Images via Sarah’s JustGiving fundraiser profile (see end of article for details)
Pregnancy, and everything associated with it, is an enormously daunting experience for any woman, even when nothing goes wrong.
So imagine having to come to terms with a cancer diagnosis and the agonising decision about whether to have chemotherapy, while you were pregnant.
This uncommon, nightmarish occurrence happened to a 40-year-old mother from Wales who has spoken for the first time about the ordeal of giving birth to her second child and having a mastectomy 30 minutes later.
Sarah Williams found out she had an aggressive form of breast cancer when she was 20 weeks pregnant with her son Joshua. She first noticed changes in her right breast in January last year, but assumed they were caused by the IVF treatments she’d finished a month earlier and hormonal shifts in her body when she fell pregnant.
The cancer diagnosis came as a complete shock, and nobody could tell Sarah and her husband Carl whether their unborn baby would live through it. “I’d already felt the baby kick — he was a little wriggler — and so the thought of having to put chemicals in my body that could kill him was just horrible,” Sarah tells the Daily Mail.
“There was no question of getting rid of the baby. We’d already been told there was a one in 66 chance of it having Down’s [Syndrome] and decided that we’d love it whatever happened.”
Her own mortality also crossed Sarah’s mind. “Until that moment I’d been at one of the loveliest points in my life— pregnant with a baby we’d tried so hard for, a beautiful little girl and the best husband in the world. I couldn’t get my head around the fact that I might leave them.”
In the remaining weeks of her pregnancy Sarah endured five bouts of chemotherapy, which she describes as “a nightmare physically and mentally”, all the while terrified that the treatment could harm her baby.
Several doctors formulated a treatment plan for Sarah, and in October last year Joshua was delivered via C-section.
She had just thirty minutes to meet and hold her baby son for the first time before she had her breast removed in the same operating theatre. During the surgery, doctors removed 29 lymph nodes from Sarah’s body – 22 of which contained live cancer cells.
“The thought of losing the baby and not coming through this to see my little girl Sasha grow up was sickening. But I tried really hard to push those thoughts to the back of my mind and focus on the treatment,” she tells The Mirror.
Dr Bronwyn King, a radiation oncologist at Epworth Healthcare in Melbourne, says while it’s not common for women to be diagnosed during pregnancy, it’s not unheard of.