'The cancer diagnosis took away the joy and happiness you should feel when having a new baby as everything focused on cancer.'
Antonia was diagnosed with breast cancer at 32 weeks pregnant, in early May 2020. Shortly after discovering she was pregnant, she had found out she carried the BRCA2 gene, following her sister’s own diagnosis with breast cancer the previous May.
This is her story...
Due to the BRCA2 confirmation I was on high alert and very anxious because, due to being pregnant, I could not go for a mammogram or MRI scan. I suffered badly with mastitis when breastfeeding my first child, so had a mammogram then. It was clear, but back then I knew nothing of BRCA2.
In April 2020 I started to notice pain in my left breast on and off. It woke me up one morning as the pain was quite strong. I didn’t think pain was a symptom of breast cancer, so I thought this could be due to changes in my breasts during pregnancy. I tried to get an appointment with the GP but in the meantime, I discovered a dimpling in my skin and a lump.
Due to the first Covid lockdown, getting an appointment was hard, but I managed to see someone privately within 24 hours of finding the lump. I had a biopsy on the Thursday morning and the following Tuesday I was diagnosed.
My partner and I live together and already had a 1-year-old daughter. He was furloughed from work following the Covid outbreak and his mum had been made redundant, so I had the support of them during the months following the diagnosis.
The diagnosis took away the joy and happiness you should feel when having a new baby, as everything focuses on cancer. I felt guilty for numerous reasons: because I had to deliver my baby early through planned cesarean; because of the world she was being born into and the pandemic; because I could not breastfeed, which was especially difficult having breastfed my first child for a year.
Our baby girl, Emilia, arrived on the 2 June 2020, and barely a week later I had a bilateral mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy commencing a fortnight later. Leaving my 10-day old baby was heartbreaking and is something no parent should have to do.
I am thankful that my one-year-old was too young to understand what was happening and why Mummy was going away again. I had been away from her for 6 nights when delivering Emilia, so this added further guilt.
Mummy’s Star provide one-to-one support whenever you need it. I remember sitting in a supermarket carpark whilst my partner went in to get some shopping, my baby was asleep in the back, and I sat there in tears emailing my support contact Rebecca about all the emotions I felt.
The forum has been great; you speak to others who do truly understand what you are going through and what you are feeling. Although you would never want anyone else to be going through this, there is comfort in knowing you are not alone.
If I could offer any advice, it would be whatever you are thinking or feeling it is ok. When I was in the middle of treatment, I was trying to think ‘this is just a moment in time that I need to get through and things won’t be like this forever’. At first, after treatment finished, it was hard to imagine life with no appointments. I kept thinking I was forgetting them but quickly got back into the swing of things. Having two children didn’t allow me time to think about things too much, as my attention was always elsewhere. However, saying that, I don’t feel like I had enough time/ space to heal mentally and physically, which I strongly believe you need.
Looking after the children gave some normality. I remember one day after chemotherapy I was walking around a sunflower field picking sunflowers with my toddler and my baby in the sling! I understand that may not be possible for everyone, but for me it made me feel normal, helped me feel I was being a normal mum, doing normal mum things with other normal mums, plus mentally it made me feel better than staying at home all day.
Thank you to Mummy’s Star for the amazing support you provide. It’s hard to put into words the appreciation you feel when you have been given so much from total strangers, but my cancer journey has been made so much more bearable by just knowing you are there.