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"Everything's come undone." Alisha is 29 with 7 kids. And now she has stage 4 cancer.

When Alisha walked into her doctor’s office on December 21 last year, her eyes were drawn to the colour red.

On the doctor’s desk was some paperwork with Alisha’s name written in red across it. And then two words were printed beneath: Cancer checklist.

“Nothing was ticked,” 29-year-old Alisha told Mamamia, “so I just thought it was precautionary.”

But when she sat down, her partner settling himself in the chair beside her, the doctor simply said: “You have breast cancer.”

Watch: Briony Benjamin, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, gives us an insight into her life. Post continues. 

She cried, and then froze, unable to take a word in from the specialist.

Alisha’s partner grabbed her and said, “It’s okay. We’ll get through it,” and took the lead with the doctor, asking all the questions that needed to be asked.

It was Stage 3. Advanced. Aggressive.

She would need treatment. Fast. But her case wasn’t straightforward.

Because Alisha was pregnant.

“Oozing a little bit of clear liquid.” What Alisha noticed in July 2017

It was winter 2017 when Alisha, then 27, noticed a lump on her nipple.

“It looked like my nipple was infected. It was oozing a little bit of clear liquid, and being a mother who had breastfed years ago… sometimes you’d get a little spot or something,” Alisha said.

At first it wasn’t alarming.

But then Alisha noticed her nipple almost sticking to her bra, and eventually her nipple “cracked open”.

She went to the doctor and was sent for an ultrasound, then to hospital.

Alisha
Alisha's seven children. Image supplied.
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Alisha was told it was just an abscess - a collection of pus normally caused by a bacterial infection - and would need to be drained. Once it was drained, however, it grew back.

"It was infected. It would be hot, it would radiate heat off it... it was very red. All signs of an infection," Alisha said.

So, she went back to the doctor. Their solution was to put her on multiple rounds of antibiotics, which didn't appear to make any difference.

Then, Alisha fell pregnant.

"This thing just started to grow rapidly to the point where one boob was one and a half the size of the other side. To everybody else you could tell," she recounted.

"I said to the doctor 'I don't want to be on antibiotics because of the baby,'" and eventually, he agreed to send her for a biopsy.

That was on December 19. On December 20 came the phone call that the doctor "wasn't happy" and he "didn't like what she saw". By December 21, four days before Christmas, Alisha knew that lump she'd had for more than 18 months was breast cancer.

"Mummy has cancer"

Alisha was 29, very pregnant, with six kids under 11 all on school holidays, and had just been diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.

"We knew what they could understand and what they couldn't," Alisha said, "so we sat them all down and had a conversation with them."

A blended family, with three biological children and three from her partner's previous marriage, at the time Alisha had one 11-year-old, two 10 year olds, two eight year olds and a seven year old.

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Alisha with six of her children. Image supplied.
Alisha with six of her children. Image supplied.

"I told them that mummy had gone to the doctor, and they did a test, and it's come back that mummy has cancer," she said.

The year before, Alisha's three children had lost their grandmother to cancer. Their first question was: "Mummy are you going to die?"

She replied simply: "I'm not sure".

Alisha warned her children that she'd lose her hair, and be a "little bit sick" but then the medicine would hopefully make her better in the long term.

They all cried, and asked her if she was okay. They wanted to know if it hurt.

A mastectomy during pregnancy, and chemotherapy two weeks after birth

The first step was getting the mass out, which required a mastectomy on Alisha's left breast.

Once they did a biopsy on the mass, doctors discovered it had already spread to her lymph nodes. Her cancer was so aggressive that specialists briefly considered giving Alisha one round of chemotherapy while she was pregnant.

Listen: Tracy Bevan lost her best friend Jane McGrath to breast cancer. She speaks to Mia Freedman about their friendship. Post continues.

The problem with chemotherapy, however, is how much it compromises immunity, making any kind of surgery particularly dangerous.

Alisha was 33 weeks pregnant when she underwent her mastectomy, and at 35 weeks, doctors delivered her baby early via caesarean. Chemotherapy began just two weeks after that.

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In those first two weeks with Isaac, Alisha breastfed and pumped as much as she could. She knew once the chemo started, that her breast milk would become toxic to him.

Alisha with her son Isaac. Image supplied.
Alisha with her son Isaac. Image supplied.

"That's another thing taken away from you as soon as you start chemo," she said. "You can no longer feed your child."

"Everything's kind of come undone..."

Since Isaac was born, only seven and a half weeks ago, Alisha often finds herself looking at him thinking, "I just want to watch you grow up... I want to be here for you."

That's her darkest thought, Alisha says. "I definitely won't be here to see Isaac blowing out his candles on his 18th birthday. My family are what I live and breath for, that's all that really hurts me."

Alisha during chemotherapy. Image supplied.
Alisha during chemotherapy. Image supplied.
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Alisha's cancer is now Stage 4. It's become metastatic and spread to her liver. She might have 12 months or she might have six years. No one really knows.

Since her diagnosis, "everything's kind of come undone" for Alisha. Their family had five year plans. Ten year plans. They'd made a series of decisions with the belief that they had time.

"You can't sit there and say I'm going to travel in 10 years..." Alisha says. "What if I'm not here? I never got to do that with my kids."

So Alisha decided to write a to-do list, full of all the little things she'd always promised herself she'd do.

Take her family on their first overseas trip. Marry her partner in front of their children. Swim with big turtles. Learn another language. Take the kids horse riding. Take the kids to the Royal Easter Show for the first time. Slow dance in the sunset after a romantic dinner.

Nothing excessive. Just the moments life is meant to be made up of.

All Alisha wants is to create memories with her kids.

Because in the end, she says, "we're only ever left with memories".

You can help Alisha and her family, by donating to 'Help Alisha Live Her Dreams' at Go Fund Me. The money will go towards relieving the financial pressures on her family, and living out the to do list she's put together.

There's a few things Alisha wanted readers to take away from her story. The first is that women must express their concerns with their doctors. If they don't listen, then go further. Get a second opinion. Because if the lump had been tested two years ago, then "it could have changed the whole outcome... It wouldn't have gotten to this stage".

The second, is the incredible support she's received. Canteen offers some great resources on how to tell your kids you have cancer. The McGrath Foundation assigned her a breast cancer nurse following her mastectomy, which has been "wonderful". Her mother has moved in with them, uprooting her life from the Coast. And of course, her partner and kids, who have supported her every step of the way. 

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