or small, because moments make memories and memories make life! X

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