When people ask me what I’d like for Christmas this year the answer is simple. Nothing. I already have everything I could ever wish for.
Last Christmas was a different story, I was battling chemotherapy following major surgery and my unborn daughter’s life hung in the balance. Back then I never dreamed it possible that this year we’d be looking forward to a perfect family Christmas with our little star….
It had all started after my daughter Maia, two, was born. I’d suffered non- stop stomach pains, dizziness and toilet troubles.
The doctor seemed sure it was constipation but laxatives never worked and in the end I’d just tried to live with it, accepting that things change after a baby.
But by the time Maia was 16 months the pain was unbearable.
‘How many of those have you had today, ‘ my fiancé Joeie would ask me as I cracked open another packet of painkillers.
But just a few weeks later in August 2014 I found out I was expecting again and put all the discomfort down to that.
A blood test showed I was severely anemic; it didn’t explain my pain but felt like a diagnosis at last.
But soon getting through each day was a battle and I couldn’t even keep any food down. ‘ It feels different to morning sickness,’ I explained back at the doctors.
But they wanted to wait until the baby was born to begin investigations.
Only one day after I put Maia down I was violently ill, clambered into bed and phoned Joie in a panic. He told me to call an ambulance and soon I was being examined at our local hospital where I worked as a ward clerk.
Thankfully the baby was fine, but I was admitted, clearly too unwell to go home. Only thing was, nobody had a clue what was wrong with me.
Trapped in a cycle of not eating, toilet trouble and sickness, I felt worse and worse. But an MRI scan came back clear and once again I was told it must be constipation.
I wanted to scream with frustration, by now I was sure it wasn’t that. ‘But I can’t keep any food down so how can it be? ‘ I pleaded.
Another week on, on 7th November 2014, a consultant reviewed my results and came to see me for a chat.
I knew it was bad news when he told me to call Joeie in. When he arrived they pulled the curtain round my bed.
‘I’m afraid your life is in danger. You have cancer,’ he said. I was in shock as he explained a small rugby ball sized tumour had been found in my bowel.
It had already spread to my stomach, likely growing for years.
It explained why nothing had been able to get through and the awful pain.
The consultant told me that without surgery to remove it I would die.
‘What about my baby?,’ I asked and he shook his head. ‘I’m afraid your baby is doomed. Even if she made it through the operation she won’t survive.’
‘What,’ I gasped. I was already 20 weeks gone and thanks to all the scans I’d had in hospital, knew I was having a girl. I sobbed as he told me he would have advised a termination, but there wasn’t time.
‘What are we going to do ?’ I cried clinging to Joeie. But we already knew we had no choice. Without the operation both me and our baby would die anyway.
‘I can’t leave Maia without a mummy,’ I wept. She was so young she would never remember me.
But I loved the baby inside me so dearly. ‘Please there must be something you can do,’ I begged over and over. But there wasn’t.
The surgeon told me that the chances of a young woman my age having such advanced bowel cancer and being pregnant at the same time were a million to one.
The thought of them removing part of my stomach so close to my innocent baby was utterly heartbreaking.
‘You have no choice babe,’ Joeie soothed.
The major operation was scheduled for just three days later. The night before Maia was brought in to see me. I tried to hold back the tears; terrified it might be the last time we ever spent together.
I already had her Christmas presents at home, the thought of not being there to watch her open them broke my heart. ‘Don’t let her see me crying, ‘ I told Joeie.
Early the next morning it was time for my operation. My baby was kicking away inside me as I was wheeled to theatre. It was like she was telling me not to give up on her.
It was too much to take in and tears flowed again. Joeie kissed me and then everything went black.
Next thing I was being woken by the anethistatis who told me everything had gone well. My surgeon came and told they had removed 70 per cent of my bowel and 30 per cent of my stomach.
Another smaller tumour had been found during the operation and had been sent for testing to see if it too was cancerous.
But all I really wanted to know was: ‘ My baby, what about my baby?’ I asked.
‘She’s doing well,’ he replied. I could barely believe it. But the surgeon warned me she was not out of the woods yet. And neither was I. He tried to prepare me for the chance I would likely miscarry over the next few days.
Then, even if she clung on I still had to go through chemotherapy. The words: ‘ She’s doomed,’ were still ringing in my ears.
Three weeks after surgery I was allowed home and a fortnight later just as people were gearing up for Christmas, I started chemotherapy.
‘Please cling on baby,’ I prayed hanging the lights and decorations on the tree.
Watching Maia open her presents on Christmas morning felt like a miracle and I was grateful for the life in side of me.
‘Please just hang on,’ I continued to wish. I couldn’t bare to think it might be our only Christmas together as a complete family,
But after five rounds of chemotherapy scans showed her growth was slowing down. It was a normal side effect of treatment, but it meant she needed delivering.
At 36 weeks I underwent a planned section and my miracle was born weighting a tiny 4lb 14oz. She was tiny, but healthy.
Holding her to my chest I couldn’t believe that my wish had come true. ‘ Lets call her Jessica Joy,’ I said.
Two weeks after the birth I started chemotherapy again. Then I heard the second tumour was cancerous and it had also spread to my lymph nodes, which had been removed in the operation.
Investigations had shown that my cancer was genetic. My dad and grandmother had both died of cancer and it was confirmed I had Lynch syndrome, a gene mutation that meant I had a high chance of the cancer returning.
I’d been advised to undergo a full hysterectomy to reduce the chance of the cancer returning. My Jessica fought so hard to stay alive and I will too.
To be here with them this Christmas is a dream come true, and I plan on being around for many more to come.
For more information about Lynch syndrome visit www.lynch-syndrome-uk.org