Ev­ery­thing to fight for

Mum to a new­born, I had to make a dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion for us both Emma San­dau, 31, Ec­cle­shall

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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.

Strange.

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

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