Right from the moment baby Auburn was conceived, he was a miracle baby.
Mum Stacey Johnson, 32, from Hampshire, and partner Scott, can’t believe that they have beaten the odds to be a happy family of three as at nine weeks pregnant, she was told that she had a huge cancerous tumour in her cervix.
At the time, doctors recommended a termination and full hysterectomy (removal of the womb), meaning they would not be able to have another baby in the future.
But they fought for another option, and amazingly, Auburn was born perfectly healthy, and just a few weeks later, Stacey was told she was cancer free.
Speaking out for Cancer and Pregnancy Awareness week and Cervical Cancer Screening week, which both fall from 15-21 June, Stacey said: ‘Throughout everything miracles kept happening and we’re so lucky that Auburn and I both beat cancer.
‘He was worth every sacrifice and I want to show that there can be hope even in these situations.
‘Auburn is doing so well and meeting all his milestones. I just think about if I had gone with the norm and had a termination, I would never had known him.’
Stacey and Scott had put off having children as she struggled with some long-term health problems but last year, they decided to try for a baby.
After 14 years of using the contraceptive implant, she had it removed on 4 April.
Five days later, on 9 April, she went for a regular routine smear test as she wanted to have one when they started to try to conceive. Usually, routine smear tests in pregnancy are postponed until after birth as it can affect the results.
Around the same time, her baby was conceived but she had no idea as she was experiencing some bleeding and she put it down to her cycle getting back to normal again.
Because of the bleeding it wasn’t until 22 May that she took a pregnancy test as she thought she had had a period.
She explains: ‘I remember it clear as day – my body woke itself up at 5am with this almighty urge to take a pregnancy test. My whole body was telling me it needed to be done, which I thought was ridiculous at first because there is no way in hell I was pregnant with having so much bleeding.
‘But there staring straight back at me was a big dark positive reading on the pregnancy stick. I was in utter shock! It just didn’t make sense, especially with the dates.
‘I just walked into the bedroom to wake Scott up and let him know. We were absolutely over the moon. We just couldn’t believe that we were actually having a baby.’
Two weeks later, she received two letters through the post on the same day – one confirming her first midwife appointment, and one with the results of her smear test.
The results had been delayed for some time but showed that she had abnormal cells and she needed to go for an emergency colposcopy (an examination giving an illuminated, magnified view of the cervix as well as the vagina and vulva) the following week.
Although initially not too worried about the appointment, it quickly became clear that something was seriously wrong.
She says: ‘As soon as I entered the room I felt something wasn’t right. The consultant was very serious and seemed very worried. She explained that something isn’t right in my cervix and needs attention ASAP.
‘While she was checking me, there was a huge amount of blood. I thought I was miscarrying the baby. All I could hear from the consultant was “It’s not stopping, I can’t stop the bleeding”. I just knew there and then something really wasn’t right. She just directed me to get changed and meet her back in her office.’
Stacey was told that the doctor had found a large tumour in her cervix and although they would need a biopsy to confirm, she was 99.9% sure it was cancer because of the size.
They then told her that as she was very early in her pregnancy and the tumour was already very large, she would need to have a termination and hysterectomy.
Stacey says: ‘Because of the bleeding, I thought I was only seven weeks and I hadn’t even had a scan. Everything had changed in that split second.
Symptoms of cervical cancer
In most cases, abnormal vaginal bleeding is the first noticeable symptom of cervical cancer.
This includes bleeding:
during or after sex
between your periods
after you have been through the menopause
Other symptoms of cervical cancer may include pain and discomfort during sex, unusual or unpleasant vaginal discharge, and pain in your lower back or pelvis.
If you have any symptoms that are worrying you, speak to your GP and get a smear test.
‘I was taken for the scan and I was just sat there thinking “it is going to be ok. I am going to fight for this child”.
‘We were sat in this waiting room with my cancer nurse and she said “I need to advise you not to look at the screen because from what the consultant said, you are going to have to have a hysterectomy.”
