Everything to fight for
Mum to a newborn, I had to make a difficult decision for us both Emma Sandau, 31, Eccleshall
Cradling my newborn, I admired his tiny fingers and soft skin. ‘He’s perfect,’ I beamed to my husband Ove, then 33.
‘I want another!’
It was May 2018, and I’d only just brought Thorben home from Royal Stoke University Hospital.
It’d been a difficult labour. In the end, doctors had to use forceps to deliver Thorben.
But I’d always dreamt of having a big family – wanted at least two.
‘Already?!’ Ove laughed.
We agreed it was best to wait until Thorben started school, but I revelled in motherhood.
Threw myself into giving our new son Thorben everything.
He was all I’d hoped for.
Only, six weeks after giving birth,
I was still in pain.
‘It might take you longer to heal because you had a forceps delivery,’ my GP said.
But a few weeks later, I was still suffering from discomfort after sex.
My body must still be
recovering, I told myself.
Busy with night feeds and nappy changes, I didn’t make another appointment.
Instead, I just pushed through the pain.
In November 2018, I received a letter inviting me to take a smear test.
I’d never missed a cervical screening – so, two weeks later, I went to my appointment.
It was very straightforward – and the moment I left the GP’s surgery, I forgot about it.
Only, soon after, I received another letter.
Your recent smear test has shown abnormal cells, it said.
I had to go to another appointment to have the cells removed. I didn’t panic. ‘It’s not uncommon,’ I reassured Ove.
It just meant that doctors could remove the cells before they had the chance to develop into cancer.
Nothing to fret about. A week later, I went to County Hospital in Stafford and it took 20 minutes to remove the cells.
‘All done,’ the nurse smiled.
Ove and I took Thorben to Denmark to visit Ove’s family and I forgot all about the procedure.
But, arriving home in January 2019, I received a text saying I had a hospital appointment just two days later.
I’d not booked anything in. Convinced there’d been a mistake, I called the hospital. ‘The doctor wants to speak to you about your results,’ the receptionist told me. Maybe they missed
The doctor wanted to speak to me about my results
some cells, I wondered.
‘I might need a second procedure,’ I told Ove, still unconcerned.
Two days later, I went back to County Hospital with my mum Lisa, then 51, and Thorben, 7 months.
But, sitting in the waiting room, I started to worry.
Why would I need to see a doctor?
When he finally appeared, he ushered us into a private room.
‘We took a biopsy of the abnormal cells,’ he said.
‘Do you need to do further tests?’ I asked. But it wasn’t that simple... ‘We have detected stage-one cervical cancer,’ he said gently.
I looked at my mum, then at Thorben.
I have cancer.
The news floored me. ‘What happens next?’ I asked, stunned.
I wanted to be pragmatic – needed to know how to fight it.
‘You’re going to have to make some decisions about whether you’d like more children,’ the doctor said.
That’s when it hit me. The big family I’d dreamt of. The sibling we’d hoped to give Thorben once he started school – all that could be taken away now.
I burst into tears, devastated. At that moment, Thorben woke up in my arms and snuggled into me.
I realised I had to put all my energy into getting better for my son.
My mum called Ove, who
drove straight to the hospital.
‘We’ll get through this,’ he said, hugging me.
Back home, I struggled to come to terms with the shock news.
Every time I picked up Thorben, I wept, heartbroken at the thought of not being around for him.
In the days that followed, I was booked in for MRI and CT scans.
I was bursting with questions for the doctors.
I’d had cancer while
I was pregnant.
‘Did it affect Thorben?’ I asked, worried.
But I was reassured that he wasn’t at risk.
It was some relief – but before long, I had to go back to hospital for my results and to discuss my options.
‘You could have a partial hysterectomy,’ the specialist said.
That would mean I could still try for another baby in future.
Yet any pregnancy would still come with a high risk of miscarriage – and doctors couldn’t promise the op would get rid of the cancer.
I was devastated at the idea of not being able to have any more children. I was only 31.
But Thorben was my biggest priority.
So, I agreed to have a full hysterectomy. ‘Thorben needs his mum around,’ I said to Ove.
And so, on 12 February this year, I went to Royal Stoke University Hospital for the op.
Surgeons would remove everything except my ovaries, which would prevent me going into early menopause.
Waiting to go to theatre,
I was inconsolable – just nine months earlier, I had been in the maternity ward, welcoming my new son. Now my ability to have more kids was about to be taken away.
A few hours later, I woke up in the recovery room. Ove brought Thorben to see me.
Holding my little boy close, I knew I had to keep on fighting.
I was discharged two days later but faced a long recovery. Unable to even pick up Thorben for six weeks, I felt useless.
So we moved in with my mum, who looked after Thorben while Ove was at work.
This March, I went back to hospital for a checkup.
Surgeons had removed some lymph nodes to see if the cancer had spread. And, to my relief, it hadn’t. This time, the tears I cried were happy ones.
I have regular checks to ensure that the cancer doesn’t come back.
That’s why I’m encouraging every woman to go to their smear tests and to look out for symptoms – it’s better to be safe than sorry.
But I’m just relieved I’m cancer-free.
Alive to see Thorben grow up.
And while I may not be able to give him a little brother or sister, he’ll get every ounce of love I have.
Waiting to go into theatre, I was inconsolable
New mummy and daddy: me, Ove and Thorben
My precious family means the world
My cheeky boy kept my spirits up in hospital