'After Cancer Fed Off My Pregnancy, I Wept With Relief To Meet My Son'

'I checked his hands, counted his fingers, legs, toes.'

In HuffPost Birth Diaries we hear the extraordinary stories of the everyday miracle of birth. This week, Tina Baldock, 35, shares her story. If you’d like to share yours, email amy.packham@huffpost.com.

“I’m pregnant, though?” was my first question as I sat, horrified, staring at the consultant who’d delivered the news. And my second: “Am I going to die?”

“We’re aware you’re pregnant and, no, you’re not doing to die,” he tried to reassure me – though any reassurance I felt was minimal. A discussion about next steps followed, but the words all blurred into one. Chemotherapy. Monitoring the baby. Surgery. Early delivery. Lumpectomy.

I zoned back in when I heard the consultant explain that the cancer in my breast was feeding off my pregnancy hormones, making it grow more quickly. At that point I broke down. My body was meant to hold, nurture and love my baby, yet here it was doing the opposite.

The only saving grace? The fact I was in my second trimester so I could have chemotherapy to treat the cancerous mass without harming the baby.

Tina Baldock and her son Carter.
Tina Baldock and her son Carter.

I was 14 weeks pregnant when I discovered the lump on my breast and casually put it down to my body changing because of the raging hormones. My best friend, on the other hand, took the opposite approach. She grassed me up to the midwife, who told me to make a doctor’s appointment just to be safe.

I was more than happy to get it checked out – one GP referral later, I was sitting in the breast cancer clinic having a scan. They found a cyst and weren’t sure if there was something behind it, so asked me if they could do a biopsy. My goodness, the size of the needles! But it was done and dusted quickly, and I was told I’d get my results in a week.

At this point, I was still in my bubble, blissfully pregnant and excited to become a mum-of-two. That bubble quickly burst when, two days later, I received a call from the hospital asking me to go in for my results. “It’s bad news then,” I said. She wouldn’t tell me over the phone, so I expected the worst.

Stage 1, grade 3 breast cancer, he told me. Treatable, he said. Baby will be fine, he’d had another case very similar to mine and the baby was healthy and happy, he added. Despite my fears, I took comfort in those words.

At 16 weeks pregnant, when most parents are counting down the weeks to their second scan, I started chemo. We booked our own scan at a private clinic that same morning and, just hours before I started treatment, found out we were having a boy. Despite the dark cloud looming, I was over the moon. I was going to have a son.

And so it continued: chemo once a week, every Thursday. The doctors timed it so I finished a few weeks before giving birth. Sadly I couldn’t have my c-section as planned because I needed the lumpectomy soon after – and having those two major operations so close together was not a good mix, apparently.

Natural birth is lovely and all, but not when you barely have the energy to lift a finger, let alone push a baby out your vagina. So I was induced a few weeks later and, bloody hell, it was exhausting. I know it’s hard for everyone, but I was so weak I genuinely felt like I didn’t have the energy to get him out. Ever.

Things were made worse by the fact I didn’t bond with my first midwife at all. But when her shift ended, two new midwives came in and, to this day, I call them my angels. They gave me an epidural and – this was the best bit – left me to sleep for 30 minutes because I was so exhausted.

When they came back, it was all go go go. I was fully dilated, ready to push, and Carter, my beautiful baby boy, was born within 20 minutes. When they put him in my arms, I wept with utter relief. I checked his hands, counted his fingers, legs, toes. I checked him all over. He was okay!

He was screaming and kicking, and it was amazing. My partner even laughed because I was bald and had no hair, but Carter was born with loads of it.

Baby Carter.
Baby Carter.

Two weeks later, I had my lumpectomy. Things went downhill because – how unlucky is this? – I was allergic to the patent blue dye they use to check your body for cancer. During surgery, I had an anaphylactic shock and started to flatline. I was in intensive care for two days and they suggested I have a mastectomy, which I did in August last year. They found three tumours so it’s just as well I did.

Then I started weekly radiotherapy which continued until January. I now take medication daily, and will do for the next five years. But I have my baby and he is perfect – I can’t tell you how proud that makes me.

My birth advice?

If you notice any kind of change in your breasts while you are pregnant, get it checked out. I wouldn’t have got mine checked out, I just thought it was because I was pregnant and had hormones everywhere! My best friend saved my life and I am so grateful to her for that.

As told to Amy Packham.

For care, information and support after a breast cancer diagnosis, call Breast Cancer Care’s expert nurses on 0808 800 6000 or visit breastcancercare.org.uk