THE BLOG

Fighting Cancer While Pregnant: Mothers Deserve Quality Care

01/10/2015 12:28 BST | Updated 30/09/2016 10:12 BST

Finding out that my wife Mair had breast cancer was a huge shock for all of us who loved her. At 41, she was vibrant, full of energy and had shown no symptoms of the disease that would eventually take her from us six months later.

She was also 22 weeks pregnant with our son, Merlin.

As any new parent knows, bringing a baby into the world is a joyful but demanding experience. Combining that with fighting cancer was terrifying.

Mair immediately began a course of chemotherapy, which she responded to well and continued after Merlin's healthy birth. During that time we were overwhelmed by the way our family, friends and neighbours rallied around. Without them, we wouldn't have been able to cope with the practical and emotional strains of cancer treatment, the demands of a new baby or taking care of our elder daughter, Martha. Routine tasks, such as cooking meals, changing and bathing Merlin had become almost impossible for Mair, who needed a huge amount of bed rest. She was unable to breastfeed and also needed many trips to hospital during that time.

Sadly, the cancer spread and Mair died when Merlin was only two months old. After her death, her sister Louise and I wanted something positive to come out of the family's ordeal. Her experience had raised a lot of issues, not just around the cancer and pregnancy themselves, but also the experience and challenges associated with motherhood in general.

For us it was clear that mums, so often at the heart of looking after the family, frequently lack the information and practical support they need to keep themselves emotionally and physically well.

That's why we set up Mummy's Star, an organisation dedicated to providing pregnant women or new mothers suffering from cancer with the financial support, information and practical help they need to get through it.

One of the things we wanted to do was help families with sick mothers understand their rights. For example, there are still some widely held views that women with chronic medical conditions should not have children and that serious diseases don't affect pregnant women.

In fact, the reality could not be more different.

Many women diagnosed with breast, bowel, and gynecological cancers had their symptoms mistaken for being part of their pregnancy or their body returning to normal post-birth, only to receive a cancer diagnosis at a later stage. For some of these women, this delay meant secondary cancers or other complications developed in the interim, which may have been avoided with an earlier diagnosis.

It is clear to us and from working with those around us that cancer in pregnancy is an area that is seldom discussed in the cancer sector, and its impact on young families is not well-recognised. While the circumstance of cancer in pregnancy is deemed 'rare', it seems as though it is becoming increasingly common. So this is an area that needs constant work to change perceptions and further heighten awareness.

We all have a role to play in ensuring that society as a whole looks after 'everymum'. After all, almost all of us were brought up by our mothers. That's why I encourage you to take part in the Safe Motherhood Week survey to map the current situation for parents in Europe.

Maternal health concerns all women, not only the vulnerable ones, and every family.