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Episode 268

Paige

In today’s episode and in honour of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I talk to Paige who was diagnosed with breast cancer when her first baby was nine months old. Paige has the BRCA1 gene and following six months of chemotherapy she chose to have a double mastectomy without reconstruction. Upon completing three rounds of radiation, Paige’s pathology results confirmed that she had a complete recovery. It was the best news, made even sweeter by a positive pregnancy test shortly afterwards. 

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“We experienced a few losses before conceiving Daisy and with each loss we wanted her even more. We were having conversations about the type of parents we wanted to be and where we wanted her to go to school; she was very planned. In her pregnancy Jake was quite apprehensive but I knew everything was going to be ok. I had a bleed at eight weeks but we had a scan and there was a heartbeat…that was one of my favourite moments, watching tears fall from Jake’s eyes. It all felt real then.”

Paige was sick for the first fifteen weeks but she woke up one morning and felt amazing; she wasn’t tired or nauseous and she continued working and staying busy because she felt so energised. Her tendency to do it all may have contributed to persistent braxton hicks at 30 weeks which prompted her midwife to give her an ultrasound. The sonographer discovered that her cervix had shortened so within hours she was being flown to Adelaide where doctors observed her and warned that she may give birth within a week. Rest was all she needed and she flew home to Port Lincoln, embraced the opportunity to have slow, calm days at home and she was visited twice a week by a midwife. Bed rest ceased at 37 weeks and by 38 weeks there were no signs that labour was imminent.

My doctor suggested a stretch and sweep because Daisy was measuring in the 99th percentile. My doctor confirmed that I definitely didn’t have an incompetent cervix because she couldn’t stretch my cervix at all. I was almost 39 weeks when my waters broke. Looking back on it I wish I was more calm and able to let everything start naturally but I was so stressed that Jake would miss the birth because of being at sea so we just went through with the induction. My contractions went from 0-100, there wasn’t any easing into contractions; it was one minute on, one minute off and it was like that for seven-and-a-half hours.

I eventually requested an epidural and it  was the best decision. I just remember wanting to kiss the anaesthetist. It only worked on half my body but it was just enough to bring me back; I felt like I was myself again and I was ready to have my baby. I felt so much relief. Within 45 minutes I went from 4cm to fully dilated, it relaxed me and made my body feel like it was safe. I was so overwhelmed and excited that my heart rate went through the roof and the midwives were trying to calm me down. The instant relief of birthing Daisy was huge, it was beautiful. She was straight on the breast and she latched on and it was the most mind blowing moment. I adored breastfeeding, it was magic.

“Daisy had a favourite side, she preferred my right side, but I’d started to notice a few little changes in my right breast, in particular a texture change. The midwives had a feel at my six week appointment and they put the large breast due to the fact that Daisy preferred it but there was something in the back of my mind that made me feel like I should keep an eye on it. A couple of weeks after that my parents told me there was a gene mutation on my dad’s side of the family and it was recommended that I undergo genetic testing for BRCA1.

“Daisy was eight months old and I went to work one day and I forgot my breast pump. Jake brought Daisy to me and she wouldn’t latch on the right side so I put her on the left side. I was quite engorged but she wouldn’t latch on the right side, despite it being her favourite and yet she was draining the left side and still hungry. I pumped on the right side and I felt a lump – it popped out of nowhere. I was massaging it in the shower and there was a softness but when that softness would disappear, I could feel a hard lump. As soon as I noticed it, alarm bells started to go off.

“My GP sent me straight for an ultrasound and the sonographer felt that I needed a biopsy. When we got to Adelaide the hospital had lost power and they’d cancelled all the other appointments but we had turned up after 7.5 hours of driving so I had two people doing my biopsy. The cancer was found in my lymph node, despite them only finding lactational breast tissue in my breast. Once I got all my pathology reports, there was only one lymph node that had cancer so it was pretty amazing that they found it.

“I wasn’t sad. I don’t think I cried that day at all, I just asked the doctor what was next. I was sent off to Adelaide and they had to make sure that I was treatable. After so many scans we were over the moon to know that I was treatable and it hadn’t metastasized. I was sad for Daisy, the fact that I could pass it on to her and my parents were devastated; they felt very guilty and they wished they could have done something sooner. When it came to cancer, I didn’t overthink it. I couldn’t change it so I didn’t stress about it.

“My best friend photographed my final breastfeed. It was so beautiful and so sad, I didn’t want it to end but as soon as Daisy pulled off I knew it was over and I just broke down and burst into tears. It was definitely one of the hardest moments out of everything.

“I had fertility treatment straight away and within four days I had four embryos frozen. A week later I started chemo and that went for six months. I had a month off before I had my mastectomy and after that I received the news that I was cancer free. It was ridiculously amazing. I opted to have three weeks of radiation following and then I wasn’t required to have any treatment. Throughout chemo I would have a monthly injection that would essentially put my ovaries to sleep to save them from the chemotherapy so I presumed, and I was told, that I was in menopause.

“I remember saying to Jake that I was so clucky and I think that’s when I started ovulating again. In January I felt tired all of a sudden and I was worried that my cancer was back. Jake and I took Daisy out for breakfast one morning andI was just disgusted by my coffee and we both had a lightbulb moment. I did a test and I remember looking at it and I just couldn’t believe it. I was pregnant and we’d conceived naturally! Of course I worried about whether it was ok but my oncologist referred to it as sensible, considering in the near future I would need a hysterectomy. I admit that there was still a part of me that struggled to believe that I was going to stay pregnant.

“Dawn healed me in a way, I was so proud that I could endure cancer, chemo, surgery and radiation and then fall pregnant with her in the same year. I was so unwell though, I was vomiting all day everyday throughout the pregnancy. My immune system was so low that I caught every cold going around; I even ended up in hospital with a sinus infection. My body hadn’t recovered from treatment so i was prepared for a low birth weight, early labour and there were concerns about the health of my placenta. And yet, she was born a healthy weight at full term.

“I had my waters broken and I started to get nervous. I sent Jake away….I was just starting to get nervous of the unknown. Is my baby going to be ok? Will my body get through this after everything it’s endured? I meditated, I wrote in my journal, I got myself really prepared. I ended up on the syntocinon drip and it was just different. I felt like I eased into the labour, it was a lot calmer and they built up naturally. I felt in control. My tens machine really helped me through and I used techniques that I used during cancer – to help me feel in control when everything was out of control. I recognised when my body was ready for the epidural and I got to the point where I was shaking and nauseous and I asked for the epidural and the anaesthetist was there. It hadn’t even fully kicked in and I had that urge to push.

“It was a beautiful, empowering birth, despite the fact that I hemorrhaged and Dawn had some fluid on the lungs. We had my colostrum that had been in the deep freeze and a lactation specialist gave us the ok to use it. Dawn’s first feed was from me and that was the most emotional part. She latched onto my finger and Jake syringed it into her mouth, it was so special.

Daisy saved my life because she’s the reason I discovered the lump and Dawn has healed us, I was able to grow her to full term and birth her and she’s been fed from donor milk, from the beautiful mums in our community.  I will have a hysterectomy in the next few months and when it comes to the girls, I will support them regardless of what they choose to do with genetic testing. They’ll support each other, I know that.”

Topics Discussed

BRCA1, Breast cancer, Mastectomy, Donor breast milk, Two Vaginal Births, Induction

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