real life

'I was 7 months pregnant when my neck began to swell. 2 days later, I was rushed to hospital.'

The Longest Table
Thanks to our brand partner, The Longest Table

I can remember, with absolute clarity, the evening of November 4, 2017. 

It was around 7pm, I was in the supermarket. My phone chimed — my friend Alexis had created a new WhatsApp group. 

"Some news" it was called.

Alexis — Lec — was pregnant, just into her third trimester, so it had to be something to do with that. A baby shower date? Some new name ideas maybe — it was something we'd been talking about, and all the girls were being kept updated on the options she and husband James had on their list.

But as I read the message, tears rolled down my cheeks.

"Some disturbing news, but wanted to let you guys know at once," read the text. "I've had a butt load of blood tests and chest scan, which showed internal lumps, as well as some huge ones on my neck... The doctors say they believe it's lymphoma..."

Standing there, holding my basket of groceries, eyes glued to the screen, my legs went weak. I didn't know what to do; there was nothing I could do. 

Lec wasn't the first person I knew to be diagnosed with cancer. My grandma had had ovarian cancer. My aunt battled breast cancer, twice. But Lec was in her early 30s. Young, healthy. Pregnant.

Given the statistics, maybe I shouldn't have been shocked. Nearly one in two Australians will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85, and almost 444 Australians are diagnosed with cancer every day — which is why initiatives like The Longest Table support cancer research projects through The Hospital Research Foundation Group to find new ways to prevent, treat and cure this heartbreaking disease.


Already, funding into cancer research and treatments is making a significant difference. In the early 1990s, the cancer survival rate was just over 50 per cent. Fast-forward to the late 2010s, and that had increased to almost 70 per cent for at least five years after a cancer diagnosis. For some cancers, that increased to 90 per cent — changes that wouldn't have been possible without funding of vital research.

But clearly, there is still more to be done. As one of my best friends faced her cancer journey, surrounded by friends and family, we soon discovered there was very limited information available on the effects of the specific chemotherapy treatment she was prescribed during pregnancy, further highlighting the need for more funding into advancing treatments.

That's where events like The Longest Table come in. By simply hosting a meal for family or friends, people can raise funds (in a fun way — who doesn't enjoy a meal with loved ones?) to support much-needed research into not only new and improved treatments for different types of cancer, but also developments in diagnosis and better outcomes for patients.

One of the many research projects that received funding in 2024 from The Hospital Research Foundation Group thanks to The Longest Table's efforts was improving treatments for lymphoma. It is estimated that more than 7,400 people were diagnosed with lymphoma in 2023, and is the most common cancer in people aged 15-29, and the sixth most common cancer in adults. 


It also happened to be the type of cancer that affected Lec. This is her story.


"It was a Thursday, and James and I decided to go out for dinner. We'd been successful at auction a few days earlier, buying our first home; [our daughter] Leti had just turned three. And it was one of the first times we'd really just stopped and sat across from each other, because everything had been so hectic," Lec told me of the night her husband noticed something was wrong. 

"We went out and had a really nice dinner, and James looked at me across the table and said, 'You know, your neck is really swollen.' I was like, mate — my ankles are swollen, I'm swollen all over. It's a pregnancy thing!"

They went home that night and didn't think much more of it. But between work, looking after a three-year-old, her pregnancy and everything that comes with buying a home, Lec realised it had been a while between checkups. So she went to see her doctor that Saturday.

"She did her normal tests, and I'd already forgotten about my neck, so it was only as I was walking out the door, I said, 'Oh by the way, my husband said my neck looks bizarre to him. I don't see it, but he said there's a definite difference in my appearance.'

"The GP looked at me and I could almost see her register that it was really significant. She thought that I might have glandular fever, which was probably not great during pregnancy. She told me to go directly to the emergency department at the hospital, and that she was calling ahead to have me assessed as soon as I got there."


Lec called James, who dropped their daughter off at Lec's mum's place, and together they went to the local hospital — where they stayed for hours, Lec undergoing blood tests and a series of chest X-rays.

"Not ideal in pregnancy, but they clearly felt it was necessary. I had to wear big led aprons over my stomach." 

When the emergency doctor came back in, he took them into a separate room. 

"He sat us down, and the mood felt very sombre. He said, 'Look, you don't have glandular fever.' And James, not reading the room, was just like, 'Oh, thank god. Thank God.'

"I could tell some bad news was coming, but I was mostly concerned about how James would react."

The doctors said there were a number of "significant lumps" throughout Lec's chest and neck, and that she'd need to stay in hospital for a few days. "I had to remain lying down in bed to take the pressure off some of the bigger growths around my organs. One of them was 17cm."

