“MY BABY AND I NEARLY LOST OUR LIVES”

Beth Diana Samuel shares about her trau­matic jour­ney – from be­ing di­ag­nosed with hy­per­cal­caemia dur­ing preg­nancy to find­ing out she had thy­roid can­cer.

Herworld (Malaysia) - - CONTENTS - By Poon Li-Wei

One woman’s long and ar­du­ous jour­ney to be­com­ing a mum.

“Iwas at my first ad­ver­tis­ing job when I col­lapsed at work due to kid­ney stones. Lit­tle did I know that it would be the be­gin­ning of eight painful years, re­oc­cur­ring an­nu­ally, and that it would lead to more crit­i­cal health prob­lems. The doc­tors found it pe­cu­liar as I was so young – I turn 29 this year – and I was con­stantly told I wasn’t drink­ing enough wa­ter. For years, I was downing four to five litres of wa­ter a day and go­ing to the toi­let plenty!

A Down­hill Turn

When I got mar­ried three years ago, the plan­ning of the wed­ding was a com­plete blur and I didn’t feel any ex­cite­ment – at one point, I didn’t even care that I was go­ing to get mar­ried. These were all signs of de­pres­sion, which I had been brush­ing off un­til my sis­ter, who is a child ther­a­pist, picked up that I wasn’t re­ally my­self. She sched­uled me for an ap­point­ment with a renowned psy­chi­a­trist, who di­ag­nosed me with ma­jor de­pres­sive dis­or­der. He even tested me to see if I had a thy­roid prob­lem as de­pres­sion could some­times be a side ef­fect of hor­monal im­bal­ances, but my re­sults came back clear.

All-Time Low

For the next year, I’d be on var­i­ous com­bi­na­tions of med­i­ca­tion – one par­tic­u­lar con­coc­tion would see me burst­ing into tears for hours and I’d lock my­self in the toi­let. I was ter­ri­fied of los­ing my job – my doc­tor even told me to keep it from my high­erups as men­tal ill­nesses are still very much taboo in Asia. But when I told my manag­ing di­rec­tor who’s based in Sin­ga­pore about my con­di­tion, he re­as­sured me that ev­ery­thing was go­ing to be okay and even flew down the very next week to help me man­age. As much as the med­i­ca­tion con­trolled my lows, it con­trolled my highs as well, leav­ing me in a con­stant state of numb­ness. I wasn’t sad, but I wasn’t happy ei­ther – so much so that I barely felt a thing at the time when I had a mis­car­riage. We had just won a huge pitch for a client and I re­mem­ber my stom­ach hurt­ing badly. I started to bleed and dis­charged clumps of tis­sue. Pet­ri­fied, I col­lected ev­ery­thing and rushed to the doc­tor, who ran some tests and con­firmed that I had mis­car­ried. That was how I found out I was preg­nant, yet not preg­nant. I drove to work and car­ried on as per nor­mal right af­ter – shut­ting down and re­fus­ing to dis­cuss what had hap­pened with my hus­band. Only much later did I take the time to di­gest the over­whelm­ing feel­ings that came with see­ing life lit­er­ally leave my body.

Kick-Start­ing A New Life

Be­ing a nat­u­rally bub­bly per­son, it was frus­trat­ing to not feel any­thing – driv­ing me to re­search if it was pos­si­ble to man­age de­pres­sion with­out med­i­ca­tion. I un­der­stand that doc­tors would ad­vise against it, but I was con­vinced I could do it and told my psy­chi­a­trist that I was go­ing to stop see­ing him. That was when I started yoga, med­i­tat­ing and a whole new healthy life­style. I be­came more mind­ful about where I was spend­ing my time at, and be­gan to recog­nise the signs when my de­pres­sive phases came and went. One of the big­gest changes I did was to move about – go­ing for a run would kick-start a rush of en­dor­phins. For awhile, things were quite set­tled and I hap­pily found out I was preg­nant early last year.

A Bit­ter­sweet Sur­prise

Un­for­tu­nately, very quickly, we re­alised it wasn’t a nor­mal preg­nancy. I was treated at a pri­vate hos­pi­tal but my doc­tor was con­cerned about my un­usu­ally high blood pres­sure – so much so that I would be ad­mit­ted each time I went for my vis­its. Due to my com­pli­cated med­i­cal his­tory (kid­ney stones and de­pres­sion), she rec­om­mended a pro­fes­sor from a gov­ern­ment hos­pi­tal who han­dles high-risk preg­nan­cies.

It was a very try­ing pe­riod, as I had to come to grasp with the fact that all the plans I had laid out for my preg­nancy and birth were quickly snatched from me. As I was such a high risk, I was told to un­dergo a Cae­sarean de­liv­ery. It was around the 20th week of my preg­nancy when my blood pres­sure was so high, I had to be ad­mit­ted and they ran a full blood work on me. The re­sults came back show­ing ab­nor­mally high lev­els of cal­cium, prompt­ing the pro­fes­sor to get the en­docrine team to check up on me.

