There is never a good time to be diagnosed with cancer but being diagnosed while you are pregnant must be up the in the worst possible times.
I hadn’t always been breast aware so when I found a thickening (there was no lump) around the time I discovered I was pregnant for the second time I assumed it was a relic from breast feeding my first daughter. I did nothing for seven whole months, in my naïve mind 37 year old pregnant women didn’t get cancer. I want to write I was a twat for doing that.
My belly and the thickening grew over the summer of 2003 until I felt guilty at not seeking a medical opinion. A diagnosis of breast cancer with spread to lymph nodes came a few weeks later. I can only describe the moments after diagnosis as a pulsating terror from watching the scariest of horror films which you are strapped down and forced to watch and unable to move away from. My thoughts went along the lines of 'what the fck are they going to with me?'. Polarities were now contained within my body. Life and death, darkness and light, fear and hope. I then had the unenviable task of choosing whether to have chemo while I was pregnant or not and telling the people in my life of my choice.
My baby’s treasured kicks confirming she was ok kept me going over the weeks as I was pumped with chemo, steroids and anti-sickness meds. We were both frequently scanned, examined and measured to check on the balance of life and death. I kept going minute by minute, motivated by baby. I was constantly anxious about my choice. Waves of guilt at having chemo while I carried her and the possibility of harming her repeatedly flooded my body.
Bonnie was born on the 14th October 2003 at 12:11 announcing her arrival with a piercing scream. She was safe. She was gorgeous. She was beyond precious. She had made it out of my body of poison. My focus shifted from her safe arrival to my future and a vast, dark and deep depression engulfed me as the reality of what lay ahead hit me.
Cancer undoubtedly affected who I was as a mother. Cancer and its outcome are unpredictable. I had no idea which side of the stats my life would fall. My greatest fear was I would die before my children were old enough to remember me. Although I was fiercely protective over them I didn’t fully bond with them in case I had to say goodbye. I struggled to leave them in their early years and wanted to spend every second with them. This was borne from my guilt at having to leave them while I had treatment and not being the greatest mum while I recovered. I clung to the milestones of their development like a climber traversing a mountain side in a storm.
Bonnie will be 15 this year. She is creative, lively and determined. Chemo seems not to have affected her. If there have been any issues or illnesses I have instantly blamed myself for having the chemo. We have a typical mother and teenage daughter relationship. We share a passion for animals and food. We grade fit boys. We laugh with and at each other. I shout and she shouts. We row about her messy bedroom and cutlery hidden under sofa cushions.
But none of that really matters really because I have been her proud mother for nearly 15 years and we have somehow made it through a further 2 cancer diagnoses. She knows who I am, she will remember me. I will always be grateful to her for being my motivation to keep going when I was scared and wanted to give up and felt I couldn’t face another test, treatment or tear. If I had gone to the doctors earlier or delayed chemo my story may have looked very different.
Support is available at Mummy’s Star (www.mummysstar.org) for anyone who is affected by cancer in pregnancy. The profits from The Two Faces of Cancer book will be donated to this charity to support other families who are facing what I did.