Doctors thought that the tumours, which were wrapped around her windpipe, and pressing on her lungs and heart, were lymphoma, but they wouldn't know which type until biopsy results came in.

"One of the more manageable ones is Hodgkin's, they told us. So for the next little while until the biopsy came back, we were just waiting, hoping for that."

Lec and her daughter Leti, who was three at the time. Image: Supplied.

 The doctors were also unsure at this stage what it would mean for Lec's treatment — or her pregnancy. And it was around this time that Lec and James chose a name for their baby: Yuli.

"We had to give her an identity. We had to. Just in case we couldn't later."

"I didn't really feel a sense of huge risk for myself. I was just terrified of what would happen to Yuli. I think that's what my brain had the capacity to deal with."

A few days later, the news no-one ever expects to hope for came in: a confirmed diagnosis of Hodgkin's lymphoma, and a treatment plan — which was to begin immediately, due to the pressure the stage-3 tumours were putting on Lec's organs.


"Many women who are diagnosed with cancer during pregnancy are able to wait until the baby arrives to start treatment," Lec said. "But with my case, that wasn't an option because of how far progressed it was."

For the baby's health, doctors wanted to delay her arrival as long as safely possible — meaning Lec would undergo chemotherapy while still pregnant.

The type of chemo Lec was about to undertake also does a lot of damage to the reproductive system and makes the likelihood of conceiving again virtually nonexistent. As such, most women who undergo this treatment are advised to harvest their eggs before they start.

"I didn't have that opportunity, because I was pregnant," she said. 

Only ever wanting two children, Lec and James were "very okay" with the idea that they may not have more. But as doctors continued to remind her, there was still a genuine risk with her current pregnancy.

"I just kept thinking, 'No. This one has to work," she told me.

Lec, James and Leti. Image: Supplied.

 With the need to get started on treatment bearing down, a plan was devised: two rounds of chemotherapy to start immediately, to be carried out until she was just two weeks shy of full term. Then a C-section to bring baby Yuli into the world, and 10 days later, begin on a second, more aggressive chemo, followed up with radiation.


"Yuli was born between my second and third rounds of chemo. And it was one of the best days ever. We were giddy, and all of the staff were, too — even the surgeon kept in contact with us for like a good year after that! I lost all my hair from the chemo, but she was born with a full head of hair, and all her fingers and toes. We couldn't have been happier."

Lec, James, Leti and their new arrival, Yuli. Image: Supplied.

Ten days later, Lec began the next round of chemo, putting her largely out of action in caring for her newborn in those first weeks.


"James was doing so much. He was managing a three-year-old who's going through a lot of change, moving — we moved in with my mum during treatment — plus looking after a newborn, looking after me, working, because I couldn't. Not only all that, but also not falling apart through it all.

"And my mum's support was invaluable. She opened her home to us and was there for babysitting, cooking... she was incredible."

In fact, everyone in Lec and James' community rallied around to help in any way they could. Lec's sister, who'd just relocated to Melbourne, literally got back in the moving truck, turned around and drove back to Sydney. The real estate agent who'd sold them the home only a week before her diagnosis tried to get them out of the sale without losing their deposit. (Unfortunately, he couldn't, so I moved into their new place — can confirm friends make great landlords!)

"We were, and still are, both just so grateful to the family and friends who stepped in to help. They got us through it."


After two more rounds of chemo, followed by radiation, Lec's treatment was declared a success — though even four years later, when her regular scans showed no signs of any cancer left in her body, Lec was still hesitant to celebrate. 

"I had to go back every two months, then six months, then yearly. At my last PET scan, which was only four years in, they told me there was no activity and no need to do another scan.

"I didn't believe it. And it's weird — I still don't really believe it."


Lec has been officially cancer free for three years now, though its ghost still haunts her.

And Yuli, now almost seven, is now one of the most vibrant, fun-loving, joyful, positive kids I have ever met.

"I don't really believe in reincarnation," Lec told me, "but she is my grandmother — my yia yia. She looks like her. And she's spicy like her. They're just so similar, it's wild."

The Longest Table supports cancer research projects through The Hospital Research Foundation Group, finding new ways to prevent, treat and cure cancer. The official date to host is Saturday, July 27, but you can choose to host your Longest Table anytime until 31 August.

Pick your date and register online to receive your free host Goodie Bag. 

Feature Image: Supplied.

The Longest Table
Almost 444 Australians are diagnosed with cancer every day. That's 74 friends, parents, workmates, and kids during the time it takes to share a meal. But you can make a difference! Hosting a Hospital Research Longest Table is a fun and easy way to raise money for vital cancer research. Register online, choose a date, invite your friends, and enjoy a delicious meal together. Fight cancer one forkful at a time! Host your Longest Table this July or August and let’s #ForkCancer together.