The next doc­tor that came to see me was an en­docri­nol­o­gist who in­formed me that I couldn’t be dis­charged. I had hy­per­cal­caemia (high lev­els of cal­cium in the blood), caused by the mal­func­tion­ing of parathy­roid glands (also re­spon­si­ble for the kid­ney stones and de­pres­sion). Hy­per­cal­caemia can some­times turn out to be a silent killer – it starts off with kid­ney stones, but in more se­vere cases, could lead to ab­nor­mal heart rhythm (ar­rhyth­mia) and kid­ney fail­ure. Those af­fected could die from a brain aneurysm or heart prob­lems and once dead, it would be im­pos­si­ble to run blood works to con­firm the cause of death. Be­cause I was preg­nant and un­able to be put on med­i­ca­tion, they had to pump litres of wa­ter through my veins to flush out the cal­cium. My veins would col­lapse

ev­ery day and the pe­riph­er­ally in­serted cen­tral catheter (PICC) line would have to be changed. By the time I was dis­charged, 30 over lines had been set. Once, I was in so much pain, I couldn’t even lie down – I didn’t think I was go­ing to make it.

An Emo­tional Roller­coaster

It was very dif­fi­cult for me to come to terms with my con­di­tion and the doc­tors had to stage what they called a “med­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion”. I was in a room filled with 25 doc­tors as they ex­plained to my hus­band and I just how grave the sit­u­a­tion was. Be­ing preg­nant, my hor­mones were all over the place, and my cal­cium lev­els had shot up ex­po­nen­tially – which is also the rea­son why they had caught my hy­per­cal­caemia. At the same time, my baby was sav­ing my life as she was ab­sorb­ing some of the ex­cess cal­cium. What would have hy­po­thet­i­cally hap­pened if I hadn’t been di­ag­nosed in time was that once I gave birth to her, my cal­cium lev­els would spike dra­mat­i­cally and I could have gone into a coma. My risk of dy­ing at child­birth was very real. And two weeks later, my baby girl would have died as well, as her glands wouldn’t have been able to pro­duce cal­cium, hav­ing re­ceived an over­sup­ply of it in the womb. The ver­dict was that I would have to de­liver my baby at 34 weeks, which ter­ri­fied and sad­dened me – as a mother, my in­stinct was to pro­tect my child, but I couldn’t even give her the bare min­i­mum of time in my womb to grow.

It was a very sur­real birth – she was so frail and tiny, barely mak­ing a sound at just 1.67kg. Thank­fully, while I was preg­nant with her, they’d given me two very painful steroid in­jec­tions to de­velop her lungs so she didn’t need a breath­ing ap­pa­ra­tus or in­cu­ba­tion. It was also dev­as­tat­ing for me to know that I wouldn’t be able to breast­feed her as my body was filled with med­i­ca­tion – but I held on, con­vinced that the worst was al­most over.

An Un­ex­pected Twist

Right af­ter the birth, I un­der­went a biopsy of my thy­roid and parathy­roid glands (they reg­u­late cal­cium lev­els) to fix my hy­per­cal­caemia. They ended up tak­ing two tis­sue sam­ples, as the first

“AS MUCH AS THE MED­I­CA­TION CON­TROLLED MY LOWS, IT CON­TROLLED MY HIGHS AS WELL – LEAV­ING ME IN A CON­STANT STATE OF NUMB­NESS.”

had looked sus­pi­cious. The en­docrine doc­tor then broke the news to me that it may be can­cer­ous – which was an­other blow be­cause I’d been un­der the im­pres­sion that all it’d take was an in­jec­tion and surgery to re­move the mal­func­tion­ing parathy­roid gland (the hu­man body has four and each is the size of a grain of rice). I was then re­ferred to an en­docrine sur­geon in an­other hos­pi­tal, who told me that when the team went to work fix­ing the parathy­roid prob­lem, they’d take a tis­sue sam­ple and have it checked for can­cer. Thank­fully, they had the tech­nol­ogy to con­firm it within that du­ra­tion – so they could make an in­formed de­ci­sion whether to do a par­tial thy­roidec­tomy, or a full thy­roidec­tomy if it was in­deed can­cer. Un­for­tu­nately, it was the lat­ter, but the great news was that my doc­tor said it looked as if it hadn’t spread any­where else or hit any of my lymph nodes. How­ever, with this surgery, there were no clear mar­gins, so I had to un­dergo ra­dioac­tive io­dine ther­apy to kill off the rest of the cells. While it wasn’t painful, the agony was be­ing away from my new­born daugh­ter, Keisha, for about a month. This was about seven months ago and I’m very happy to say that just last week, I went for a check-up and was given the all-clear!

Light At The End Of The Tun­nel

It’s amaz­ing how the en­tire uni­verse con­spired to keep my baby and I alive. If I hadn’t been preg­nant with Keisha, I would have never found out I had hy­per­cal­caemia and if that hadn’t hap­pened, I wouldn’t have gone in to re­move my parathy­roid glands only to catch my thy­roid can­cer at such an early stage! Not to men­tion, my re­la­tion­ship with my hus­band has only grown from strength to strength – he never once left our side and had such un­wa­ver­ing faith that I would get through it. He would look at me and say ‘I can­not do this with­out you’. Ev­ery step of the way, all I could think about was that and how I re­ally wanted a baby girl – I didn’t even give my­self an op­tion to not be there for her. And I thought to my­self, even if I did go, it was im­por­tant that my daugh­ter would re­mem­ber me for my fight­ing spirit. I look at her now and think, ‘I get to take care of you’. It was trau­matic, but it was all a very small price to pay for a life­time of gig­gles and laugh­ter with her.

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