Will I live to meet my baby?
Here’s a snapshot of our story about Emma Thompson, a truly inspirational woman who was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer while pregnant with her longed-for baby. She was given six months to live and was terrified she might never meet her little girl. We got her honest and heartbreaking story published in That’s Life magazine #secondarycancer #pregnancy #breastcancer #secondarybreastcancer #raisingawareness
Here Emma tells all...
It was the middle of the night when I woke up needing the loo. I left my fiancé sleeping while I crept to the bathroom, but as I walked past our full-length mirror, I saw something that stopped me in my tracks.
What’s that? I thought.
There was a dent in my right breast.
There was no way I could sleep now, so I went downstairs and started checking my breasts for lumps.
Sure enough I found one, deep in my ribcage.
I couldn’t help but worry. And Dave and I were meant to be getting married in just a few months.
Next morning, I went to see my GP.
‘It’s probably just a cyst,’ he said.
But he referred me to hospital where I had a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy.
A few weeks later, I went to get my results with my mum Helen.
‘You have aggressive stage 3 breast cancer,’ said the consultant.
My head was spinning, and Mum looked even more shocked than I did.
Back home, I sat with Dave.
‘We’ll have to cancel the wedding,’ I said.
‘If you’re sure,’ he replied.
With that, our big day was temporarily off the cards.
Over the coming months, instead of planning to walk down the aisle, I underwent a lumpectomy, followed by chemotherapy which left me feeling drained, sick and I lost my hair.
Although I was disappointed not to be getting married, there was something more pressing on my mind.
I adored my stepson Elliot, but I’d always wanted a baby of my own, and Dave and I had agreed to start trying after tying the knot. But now my dream seemed impossible.
There hadn’t been time to freeze my eggs before starting chemo and for all I knew, it had made me infertile.
After I’d had radiotherapy, I started taking Tamoxifen and hoped I could come off it to start trying at some point.
Soon after, I rebooked our wedding.
And a year after we’d originally planned, Dave and I became husband and wife.
Three years later, we jetted off to Portugal for a holiday with my stepson Elliot, sister Cathie and niece Ella. But on the first day there, I was in the shower when I froze. I’d found a lump in my armpit.
Knowing Dave would panic, I showed my sister.
‘It can’t be good,’ I said.
‘You can’t do anything right now, just try and enjoy your holiday,’ she reassured.
When we got back I was given an ultrasound and the results gave the news I’d been dreading. The cancer was back, this time in my lymph nodes.
I needed more gruelling chemo.
‘Can we try and freeze some eggs this time?’ I said.
‘OK,’ my oncologist said reluctantly, keen for me to start treatment.
But scans showed I had no eggs.
‘We’re never going to be parents,’ I said to Dave.
The next three years really put our relationship to the test and I struggled to accept I’d never be a mum.
Then one day, I woke up with sore breasts.
I can’t be, can I?
I rifled through the cupboard and dug out an old pregnancy test. Minutes later, I sat staring at the stick…
‘Dave!’ I cried, running into our bedroom.
‘I’m pregnant,’ I said.
‘Really?’ he said, sitting bolt upright.
Then he gave me a high five.
We had a scan to check everything was OK and when we saw the grainy image of the baby, we could hardly believe it was ours.
Two weeks later, I woke up and my whole body ached. I put it down to my age and being pregnant.
But weeks later, while Dave was working nights, I went to the loo and my body seized up.
In absolute agony, I hauled myself onto the floor and dragged myself to the phone to call Dave.
‘I can’t walk,’ I said.
‘Call an ambulance,’ he pleaded.
I decided to call 111 and they sent out an ambulance.
At hospital, I was checked over and given tests and scans. All the time I thought of my baby. I was almost 14 weeks pregnant.
Next day, I got my results.
‘I’m so sorry, you have secondary bone cancer,’ the consultant said.
He explained I could live with it for years.
‘But if it’s anywhere else, we’re in trouble,’ he said.
Then we got the results of another scan.
‘It’s in your liver,’ the consultant said. ‘I’m afraid you have just six months to live.’
‘No,’ I said, and began to sob.
I hadn’t cried the previous times I’d been diagnosed, but the news hit me like a brick. It wasn’t just my life at risk, our baby’s was too.
I was bound to my hospital bed while doctors urged me and Dave to terminate the pregnancy.
Just the thought of it broke my heart, but I decided it wasn’t down to me. If I died, it would be left to Dave to bring up our baby.
‘It’s your choice,’ I told him.
We spent days talking about what to do and I worried how Dave would cope without me. I was in utter turmoil when a specialist midwife came to see me.
‘Don’t make a decision,’ she said. ‘Why don’t you just let nature take its course.’
‘You’re right,’ I said.
Her words made so much sense to me.
Soon after, I had a 16-week scan.
‘You’re having a girl,’ the sonographer said.
Dave and I beamed and in that moment, I knew there was no way either of us could ever take away such a precious life.
Later, Dave said: ‘I’d like to call her Emily, after you.’
‘It’s perfect,’ I said.
I started chemo and had it every week, all the time my oncologist insisting the baby was delivered early.
‘Not yet,’ I begged. ‘Please.’
As the weeks passed, the chemo had an incredible effect. One moment I was lying in bed unable to move, the next I was walking around. Everyone was shocked by my progress.
Eventually I stopped chemo and then a week later, at 34 weeks, it was time to meet our baby.
I had a planned C-section and cried as we watched our baby girl being delivered, then she was wrapped in a towel and placed on my chest.
Dave and I gazed in amazement at our bundle of joy. It was a moment I thought would never come.
Ten minutes later, Emily began struggling to breathe so she was whisked away to the special care unit.
Incredibly though, she was allowed on the ward with me after five days, and another five days later she was discharged.
Back home, it felt so natural to be a mum. It was like Emily had been with us forever and Elliot took to being a big brother brilliantly. Yet my future was so uncertain.
I couldn’t believe it when my six-month prognosis point came and went. I was worried about how long I had left, but I was also determined to make the most of every second spent with our longed-for daughter.
Now Emily is nearly two and she’s such a character. She’s a bit of a tomboy and likes running around getting dirty rather than sitting quietly, but that’s what I love about her.
As for me, I’ve had relapses and I’m back on chemo in tablet form. I feel the best I have in ages, but it’s difficult not knowing what’s going on inside my body.
Not a day goes by when I don’t think about dying. I worry how Dave will cope raising Emily on his own and I can only look six months ahead at a time. But I do have a longer-term goal – to live long enough to see Emily start school.
I’m making a memory book for her and I’ve set up an email account which I send diary-like emails to, for Emily to read when she’s older.
For now, I’m just living for every moment I get with her. A smile or giggle from Emily is better than any medicine. She’s our dream come true.
By Julia Sidwell