A born fighter

When Lisa Smith, 42, from Pen­rith, Cum­bria, gave birth, she was hor­ri­fied to see a melon-sized growth on her baby’s face…

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Ner­vously pac­ing back and forth in my bath­room, I glanced at the plas­tic stick which was bal­anced on the side of the sink.

‘One more minute to wait,’ I sighed, check­ing my watch.

My hus­band Antony, 40, and I had been try­ing for a baby for the last cou­ple of years, but af­ter suf­fer­ing the heart­break of a mis­car­riage, I was anx­ious.

Then, when two feint lit­tle blue lines ap­peared on the preg­nancy test, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Af­ter let­ting the news sink in for a few sec­onds, I ran to my bed­room and grabbed my phone – shak­ing as I di­alled Anthony’s num­ber.

Af­ter a few rings, he picked up.

‘I’m preg­nant,’ I whis­pered. The line went silent. I waited for Antony to speak, but I al­ready knew what he was think­ing.

We had been look­ing for­ward to start­ing a fam­ily for so long, but nei­ther one of us wanted to get our hopes up.

‘That’s great news!’ he fi­nally cheered.

To be ab­so­lutely sure it was pos­i­tive, we de­cided to go to the GP to con­firm my preg­nancy.

It didn’t take long for the doc­tor to give us the big ‘yes’ we were des­tined for.

‘It’s re­ally hap­pen­ing this time,’ I beamed at Antony. We couldn’t have been hap­pier. As the months passed, ev­ery­thing seemed to be go­ing well.

I was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing all the nor­mal preg­nancy symp­toms – morn­ing sick­ness, swollen feet and an­kles, and crav­ings for my favourite pep­per­oni pizza.

Each ul­tra-scan we went to showed that our baby was healthy and grow­ing as it should be.

Antony and I were also slowly start­ing to em­brace the re­al­ity that we would soon be par­ents, some­thing we were al­ways too scared to do be­fore.

We dashed out to buy baby­grows, a cot and a pram.

Com­ing up to my 34 week scan, Antony and I went to our rou­tine doc­tor’s ap­point­ment at Carlisle Hospi­tal in Cum­bria.

As I lay back on the hospi­tal bed, I clutched Antony’s hand.

I could no longer con­tain my­self as I be­gan wig­gling my toes with an­tic­i­pa­tion to see how the lit­tle one in my bump was do­ing.

As we waited for our doc­tor to give us the thumps up, I sud­denly felt a cold shiver go down my spine.

‘Is ev­ery­thing OK with the baby?’ I asked, con­cerned.

‘I’ll be back in a tick,’ the doc­tor said to us, as he abruptly shot to­wards the door.

The next cou­ple of min­utes felt like a life­time.

‘Some­thing’s wrong,’ I whis­pered to Antony.

When the doc­tor re­turned, the look on his face said it all, some­thing was def­i­nitely wrong.

I turned to Antony and he re­as­sur­ingly stroked my back.

We both tried to brace our­selves for the worst.

‘I’m sorry to tell you, your baby has a 7cm tu­mour on their neck,’ the doc­tor said.

Shak­ing my head, I re­fused to be­lieve it was true.

We were so close to fi­nally hav­ing our own child, how could our baby pos­si­bly be taken away from us so soon?

The doc­tor also con­firmed we were hav­ing a lit­tle girl, but the news was bit­ter­sweet.

We didn’t know whether she would sur­vive or not.

We were then ad­vised that it would be best for me to be in­duced ear­lier than planned and to have a C-sec­tion at 37 weeks.

The only thing I could do for now was go home and rest.

Try­ing to sleep that night was very un­com­fort­able.

Toss­ing and turn­ing, my whole

body felt sore and achy and I felt hor­ri­ble know­ing that my poor baby was in pain.

‘I’m just go­ing out for some air,’ I whis­pered to Antony as he rolled over in his groggy state.

Walk­ing slowly to the bath­room, my bump felt heav­ier than usual.

But, just as I was about to go to the toi­let, my wa­ters broke.

‘Antony!’ I yelled in a panic.

It seemed like I had gained a lot of wa­ter re­ten­tion.

My an­kles were larger than nor­mal and there was sud­denly a lot of wa­ter spilling out of me.

‘This wasn’t meant to hap­pen. This wasn’t the plan,’ I pan­icked, burst­ing into tears.

Jump­ing out of bed with a start, Antony quickly grabbed our things and drove us to the hospi­tal, 30 min­utes away.

Both lost for words, nei­ther one

of us spoke in the car on the way there. Rush­ing into re­cep­tion, the doc­tors looked just as

shocked as we were. It was ob­vi­ous they hadn’t pre­pared for this, ei­ther.

I wasn’t sup­posed to be giv­ing birth – not for a few more weeks.

‘Don’t worry, I’m right here with you,’ Antony soothed.

The next few hours be­came a bit hazy for me.

I was taken straight into the­atre and put un­der a lot of anaes­thetic.

The doc­tors had cut my stom­ach open to de­liver my baby.

When I came to, I didn’t see Antony or our lit­tle girl.

I thought I had lost them both.

Antony later ex­plained to me that he was un­able to come into the the­atre room with me whilst they op­er­ated on me for an hour.

‘But where is our baby?’ I asked him, wor­ried.

The doc­tors had taken our lit­tle girl – who we de­cided to name Jenna – away to try and re­move her grape­fruit-sized tu­mour at­tached to her neck. I was even­tu­ally able to see her a cou­ple of days later – but it was 16 weeks un­til I was able to hold her and cud­dle her. It was tor­ture. Baby Jenna was kept in hospi­tal for two weeks.

On the sec­ond week, she was given a biopsy.

Our daugh­ter looked so beau­ti­ful to us and her tu­mour didn’t phase us at all – although, of course, we wanted it gone so that she could be com­fort­able. Four months later, in July 2017, Jenna was fi­nally un­der­go­ing surgery to re­move the huge tu­mour from her lit­tle neck. Un­sure of how it would go, Antony and I pre­pared our­selves to say good­bye.

We kissed her as she was wheeled away, and then I burst into tears, with Antony’s arms wrapped around me.

Pac­ing the cor­ri­dor, it felt like we were wait­ing for an eter­nity.

An hour and a half later, the doc­tor fi­nally came to our side in the wait­ing room.

‘The mo­ment we started re­mov­ing the tu­mour, the can­cer died off in­stantly,’ the doc­tor told us.

Re­lieved and amazed by the news, Antony and I were fi­nally able to hold our lit­tle fighter. It was such a spe­cial mo­ment as I picked up my tiny baby. It was a mo­ment I’d been dream­ing of for so long. ‘We did it,’ I smiled at Antony, as I held our Jenna in my arms. Dur­ing treat­ment, Jenna was also given a tra­cheostomy. This meant that a hole was sur­gi­cally made through the front of her neck for a tube to be in­serted to help her breathe. It meant Jenna would need full­time care, so I made the de­ci­sion to quit my job of 16 years and be a stay-at-home mum. As sad as it was to leave my job, it also felt right. Jenna needed me, and I was more than happy to stay at home and be there for her – be her mum. We had to make sure that Jenna was not around a lot of wa­ter, for fear that it could en­ter her lungs. We had to keep a close eye on her all the time. We soon de­cided it was best for our baby girl to also un­dergo chemo­ther­apy for six months, to make sure the can­cer would not come back for good. Jenna is now a year old and has come on leaps and bounds. To think that she went through so much from the mo­ment she was born, she’s al­ways been our lit­tle fighter, and we could not be more proud of her.

Our girl was born with can­cer

We were so blessed to fi­nally have a baby

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