‘Doomed’ unborn baby survives mum having part of stomach removed when pregnant after cancer symptoms dismissed as constipation after last baby.
I could feel my partner Joeie watching me pop two more paracetamol out of the packet and down them with a glass of water. ’How many of these have you had today?’ he asked. ’I don’t know,’ I admitted. ‘Enough.’ ’I think you should go back to the doctor,’ he said, concerned.
‘This isn’t right.’ ’What’s the point?’ I said. ‘They’ll only say I’m constipated again.’ I’d been complaining of stomach pains, tiredness and problems ‘down below’ ever since our daughter Maia, now 16 months, had been born but doctors kept putting it down to constipation and handing me laxatives.
After hearing how you’re never the same after having a baby I just thought that my body was taking a very long time to get back to normal. But over the last few days the pain had gradually began to increase and soon I was taking paracetamol every four hours. Nights became a cycle of waking up in pain, taking painkillers and waiting for them to kick in so I could go back to sleep.
Now that I was back at work as a hospital worker, just getting through the day was a struggle. Only then, a few weeks later, I found out I was expecting again.
Well, I thought. No wonder I felt so run down! When my bloods were taken were taken on my booking appointment and it came to light I was severely anaemic, which would explain the dizziness. I was glad to finally know what was wrong with me. But after a couple of weeks, I was feeling worse than ever and concerned about the effects of taking paracetamol on the baby I went back to my GP and asked for further investigations. ’We’ll look into it after you’ve given birth,’ my GP assured me.
‘It’s best to wait until you’re no longer pregnant.’ But my health was no failing fast. By 16 weeks pregnant I was in constant agony and unable to keep down any food. Unlike with my first pregnancy, this time I was losing weight rather than gaining. Two weeks later, after taking Maia upstairs for her nap, I ran to the bathroom and I was violently sick. Feeling dreadful, I climbed into bed and started trembling uncontrollably. Scared, I phoned Joeie in a panic. ’Call an ambulance,’ he ordered. ‘I’m coming straight home.
‘ At the hospital I was examined and the baby was monitored. ’Your baby’s absolutely fine,’ the midwives reassured me, showing me her heartbeat. It was reassuring to hear. I was transferred to the surgical assessment ward and after a review by the team and a tummy examination I was told they couldn’t feel anything suspicious.
The days passed and I was on a continuous loop of eating and being sick and taking laxatives. Every time I was sick I was put back on nil by mouth and the surgical teams were called to review me.
All the tests came back without a problem but every day I felt worse than before.
Until I was admitted I was still breastfeeding Maia and had never been away from her for more than eight hours. I desperately wanted to go home to be with her. Again I was diagnosed with constipation. ’I’m not constipated!’ I wanted to scream.
Eventually I was discharged but at 20 weeks, still suffering, I was back in hospital when my consultant came into my room. He sat down in my chair and touched my hand. ’We need to have a chat,’ he said. ‘Would you be able to get your partner in? ’It’s bad news isn’t it? I asked.
‘We’ll discuss it all once he’s here,’ he said. Joeie came and the consultant was called back. His team and the nurse who was looking after me came to my bed and the curtain was drawn.
I briefly looked round but focused on the consultant who sat at the end of my bed. Joeie sat next to me. What came next blew our world apart. My life was at immediate risk – they’d discovered a cancerous mass that they’d not seen before and the only way to try and save it was to remove 30 per cent of my stomach and 70 per cent of my bowel.
The cancer was very big. It had completely blocked my entire bowel so nothing was able to get through; hence the horrendous sickness. Apparently, it could have been growing inside me for the last ten years! ’It’s a one in one million situation, attempting to remove part of a woman’s stomach when she was pregnant,’ my consultant told me. ’But what about my baby?’ I wailed.
He explained that even if I survived the operation, there was no way my baby could. ’So…?’ ’I’m afraid you’ll miscarry during the procedure,’ he explained gravely. In fact, had there been time, they would have advised terminating the baby before surgery. But without surgery we’d both die anyway as the tumour was growing so rapidly. I couldn’t believe it.
All this time I can honestly say cancer never entered my mind. At worst I thought maybe I had an ulcer. I’d been so reassured that up to this point that it wasn’t anything serious because the ultrasound, MRI scan and numerous examinations had all come back with nothing.
Why had so many doctors missed it if it was so big? No one could say. Everyone left and Joeie and I cried and cried. What about Maia? She was still a baby. She needed me and my heart ached for her. What about me and Joeie?
We were just starting out as a family even though we had been together for a very long time. We were too young for this to be happening to us. My poor innocent baby growing inside me. She was kicking and letting me know she was there. I couldn’t just forget about her! ’Can’t you do anything?’
I begged. I was told even if by some miracle she made it through the op then she wouldn’t survive the effects of chemotherapy. Maybe if I made it to 24 weeks then they could look at delivering before I started chemo but even then her chances were reed-slim. What if I don’t survive?
I panicked. If anything happened to me Maia would be too young to remember me, too young to remember wanting me when she wanted cuddles. She’d grow up with other people telling her what her mum was like, with no memories of her own…it killed me. Later, Joeie brought Maia in to see me. While I’d been in hospital she’d started to crawl so it was nice to be able to see her practicing her new skill. I tried to squeeze every last moment with her. We sat on my bed playing and cuddling. When the time came for her to go she got so upset. I turned away so she wouldn’t see my tears. The next morning, I was wheeled down to theatre.
It broke my heart feeling my daughter kick inside me knowing that what was about to happen would end her life. No mother should have to go through something like this… I kissed Joeie before I was put to sleep. The clock said it was just before 10.30. The everything went fuzzy… I was woken by the anaesthetist being told the operation went well and I was doing OK. I’d had 70% of my bowel and 30% of my stomach removed. They said the tumour was the size of a small football/rugby ball. They’d found another small tumour on the opposite side to the large one. They didn’t know if it was also cancerous as yet. But against all the odds, my baby was alive! ’Thank God!’ I cried. ’We’re not out of the woods yet though,’ he told me as tears of relief rolled down my cheeks. Every time I had a pain I thought I was miscarrying her. This is it, I thought. My body was letting my baby go.
But then it stopped and never came back. Speaking with the consultants we discussed how the bowel cancer could be genetic as my dad had it and unfortunately died from it when it returned. His mum’s mum had also died from it. I was told I would be referred to genetics so it could be investigated. But right then all I cared about was that my baby. She was alive!
Three weeks later I left hospital still pregnant and a fortnight later, started chemotherapy. After five rounds, scans showed my daughter’s growth was slowing and plans were made to deliver her via C-section, because I really didn’t have the energy for a natural delivery, at 36 weeks. Jessica Joy weighed 4lb 14oz and was just perfect. I cried with joy.
We had made it. She was my little miracle. Two weeks later I resumed chemotherapy and had my last treatment last month. Unfortunately my cancer journey doesn’t end there. I found out the tumour they found was another primary cancer and genetic testing has revealed I do have a gene which puts me at a high chance of it coming back.
So I’ve decided to have the rest of my bowel out as preventive surgery to ensure I’m around to be a mum to my girls. To be here today with my baby in my arms is a day I was told would never come but I feel so lucky that it did. Chances are I would have been diagnosed sooner had my symptoms not always been put down to my body getting back to normal after having a baby. I accepted what the doctors said without question but I now know that I was wrong.
I’m just so glad Jessica and I were given a second chance.