'A cancer diagnosis is hard to comprehend, but when you have a small baby it's mind blowing.'
Caitriona was diagnosed shortly after the birth of her first baby, Ava. She had suffered pelvic pain and bleeding in the months following the birth. After several visits to her GP and A&E feeling unwell, she was later diagnosed with Cervical Cancer.
This is her story…
I had been attending a colposcopy clinic since 2012 as I had abnormal smears. It was decided that, as I was young, fit, and didn’t smoke, plus I didn’t have any family history of cancer, that they would monitor it for the next few years. I became pregnant with Ava in November 2015. Despite a follow up smear in 2016 showing abnormal cells again, my follow up appointment was pushed back to later in the year because I was pregnant.
After Ava was born I was bleeding, experiencing night sweats, had pain in my left and right hip and pelvic region.
At my post-natal, six week check-up I mentioned this to my doctor who stated it was just pregnancy hormones, especially as I was breastfeeding. No examination took place but I was told that things would improve.
Two weeks later there was no improvement so I attended a different GP who suspected it was an infection. A week later I still wasn't feeling any better, and while Ava was sleeping most of the night, I was the one that was awake with pain and night sweats.
The GP suggested I attend A&E where I waited for 4 hours with Ava and her granny.
When the attending doctor examined me she was extremely dismissive and put it down to an over anxious, hormonal first time mum recovering from labour, and I was sent home.
A week later I attended the colposcopy clinic for my scheduled appointment. The minute I was examined I knew something was wrong with the way the doctor reacted. Forty-eight hours later my fears were confirmed… I had cancer.
Paul and I were in compete shock. We couldn’t believe that this was happening to us. This was something that you read about in books or magazines, but we quickly had to accept that this was our new reality.
After all the initial tests, I was diagnosed with an aggressive mixed form of cervical cancer with node involvement. The treatment plan was intensive with chemotherapy, radiotherapy and brachytherapy. The team wanted my treatment to start straight away.
I didn’t have the option to freeze my eggs so the choice of extending our family was taken away from us which we found heart-breaking and we still do to this day.
I began my treatment on the 21st December 2016 which was also Paul’s birthday. Paul and Ava brought me to most of my appointments as did my sister and her husband. I received so much support from my family, Paul’s family and close friends that I don’t know how I will ever be able to repay them.
'Mummy's star has been great, because it provides so much support and it’s good to have other mums with small babies to talk to and connect with.
There is a private forum where you can chat to mums in a similar situation and they understand exactly where you are coming from. You can relate with each other. The support you receive is amazing. Even to this day I still continue to use the forum to discuss the side effects that the cancer treatment has left me with.
When I was breastfeeding Ava and my main concern at that stage was how she would manage when I was forced to stop feeding her once I'd started chemo. Pete [Founder and CEO] called me, offering to help locate milk from a milk bank. Pete was so understanding and helpful.
There are other support groups out there, I found it hard that there weren't too many people who could feel my emotional pain of early menopause and the heartache that we could no longer provide Ava with a brother or sister. What Pete and his team do on a daily basis is wonderful and it has helped me, Paul and Ava in so many ways and it still continues to do so.
A cancer diagnosis is hard to comprehend, but when you have a small baby to care for it becomes mind blowing. However it does give you a whole new focus.
Ava gave us strength we never knew we had. She made us smile and laugh every day. She filled our lives and our minds with things other than just having cancer.
She has been at my side every single day during this journey and I don't know how I would have managed had she not been around.
She really is our little angel. Paul and I are so so proud of her.