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Episode 202

Liana Purser

In this week’s episode I interview Liana who, at 9 weeks pregnant, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. She admits that she went into survival mode when her doctor delivered the news and from then on was determined to do everything she could to deliver a healthy baby. Regardless of surgery and six months of chemotherapy, Liana remained positive and nurtured a positive mindset so she could embrace her pregnancy despite the almighty upheavals. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Liana’s story highlights the importance of breast checks and breast awareness. For more information about breast screening, visit bcna.org.au

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“We decided to wait a year after we were married to start trying for a baby. I wanted to run my second marathon and I had recently been diagnosed with coeliac’s disease so I wanted to build up my iron and B12 levels before I fell pregnant. When we did start trying we were pregnant a few months later and we were elated.”

Liana woke up with sharp pains in her belly when she was five weeks pregnant and the next day discovered via ultrasound that she had kidney stones. It was during that ultrasound that the sonographer noticed the baby’s heartbeat was quite faint which wasn’t altogether unusual considering she was so early. However, at her 8 week scan they couldn’t find a heartbeat at all.

“It was really devastating, I was so heartbroken. It was one of the saddest times in my life. You just don’t expect things to go wrong, I was so upset about it and so was my husband.”

After consulting with her obstetrician, Liana decided to have a d+c and went on to fall pregnant six weeks later. At her 8 week scan they were met with a strong heartbeat so they booked in to see their obstetrician the following week. It was around this time that one of Liana’s relatives had a cancer scare and while she had a benign lump in her breast for ten years, she decided to mention it to her OB during her appointment and he sent her for an ultrasound the following day.

“The results came back abnormal so the next day I had a biopsy of the lump and two days later I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was quite unusual because I’m quite emotional but when the doctor told me the news I immediately went into survival mode and I just said to her: I’m keeping this baby. It was so important to continue with the pregnancy and have this healthy baby. I was focussed, I accepted my cancer diagnosis and we figured out a plan so that’s when the OB, breast surgeon and the oncologist got together to figure it all out.”

An MRI showed that although the cancer hadn’t spread to her other organs, it was detected in her lymph nodes. Her cancer was also a very aggressive and fast growing kind and consequently there were limited treatment options available. Her OB, breast surgeon and oncologist worked together to devise a plan for the remainder of her pregnancy and they opted to do surgery at 12 weeks pregnant followed by six months of chemotherapy which was safe for Rose as by the placental barrier has formed by the second trimester.

“I was told that if I was to wait till after birth to receive treatment my chances of survival would significantly decrease…I knew that if I refused treatment there was a chance that neither Rose or I would make it.

“They decided to do surgery when I was 12 weeks to remove all the cancer, it was daunting and I felt very vulnerable. But I had a lot of confidence in my team and I wholeheartedly trusted them. Once I came out of surgery my OB came in to do an ultrasound and it was just so good to hear Rose’s strong heartbeat.”

Liana joined a facebook group for mums who had been diagnosed with cancer while pregnant and she found so much comfort in their stories, particularly knowing that they had gone on to birth healthy babies after treatment.

At 15 weeks she started chemotherapy and it continued till she was 34 weeks. “I’d go in on the Monday and have the chemotherapy overnight and while I felt good for the three days afterward I’d then succumb to nausea, headaches, dizziness and lethargy for four days. I knew what to expect though and I still wanted to enjoy my pregnancy so I just made sure I got out and enjoyed the days when I was feeling well. I’m quite a spiritual person and I put my trust in God and my team; that’s how I got my reassurance throughout it all.

“In my mind, I felt going through all the treatment was all out of my control but the one thing I did have control of was my mindset; I wanted to enjoy it and I wasn’t going to let the cancer ruin it. I wanted to feel happy and enjoy the pregnancy, it had its challenges but there were many beautiful moments too.”

Liana made the decision to have a cesarean birth and it was an empowered choice, one she felt was absolutely best for her and Rose. Her obstetrician wholeheartedly agreed with her and scheduled her for 37weeks. However, three days before the date, Liana noticed that her baby’s movements had changed. She stayed awake overnight and monitored them and the next morning called her OB.

“He asked me to come straight in and they put me on the CTG and while everything looked ok my fluid levels had dropped and he made the call to have the cesarean that day. I was so nervous, we’d been through so much and getting to this point was the final hurdle –  everything had come down to this moment. Of course it was amazing, she was screaming and what was most wonderful was that she had so much hair and that was the evidence we needed that she didn’t get any of the chemo.”

Liana was booked in for a double mastectomy five weeks after the birth so she bottle fed Rose from day one.

“I didn’t feel like my breastmilk was any good, I don’t know if that makes sense but that’s how I was feeling. I also didn’t want her to get attached to the breast to then have to switch her to bottles in week five. She was only 2.2kg so it was quite important that she started to gain weight so we bottle fed her from day 1 and she took to it and didn’t stop; by three-months-old she was in the 90th percentile! It was definitely the best decision for us.”

In July Liana celebrated three years since her diagnosis; a significant milestone for her as the chance of her type of cancer returning is now deemed rare.

Topics Discussed

Breast cancer during pregnancy, Chemotherapy, Mastectomy, Caesarean

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