I met Matt in August 2010 and it was a whirlwind romance. He proposed in February 2011 and we were married within a year of meeting.
We both knew we wanted a family fairly soon, so were delighted when I became pregnant in May 2011. The first two trimesters went well, but in the 3rd trimester I started to feel really unwell.
One of the main symptoms that troubled me was severe itching. There was no particular pattern on when I would feel itchy and it wasn’t always in the same place, but it was awful. I had sores where I had been scratching so often. I also had a persistent cough that I’d had for about 9 months.
My body became bloated, particularly my arms and face, but midwife suggested this was normal in the later stages of pregnancy, so I didn’t really worry about it. But as well as the bloating I found it really difficult to eat and lost a lot of weight. I passed out a couple of times during the first 3 months of pregnancy, but when I fainted during an antenatal class, they suggested I see my doctor. The doctor thought I might have the symptoms of hay fever, particularly with the bloating, but there was no real action.
Another problem I had, but put down to pregnancy, was extreme tiredness. It was unreal. If I sat down, I would fall asleep almost immediately even if there were people around. Despite regular blood tests during the pregnancy, there didn’t seem to be an explanation for why this occurred.
Despite all these symptoms, I carried on working as a primary school teacher and planned to finish work at 37 weeks to give me a bit of time to take it easy.
Although I was told all the symptoms I was experiencing were related to the pregnancy, my mum thought something was wrong. I therefore arranged to see my GP and explained the difficulties I was experiencing. He seemed really concerned and said he would arrange for an X-ray as soon as my baby was born.
I gave birth naturally to Josh who arrived 10 days early on 17 January 2012. Although he had pneumonia, they didn’t know whether this was linked to my health problems or not. But otherwise he was absolutely perfect.
The X-ray discussed was planned just 3 days after I had Josh, but 2 days after the X-ray, when Josh was just 5 days old, I couldn’t breathe. Luckily Matt’s parents were visiting us, so Matt’s dad drove me to hospital and literally carried me in his arms and rushed me into A&E. From there everything spiralled. Results from the X-ray showed a shadow on my chest, which I have since been told made them suspect either lung cancer or lymphoma.
I was admitted into hospital straightaway and tests were carried out including a fine needle biopsy, which proved extremely difficult for them to do. We were so lucky that my parents had been there, so we didn’t have to worry about Josh.
I was diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and had a tumour on my chest. Although it was a huge shock to be told I had cancer, I was also a bit relieved that there was a reason for all these symptoms. I thought I was going mad. The doctor explained that this was very treatable and he was so positive and reassuring that it didn’t enter my head that it would be anything other than successful.
A treatment plan was put in place within a week of giving birth. I was to have 6 cycles of R-CHOP chemotherapy, followed by radiotherapy to my chest. They explained that they would have to be careful when giving radiotherapy because of the risk of breast cancer as a late effect.
Things were frantic. My husband would drop Josh with his parents in the evening and then pick him up in the morning to bring him over to the hospital for the first week. He would then go and get things we needed for the baby. The hospital gave me a private room because of my situation, and to avoid the other people being disturbed by a newborn baby. I had people visiting me and the baby; at times my hospital room seemed more like Clapham Junction!
Almost as soon as they started the treatment with steroids, the cough I’d been struggling with for over 9 months went away and I started to feel considerably better. It was such a relief. In fact I coped well with the chemotherapy. I didn’t feel sick, but struggled a bit with constipation. My hair fell out, but I had a good wig so actually felt fairly glamorous much of the time.
I asked the consultant whether the pregnancy had brought the lymphoma on, or made it worse. She said she couldn’t say for sure although the size of the tumour suggested the lymphoma had been there for a while.
Looking back now at that time, I realise just how frantic things were. But I was fortunate to have the support of my wonderful family, especially my mum who we lived with for 8 months. Although I know it was hard work for them, they really bonded with Josh.
I would recommend to people that they take all the help they can. Not only were my family and friends really supportive, but I was matched up to a buddy through Lymphoma Action. It was a chap who was a similar age to me and I found that contact really helpful. I also went to the local support group and would encourage other people to do so. I also cannot thank enough the staff at the hospital I was treated in for their help and support once diagnosed.
I found exercise helped in gaining back my health. Just going for a walk made me feel 10 times better. I had been a really keen hockey player before I was pregnant and am now back playing, which gives me some time for myself again.
My follow-up appointments are now every 6-7 months. Life is really busy as I have returned to work part-time, resumed hockey and just love being a mum. Josh is healthy and full of life. I couldn’t wish for more.