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CASSANDRA'S STORY

“All I could think was what does this cancer mean for me, my son, my partner, all of us?!”


Cassandra found a lump in her breast shortly before giving birth to her first child. When her first doctor, post-surgery, wasn't able to answer her questions or give her confidence in her treatment plan, she sought a second opinion.
This is her story...

In March 2023, Cassandra was relaxing on the sofa with her partner, just a month away from giving birth to her first child. She had a massive bump and joked with her husband that she would squash him with it but, as she moved, she noticed a new sensation in her body. She found a lump in her breast and asked her husband to check it too. He immediately encouraged her to see the doctor.


The next day, a call to the GP and was followed up with a same-day appointment. Within two weeks she had been fast tracked to the breast clinic for a biopsy and blood tests. All the professionals Cassandra was speaking too seemed upbeat, reassuring her that it was unlikely to be a problem and that everything was going to be ok.


“There was a lot of false hope. I wish they hadn’t been so positive.”

A few days later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer at almost nine months pregnant. At first the diagnosis didn’t really register. Cassandra had been encouraged to expect good news and this was the exact opposite. She was numbed by the shock. Even when doctors advised an immediate c-section, she didn’t feel anything; she already had one booked in for later that week, so bringing it forward wasn’t that jarring. The numbness persisted. Within 12 hours of receiving a cancer diagnosis, Cassandra was holding her newborn son, Tristan, in her arms.



The next two months passed in a blur of new parent overwhelm. With so much to learn, experience and adjust to, motherhood became Cassandra’s focus, not her diagnosis. She barely thought about it until her surgery date arrived in May 2023, when she had a lumpectomy, also called breast conserving surgery, and had some lymph nodes removed. The procedure was short and successful and she was cleared to leave after just 7 hours in hospital. She was starving afterwards, so went immediately for some pub grub with her husband.


When Cassandra was told she couldn’t pick up her infant son, post-surgery, the impact of her diagnosis began to feel real. Physical restrictions broke through the numbness and overwhelm and a teenager-like petulance kicked in. “I am going to hold my son!” she determined and, despite professional instruction, found a way.


As the practicalities became trickier, Cassandra found it harder to keep the fears and uncertainties of her diagnosis at bay. Night wakings were the perfect time for dark thoughts to creep in. Awake in the small hours with her baby son, she worried about the future and if she would be alive to see him grow up.


After a further biopsy, Cassandra attended a hospital appointment to discuss the results and determine her treatment plan.


“It could not have gone worse.”

The junior doctor she met with did not have much experience with cases like hers. He rushed through the results, which weren’t as positive as Cassandra had hoped for, and when she asked questions – What does this mean for my son? What does this mean for my work? – he couldn’t answer her. She left feeling shocked, and underneath the familiar shock was a new emotion: anger.


“All I could think was what does this cancer mean for me, my son, my partner, all of us?!”

Cassandra felt she had no choice but to figure out the answers for herself. While confident she had the skills to do so, she also had so much to deal with as a new mum that she was exhausted, and felt strongly that it shouldn’t be her sole responsibility.


She reached out for advice on the Mummy’s Star Peer Support Forum and was so glad she did. The other mums gave her great support and encouragement. Their number one suggestion was to get a second opinion, and she was fortunate enough to be able to access a private consultation, to “get my head around my body, my cancer.”


This new consultant provided context about her particular cancer and treatment options and walked her through what would happen next, step by step. He even made some jokes, calling himself ‘the Poison Doctor’ which Cassandra appreciated. Above all he never dismissed her questions.


“His confidence allowed me to feel confident in what came next.”

Cassandra also met with a Breast Cancer Nurse Specialist at Newcastle Freeman Hospital, who was “phenomenal!” . She helped connect Cassandra with the local Maggies Centre and together they helped her to advocate for the alternative dosage plan she had discussed with her private consultant, smoothing the way for the treatment she had chosen.



Chemotherapy began mid-July 2023 and happened every two weeks until the end of October. The first session was the worst. Cassandra slept for two days after, but it helped that a friend had come up from Bristol to be with her for that first time. She helped to bear witness to this huge undertaking, which made the subsequent sessions much easier to handle.


Her friends were a huge support throughout treatment. They formed a WhatsApp group where they regularly checked in, marked off chemo sessions, and sent plenty of jokes and humour; even helping Cassandra find some unusual perks to her situation.


“I didn’t have to shave for four months!” she says laughing, “Because all your body hair falls out. My skin was as smooth as my baby’s too. It helped to find the silly positives and laugh about them.”

Her parents also visited, from their home in the United States, to be with Cassandra when her baby was born, again when she went in for surgery, and to mark the completion of her chemotherapy.


Cassandra’s husband was a steady presence, often making jokes, and reminding her how much her family needed her. They also began talking more about serious topics they had never touched on before. She noticed people would assume that her husband had taken over all the family responsibilities while she was unwell, and felt frustrated that these well-meaning outsiders didn’t recognize that life was rarely that simple. With her husband working a job that demands long hours, Cassandra learned to ask for help more, but she also couldn’t put down all her family responsibilities.


“Prioritising your health isn’t always the easiest or only option. I just wanted to tell them: ‘F- you, you don’t know my life!’ ”


In September, with one month of chemo left, Cassandra had to return to work. While things started smoothly, it became more and more difficult to manage as her workload increased. She was soon in survival mode trying to balance a full-time job, look after her six month old, and research childcare options, benefit entitlements and more. The combination of a body finishing treatment, work responsibilities, and the “unspoken expectation to know things” that comes with new parenthood was too much. In April 2024, Cassandra experienced a mental and physical collapse.


Since then, she has realised that survival mode is not how she wants to live the rest of her life, especially not with a growing child.


“Next year is going to be very different. I want to be here for my son… but I wasn’t being present for him. I was too busy surviving. That’s going to change.”

She’ll be taking things slower, taking the pressure off and letting everything that has happened over the last few years really sink in. It’s not uncommon for new parents to feel they’ve lost their identity during the first year but, coupled with a cancer diagnosis, the loss can be doubled.


Moving forward, Cassandra wants to focus on who she is and the things she likes, finding her way back to the person she was before, whilst also taking good care of her health and doing all she can to prevent a reoccurrence of her cancer now.


Tristan is growing into a ‘whirlwind’ and had just learned to climb the stairs. We hope they both have many, many more joyful firsts ahead of them!




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