'the physical and emotional strain on my body has been immense but it’s amazing what you will do for your children.'
Jill's second pregnancy was much more exhausting than her first, and her bump was significantly bigger. Her 12 week pregnancy scan revealed the anomaly causing it was a rare type of sarcoma.
This is her story...
It was my second pregnancy and I was tired and had a much larger bump in comparison to my first, but I didn’t think anything of it. Then, an abnormal mass was spotted during my 12 week pregnancy scan. I had a biopsy in the stomach to identify what the abnormality was, which was quite worrying with the area being so close to the baby, but I had lots of reassurance from medical staff. It wasn't until 20 weeks that I was given a formal diagnosis. I had Retroperitoneal Liposarcoma, a large tumour in the abdomen.
I was told from the beginning that I would have to travel south for specialist treatment. I travelled three hours south, from Aberdeen to Glasgow Royal Infirmary, to discuss my options with a team of sarcoma specialists. They explained that I had a choice of terminating the pregnancy - which would allow me to have surgery immediately - or to continue with the pregnancy and delay my operation. They did not expect me to go beyond 28 weeks as the sheer size of the tumour would create a battle for space between the tumour and the baby.
They also admitted that they had no experience of treating a pregnant woman with this type of cancer. It was uncharted territory for all of us. But I knew I was not giving up this baby without a fight.
I had a number of short hospital stays initially until I was admitted fully at 30 weeks. I tried to live life as normally as possible throughout. After receiving my diagnosis, I moved house to be closer to my family, which made life much easier, with increased support around me. I chose not to tell anyone about the cancer and even withheld the finer details to my family. I downplayed it because I wanted to protect them. There were so many unknowns about the baby and about my own health and I simply couldn’t cope discussing how I truly felt about things.
Around 28 weeks into the pregnancy I began to experience painful symptoms. As my daughter grew I was experiencing increasing levels of pain and discomfort.
Maintaining my daily routine helped to ground me at a time where I felt my life was out of control and I enjoyed exercising, so was still going to the gym right up until my hospital admission.
It was all about getting as far as I could in the pregnancy, so it was really important for me to distract myself from the cancer and keep as busy as possible. I managed to hold on until 34 weeks.
I had major surgery, in Glasgow, to just weeks after giving birth. For me this was the hardest thing about the whole ordeal. How can a mum leave a new born for three weeks? The time apart from my new born baby was heart-breaking, especially being separated so soon after her arrival. I was determined to express breastmilk during my hospital stay, so that I could continue breastfeeding on my return home. I was advised that I’d probably be too unwell but I was determined to try. Less than twelve hours after my surgery, I woke up in intensive care and began expressing.
Yes, I struggled, was in unimaginable pain, and needed a lot of assistance but I was so happy I could do it for my baby.
It was at this time Mummy’s Star have gave me financial support, in the form of a small grant, which allowed my family to visit me whilst I was in hospital three hours away. These family visits made the stay a little more bearable and I like to think I recovered faster because of them. My 2-year-old daughter was resilient despite all that was going on. Our amazing Childminder was great at keeping life as normal as possible for her in my absence. We also had a great Health Visitor who went above and beyond in supporting us. I would not have coped without their help.
I felt very isolated at times especially as my cancer type was so rare. Mummy’s Star also gave me the opportunity to connect with other people in similar situations, gave me somewhere to turn to and made me feel less alone in what I was going through. Their financial and emotional support has really made my battle that little bit easier.
Cancer has definitely had a huge impact of my life. There is a 50% recurrence rate and survival statistics are a constant worry, and it can be a struggle to pull myself out of the dark moments, but I try not to think about things otherwise it can consume you. There are positive aspects I take from the experience.
I like to think I am a better person and have grown stronger and more resilient because of it. I live life to the full now, but also stop to appreciate the small things once in a while. I cannot relate to the person I was last year.
It can be incredibly hard staying strong and positive when you have a cancer diagnosis, especially during pregnancy. My advice is to take one day at a time. I have struggled to plan too far ahead in case I am tempting fate, but the fog does lift and life has slowly crept back in. Both the physical and emotional strain on my body has been immense but it’s amazing what you will do for your children.