It was February 2012 and I was pregnant with my second child. When I discovered a small lump in my right breast, I wasn't worried and put it down to pregnancy hormones. However, my husband Vijay insisted I get it checked out.
The following morning I went to my GP who agreed it was probably down to pregnancy changes, and initially I was happy to agree with him. However, something made me change my mind and I rang my local private hospital Spire Bushey, and arranged a consultation with specialist breast surgeon Mr Al-Dubaisi. He examined me and advised a precautionary biopsy.
Four days later I went to collect the results. I was so blasé, I went on my own. As I walked into Mr Al-Dubaisi's office, he stood up and asked if I had anyone with me. At that point, I knew it was bad news. I was in utter shock.
Questions were flashing through my mind. Who would look after my son, Rohan? What would happen to my unborn baby? How would my husband cope without me? I broke down and the cancer care nurse gave me a huge hug as I left with an appointment for scans and went home to tell my husband.
Vijay knew as soon as he saw my face, whilst my 20-month-old son remained oblivious, continuing to play and chatter around our feet. It was like our world had come to an end.
Mr Al-Dubaisi explained that a diagnosis of breast cancer during pregnancy is an extremely complex scenario and creates a particular set of challenges and decisions. Ranging from the practical, such as carrying out an MRI scan safely, to the decision of whether we wanted to keep the baby or not. Our baby was much wanted and precious.
The team at Spire Bushey Hospital included not only Mr Al-Dubaisi, but Mr Tony Boret, a consultant obstetrician who would be looking after my baby, and oncologist Professor David Miles, who looked after my chemotherapy and radiotherapy regime.
Working together, my fantastic team decided to carry out an MRI scan, with a lead apron over my stomach to provide adequate protection. The results from this brought bad news. I was diagnosed with a very aggressive stage three tumour.
From that point, everything moved very fast. I required an immediate lumpectomy and began to discuss chemotherapy. To find yourself talking about chemotherapy when a new life is kicking in your stomach is just an incomprehensible thing to deal with.
I was concerned. I was aware of how well chemotherapy worked, but I was also aware it destroys growing cells, so could it destroy my unborn baby too?
Professor Miles explained to me that although it was common sense to think like this, studies have been carried out and so far had only shown a minimal decrease in birth weight, and no other long-term effects.
Two weeks after my diagnosis, I underwent a four-hour operation to remove the lump and to check if the cancer had spread. Some lymph nodes were removed, which were subsequently found to be clear. Two weeks later, I began the first four courses of chemotherapy.
As the first lot of chemotherapy drugs were pumped into my body, I was terrified that as it started washing round my body, my baby would stop kicking. Thank God he just kept making his presence felt. Throughout the twelve weeks of treatment I was feeling dreadful from the effects of the chemotherapy, with symptoms ranging from insomnia, nausea and mouth ulcers, but every time I felt a kick, it gave me such a boost, as if my unborn baby was telling me he was OK.
My husband came with me to my appointments and we would sit and talk about baby names. The baby was scanned every few weeks; this was the time I could stop being the cancer patient, and be the proud mum.
At thirty-eight weeks, I was induced so that my radiotherapy regime could begin early. Rahul was born naturally within three hours, weighing just under 8lbs. I couldn't breastfeed him as the doctors didn't know if it would be safe, so Vijay gave him his first feed. I was sad about that, but knew it was a small price to pay.
Two days after Rahul was born, I found two more lumps on my right breast and one on my left. My husband told me to get them checked out straight away. An MRI and CT scan showed that the lump on the left breast was benign, but the ones on the right breast were malignant. This was the lowest point. I had a new baby and a toddler, hormones were raging and I was terribly angry.
Exactly four weeks after Rahul was born I underwent a full mastectomy, which involved me staying in hospital for a week with drains and limited movements in the shoulder. I recall it being the longest week of my life. I was away from my adorable boys and unable to tend to them. I received physiotherapy and, as soon as I had healed, I began a new course of chemotherapy. This was once a week for three months, followed by three weeks of radiotherapy, daily.
The recovery from the four-hour operation was slow and disabling. I so wanted to heal quickly so I could hold my precious baby. The weekly chemotherapy sessions were draining, but the nurses at Elstree Cancer Centre were so welcoming and made me feel as comfortable as they possibly could. I wore a skull cap during my chemotherapy which stopped the hair on my head from falling out. This meant a lot to me as it was my attempt to try and look as normal as possible for the sake of my boys, I didn't want them to know that I was unwell. When Rohan asked where I had to go each week, I would tell him that I had to go to the hospital and his response would be, "to get another baby mummy". Bless.
I developed peripheral neuropathy in both my feet as one of the major side effects from the Taxol which made walking very uncomfortable and the drugs made me feel sick and very tired.
I had a small break after the chemotherapy, after which the course of radiotherapy commenced. Again, the staff and team at Elstree Cancer Centre made me feel so comfortable and at ease.
I was keen to complete all the treatment before Christmas as I was desperately looking forward to a fresh start in the New Year.
A year on since the initial diagnosis, I saw Mr Al-Dubaisi once again. I had a mammogram. I held my breath, once again, as he read out the results. "The results are clear", I sighed and smiled. My family and I are ecstatic about getting the all clear and I finally feel that this nightmare is behind me. It's been a horrendous ordeal but I feel this challenge has made me a stronger person, able to tackle all that life has to throw. Rahul gave me the strength to survive and fight whilst I was pregnant and Rohan was my drive to get better and live for tomorrow.
The love and support of my team of doctors, the cancer nurses and my family has been immense. I thank them dearly and I'm just grateful for every day that I have.
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