After Anna was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, known as choriocarcinoma, she decided to take part in vital research. She hopes to raise awareness, improve our understanding of the cancer and help more women to spend Christmas with their families.
This is Anna's story
My pregnancy was a bit of a surprise! A happy one, and me and my husband Adam began making plans. We closed our business running a pub and bought a house, began doing that up, he took on a new job. But at my 12 week scan I was told that I had lost one of the twins – the egg had not properly formed.
My pregnancy was really tough. I had all kinds of symptoms – my breathing got worse, I was being sick, I had terrible headaches and visual disturbance – but was told it was related to my pregnancy. By week 37, doctors had decided to induce my labour because I was really unwell and it wasn’t good for the baby. After the birth, tests run on my placenta revealed the cause. I was diagnosed with something called a molar pregnancy; it’s when the cells from the foetus grow into abnormal cells in the placenta.
I was admitted to a specialist unit at Weston Park in Sheffield; there I was told I had a rare form of cancer known as choriocarcinoma. This is caused by the pregnancy where the placenta has turned cancerous. I needed to begin chemotherapy – something I was completely unprepared to hear. But by this stage, the cancer had spread to my vagina, my lungs and the lining of my brain.
So six weeks into motherhood, I began a month long stay at Weston Park, where I went through an extremely intensive chemotherapy regimen. With a six week old baby, it turned our lives upside down, and I missed the time I should have spent bonding with Lydia. Adam had only just started his job, so it hit us hard financially – he had to stop work completely for eight months to care for us. And we live over 80 miles away in Leicestershire! The gruelling treatment continued for several months; bringing with it major side effects such as severe ulceration in my mouth where I was unable to eat or drink, nausea and vomiting, fatigue and tiredness, pins and needles and numbness in my fingers and arm. Weston Park was able to give us amazing specialist care, but it was a tough journey for Adam and Lydia to make to see me.
It’s nearly a year since Lydia was born. I’m aware of all my own milestones at this time too, but we’re really looking forward to her first birthday, and her first Christmas. Last year, I was allowed home for two days between treatments but I was so poorly with the side effects of chemo. This year, we’re going to have a lovely family Christmas, and I’ll enjoy every moment of spending time with Adam and Lydia and relaxing at home. This year, we’ll actually get a tree up! And now that Lydia’s more aware of what’s happening, I can’t wait to see her enjoy it. It was always having them that got me through – I’ve got them, so I got through.
The specialist team and wards at Weston Park were amazing. I’m full of love and admiration for them and what they did for me and do every day for others. Little is known about this rare disease and often many women and their families will not have heard of the disease. Having a specialised centre plays a fundamental role in ensuring patients are well supported throughout their journey.
Weston Park Cancer Charity funds research, so that they can understand the rare kind of cancer I had. I just want to raise awareness now, amongst professionals as well as mums-to-be. The more Weston Park can do to research, understand it, share that knowledge and advance treatments, the more women will get to look forward to Christmas with their families, and the more children will get to keep their mums.
Led by Dr Victoria Parker, the research project funded by Weston Park Cancer Charity aims to find a new way to diagnose this rare cancer by using a blood test to confidently diagnose the condition at the time of the patient’s first ultrasound.
Dr Parker hopes to improve the way doctor’s manage the condition and help to ease the mental health impact of the current processes.
“My research wouldn’t be possible without funding from the charity. It could change the lives of the women I’m working with, like Anna, and the way this cancer is understood, detected and treated across the world, with Sheffield leading the way for managing this devastating disease.”
Every donation, no matter how small or large, helps to ensure we can be there for more people like Anna - together at every step.
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