'I was 31 weeks pregnant when I found out I had cancer. One thing saved me.'

Megan was well into her pregnancy when she discovered a large lump in her breast.

She didn't suspect cancer because the mass – which she could pick up when she lifted her breast – didn't match anything that she'd been trained to understand about potentially dangerous lumps.

It was something she mentioned casually at her 28-week checkup and, despite her gynaecologist agreeing that the lump was likely simply a blocked milk duct, Megan was referred for an ultrasound – just for peace of mind.

"I went back and saw her to thank her because she basically saved my life for taking it so seriously," Megan told Mamamia

Watch: Camilla Franks' message to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. Post continues below.

Video via Instagram.

The ultrasound was quickly followed by a biopsy, which quickly confirmed Megan and her family's worst fears – at 31 weeks pregnant, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Megan says that she had always known she wanted to be a mother, but it wasn't until the COVID-19 pandemic hit that her desire to start a family with her partner was truly solidified.


"[COVID] was the deciding point for me – when I felt that this thing could come through and our careers and everything we've worked for could be taken away from us. I was sitting there looking at my cat and dog thinking, 'I love you guys but I think I just need a little something else'."

After some frustrations with IVF, Megan and her partner Damien finally welcomed their first child in January of 2021 –  a cheeky, buoyant girl named Ruby. 

Soon after, the couple agreed that the world had the potential to be a lonely place for an only child and that Ruby deserved to have "a partner in crime". 

By early 2022, Megan was pregnant with Jacob, who she describes as her "miracle baby", not only because he was conceived naturally but also because she believes that, had she not been forced back into routine checkups, she may have never had the lump inspected at all.

Megan's cancer was somewhere between grade two and three (a rating system that refers to cell damage caused by cancer). She was sitting on a bed in the Royal Women's Hospital in Melbourne, waiting for her mum to arrive on the train out of Geelong, when Sarah, a breast care nurse, entered the room with a doctor.

Megan when she was pregnant, holding her first child Ruby. And then Megan with Jacob in the NICU. Supplied.


Megan says she could barely process the news.

"At that split moment, I just could not believe it was happening to me. I was just like, 'I am 31 weeks pregnant, I am 43 years old, this is not the destiny that I had for myself.'"

She was also horrified for Damien, who had lost his own mother to cancer only 18 months earlier. 

"I felt really sad to bring cancer back into his life."

The process of cancer treatment while pregnant seemed impossibly daunting and terrifying to Megan. While chemotherapy can be safe for a baby after the first trimester of pregnancy, Megan chose to induce labour in late October of 2022, when Jacob was 35 weeks. He was a healthy size but his lungs were underdeveloped and he was quickly transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) after birth. 

"I got to hold him for five, 10 minutes in the room but they took him straight down to NICU because he needed to go on low-flow oxygen... I had him on the Friday and the following Monday I started chemotherapy. I had my very first PET scan and mammogram," she explained.


"His lungs collapsed that day."

The residual radiation in her body meant that Megan wasn't allowed to see her son in this state for two to three hours. She sat in the carpark of the hospital and bawled while her breast care nurse, Sarah, volunteered to sit with her baby boy.

In the weeks that followed, Megan says she fell into the "worst version of herself." Self-doubt, gnawing guilt at what had happened to her son as a result of her cancer, and a haunting fear plagued her. She started to believe that Jacob would never leave the NICU.

"As a parent, I felt I had failed him, because every time I looked at him, I knew it was my fault. I was the reason that he was in there. He was happy in my tummy; we were growing together.

"I looked at him every day with that machine on his face knowing that a degree of guilt was riding on me because I knew that he had to do what he had to do. We had to take one for the team, each of us, in order for us to be together." 

The complications of Megan's treatment frequently came between her and her newborn. She explains that her treatment with Zoladex, an anti-hormonal medicine that pushed Megan into early menopause, stopped her milk production and meant that she was never able to breastfeed. On top of this, she was conscious to avoid touching him for two to three days after every chemotherapy treatment because she didn't want the toxins to do any damage to his tiny body. 


Compounding her stress was the thought of leaving her young daughter at home and fears of traumatising her with the forced separation.

Over the following months, Megan endured radiation treatment as well as a double mastectomy that she opted for to significantly reduce the chances of the cancer returning. She says she couldn't stand the thought of putting her family through it all again.

"I just thought, 'If this is my best chance I've got for beating it and keeping it out of my body, then for me it was a no-brainer. I considered it one breast for each child – that's how I looked at it."

Jacob finally left the NICU in December 2022.

Today, 12 months on from her initial diagnosis, Megan is cancer-free and considers herself a survivor. 

Looking back on a surreal and terrifying year, she credits her breast care nurse, Sarah, at the Royal Women's Hospital, with saving her life and providing essential support throughout her treatment. 

Breast care nurses are specially trained nurses embedded in hospitals as a resource for women going through breast cancer treatment. They provide emotional support, as well as playing a key role in educating and advocating for women throughout their treatment.

While breast care nurses have become a standardised role in city hospitals, their availability in rural areas can be difficult, but there is a McGrath Foundation hotline that can put patients in touch with these supporters.


Sarah, for her part, says that Megan displayed a huge amount of resilience throughout her journey with breast cancer and that most women with breast cancer will, like Megan, have some incredibly challenging moments. 

"I've never had breast cancer myself but I've been on this journey millions of times with various patients and you know what to expect, when to expect it. And it's about just helping to reassure them that how they're feeling is completely normal.

"It's very much like the cycle of grief – they'll go through sadness, anger, 'Why me? Why is this happening to me?'... it's just about trying to work through those initial phases to try to get them in the right space to move forward and work through that." 

Image: Jacob on the day he left the NICU. Supplied. 


Now that she's settling back into life with her family and Jacob is thriving, Megan says she is trying to drink in every moment that she can with her family. She's setting strict work boundaries and capturing everything she possibly can in photos or videos on her phone because she refuses to forget any of the milestones.

She is also doing what she can to share her story, saying she hopes it gives hope to other women who may be going through – or about to go through – a similar experience.

"I really want to give support to pregnant women, particularly, because it was a really confronting time, knowing that potentially I could be contaminating, infecting my child while I was pregnant. It was very alarming.

"I think we have a very ignorant stance about the age in which you can get cancer and breast cancers. I think the taboos and all of those thoughts need to be changed because it can happen at any point, and we can't be ignorant to that."

Elfy Scott is an executive editor at Mamamia. 

Image: Supplied/Canva