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"It never occurred to me, when I found a lump in my breast, that it could be cancer. I ate healthily, I exercised regularly and I was 35 weeks pregnant..."

Catherine was diagnosed with breast cancer just before the birth of her second child and was immediately concerned how treatment might affect her options for feeding and bonding with her newborn.

This is her story...

Having enjoyed a delicious brunch at one of our favourite local cafes, I left my 2 year old with my mum while I sauntered off in the sunshine to Guy’s breast clinic in London. The first indication I got that it might not be as straight forward as I had anticipated was when I found out my appointment was with a surgeon, the second was when everyone in the room looked a bit concerned that I was on my own… but the penny didn’t really drop until the surgeon looked at me with such sympathy in his eyes and gently said: “you have a little cancer… “

I still remember those exact words, and found myself using them to reassure myself and everyone else. That word “little” made it seem much less serious than it actually was.

The first words I said in response were “What about my baby?” The rest of the day is a blur of tests and tears.

As a counsellor and a mum already, I was incredibly aware of attachment and my greatest fear was that I wouldn’t have the same bond with my second baby. Having breastfed my first-born successfully, enjoying the intimacy and closeness that I felt had contributed greatly to establishing such a secure bond, I was looking forward to having that same connection with my second son. Finding out that I wouldn’t be able to feed him myself was a huge blow. I negotiated hard with my oncology team to find a solution that satisfied their need for me to start treatment as soon as possible and my need to experience breastfeeding my baby.

I was induced at 37 weeks and Baby Robbie eventually got pulled out into the world on 23rd May 2013. I was able to breastfeed him for 10 days before starting chemo.

Nothing could have prepared me for the intense fatigue that comes with a chemo regime and getting up in the night to bottle-feed a new born, and yet those nights together, just the two of us, reinforced my sense of purpose which I feel was critical to my recovery.

The support of my husband, my family and my friends – new and old - was amazing. During the times I was unable to be with them, I knew that my boys were being given the opportunity to establish meaningful, lasting attachments with their dad and grandparents, which enabled me to focus on my own health and recovery.

For other mums who may find themselves in a similar position with similar fears, I would like to offer some reassurance. Robbie and I have a beautiful bond, which I cherish every day. My fear however was not groundless, but I hope that anyone concerned about bonding with their new born can reassure themselves that, even at their lowest ebb, they are still enough for their baby.

As a counsellor I talk to my clients a lot about self-compassion and practical self-care. Looking back, going through chemo, surgery and radiotherapy was the ultimate self-care challenge!

One of the hardest challenges for every mother affected by cancer is to give themselves permission to be cared for, and care for themselves in order to be able to be there for others.

I am now over 6 years cancer-free, and my children, Robbie (7) and Connor (9), are still my pride, joy and purpose. I wish that Mummy’s Star had been this well established in 2013… when in fact they were just setting up as I started my treatment. As supportive and loving as my friends and family were, I felt that no one else could possibly know what I was going through, and that was at times incredibly isolating and lonely.

I couldn’t be more thrilled to have discovered them now, and hope that every pregnant woman diagnosed with cancer is able to access the support she needs to experience understanding, empathy and encouragement at every stage of her journey.

Catherine x

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