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Normality... Even When Cancer Intervened

When Mair was diagnosed our world fell apart because of the uncertainty that this threw up. Having never heard of anyone being diagnosed with cancer in pregnancy before, let alone be treated for it, we were worried. Would it affect the baby? Could we even continue with the pregnancy?

The 18th June! A day which is forever embedded in my memory.

The day I dropped my wife off for a routine antenatal appointment, thinking she'd only be a couple of hours. The day I went to the park with our daughter Martha while Mair was in hospital only for the world to stop at 10:28am. Mair rang and said she'd just been told she had cancer!!

"What??" was my response at the time and I still find myself astounded now thinking back to what became a blur of a day.

Four years on this week and I have found myself reflecting a lot. I always do this time of year for obvious reasons but this week I guess more so than previous at it sees the annual awareness week take place of the charity Mummy's Star which I founded in Mair's memory, to support pregnant women with cancer

We've focused this year on how to maintain normality for women and I think its vitally important to highlight the huge amount of positives in our journey, despite the tragic outcome that was to come in the following months.

When Mair was diagnosed our world fell apart because of the uncertainty that this threw up. Having never heard of anyone being diagnosed with cancer in pregnancy before, let alone be treated for it, we were worried. Would it affect the baby? Could we even continue with the pregnancy?

Despite these worries the team were quick to provide the reassurances and the plan for treatment proceeded.

The bigger impact at this stage however was that Mair suddenly felt robbed of her pregnancy, her experience that suddenly wasn't going to be as it had been with Martha 3 years earlier. She didn't think she could enjoy the pregnancy as she has previously. Ongoing chemo was to interupt this on a regular cycle, the prospect of not being able to have a home birth and of course the hammer blow to her of not being able to breast feed again.

Step forward, our midwife Helen Howard!

We sat in a nice cool room, were given sandwiches and a cup of tea and were asked the simple question..."So, what would you like?"

Cue the reaction..."What? There's Choices? She's Got Cancer!!" In one simple question the world seemed to tip back in our favour. We suddenly had choices again that a week before felt like they'd been ripped away.

As I type this there are tears rolling down my face because I remember that meeting so clearly. I remember seeing Mair for the first time1 hour before birth since her diagnosis with a smile on her face. This lady had just handed control back. Something that is deeply underestimated in this situation but is absolutely priceless.

We actually could have had a homebirth however in the end we decided to have a hospital birth due to early induction to be able to recommence treatment, but the point is that it was on the table as an option. That is so important. Don't make decisions for people. Make the decisions with them, inform them and the best solution will prevail.

The next thing was breast feeding. Having breastfed Martha for over a year, the possibility of Mair not being able to breastfeed again was almost as devastating as the cancer diagnosis itself. Nothing could replace that for her however suddenly a magic alternative was available.

Helen talked to us and explained about donor breast milk and that we might be able to get it for our baby. We'd never heard of this before, knew nothing of milk banks and all the rest but by the end of that conversation it was the best thing ever. Our little baby was going to be able to get the same start in life as his big sister and that meant the world to us both. Again, it was that bit more control coming back our way.

The final piece, but I would say the most significant was the regular monitoring of Merlin!

Every third Thursday was going to be chemo day, beginning on Thursday 28 June and that first trip to the hospital I remember stopping countless time on the drive there because she was so sick from fear, but we went in, had her treatment and were done. In advance of the next session though, the Helen and the team at Tameside Hospital arranged for us to come in earlier. There they had Mair lie on a bed, hooked her up to the baby monitor and there we stayed for an hour if not more to listen to his heartbeat. I cannot put into words fully how big an impact this had on Mair. It was like she was given her whole pregnancy back in an instant. There we were listening to our baby boy, his heart beating away happily. We knew he was doing well.

On the way out of the hospital then on each of the remaining sessions, after listening to our baby first, we 'popped in to have chemo'! Those Thursdays were no longer about cancer, drugs, side effects....they were now about our baby! We were once again excited expectant parents and we were looking forward to the arrival of our baby boy and Martha's little brother.

The remainder of the pregnancy went very smoothly, Mair's induction all went to plan and she delivered to the minute, at 8pm exactly on Monday 24 September 2012, just as Helen had predicted only a few hours before.

In the upcoming months after this, our world would once again be turned upside down, never to be the same again following the sudden loss of Mair from a rare secondary cancer spread, but I would ask that the positives be remembered here;

Of how a simple meeting and a simple question from a truly wonderful midwife gave Mair her pregnancy and her enjoyment and focus on it back and firmly placed cancer in the background.

The charity was originally launched in 2013, a year to the day she was diagnosed in because I wanted the day to eventually figure for a positive reason rather than that day that began to take away.

It's slowly becoming a good day.

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