‘I thought about it for a minute and then I said: “Scott you can do what you want but I need you to respect my wishes. I’ve never been pregnant and from what the doctor said, I might never get this chance again so I need to look at that baby.”’
They were taken for the scan and the sonographer quickly found the baby to show them on the screen and discovered she was actually around nine weeks pregnant.
‘I looked and I didn’t cry or get upset,’ Stacey said. ‘I was just calm and I just had this belief that it was going to be ok. Everyone else in the room was crying because they thought that the termination would be my only option.’
She was given pictures to take away and by that time, her dad had contacted her to see if she was ok because he was concerned about how long the appointment had taken.
Because it was so early, they hadn’t even told anyone in her family other than her dad about the pregnancy.
Now she had to tell them that she was having a baby, but she also had cancer.
‘Telling my parents was the hardest thing’, Stacey says. ‘My mum had lost her mum to cancer and when something like that happens, you think the worst when you hear the word cancer again.’
Further tests in the weeks that followed showed that tumour was nearly 5cm and definitely cancerous but it had luckily not spread beyond her cervix.
Researching online, she found that a hysterectomy was recommended for tumours over 2cm but she knew that it would mean she would lose the baby and never be able to carry another one.
After friends told her about the story of Sinead, who had cervical cancer in pregnancy, in Coronation Street, she found Mummy’s Star – a charity for women in similar situations – who helped support Stacey figure out her options.
Looking up other cases, she found some women who had been able to have treatment during their pregnancy to reduce the size of the tumour before giving birth and having surgery after that, but they were all in her second trimester when they were diagnosed.
She says: ‘I just wanted to fight. My consultant said that termination and hysterectomy was what he recommended but I said “But there is another option, isn’t there.”
‘He told me it was my choice and I said: “I’m not scared of dying, I’m scared of living and not trying.”’
Although incredibly rare for someone so early in their pregnancy, doctors agreed that they could treat Stacey with chemotherapy to try to reduce the tumour and stop it spreading while she was pregnant.
They planned to deliver the baby at 28 weeks and then she would have surgery, followed by more chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
It was risky for both mum and baby, but Stacey decided it was what she wanted to do.
With input from specialists at the Royal Marsden in London, they agreed she would start chemotherapy at 17 weeks pregnant.
She says: ‘I felt like I just had to try. I was lowering my chance of survival but I had to see if we could do this.
‘I had two types of chemotherapy every three weeks and had three lots of that. I used a cooling cap to try to keep my hair and that did work.
‘I was originally going to have the baby at 28 weeks but miraculously, the chemotherapy worked better than anyone had expected and got rid of the tumour, so I was able to wait until 34 weeks. No one could believe the results.
‘I was really positive throughout everything and I do feel like that helped. I really believe in the power of positivity. Even through chemotherapy, I would do my makeup and try to keep things as normal as possible as that was my way of coping.’
She was booked in for a c-section, followed by a hysterectomy on 5 December, at 34 weeks.
Stacey had asked about having an epidural for the c-section so she could see her baby, followed by an anesthetic for the hysterectomy and her team had agreed, so she was awake, with Scott by her side when baby Auburn was born weighing 4lb 3oz at 2:36 pm.
She says: ‘He came out with the strongest lungs. He was screaming. I met him for about 30 seconds and we couldn’t have skin to skin or anything as we were in an operating theatre rather than a delivery room.
‘I knew my baby was ok and I didn’t care what happened to me. I was put to sleep and woke up on the recovery ward after the hysterectomy.’
Auburn was taken to neonatal intensive care and once she was well enough, Stacey was able to meet him for the first time.
After a night in NICU, all tests showed that Auburn was fine and had not been affected at all by the cancer treatment. Just over a week later, he was able to leave hospital as he just had some trouble feeding.
Following his birth, Stacey did not need any further treatment for cancer as the tumour was gone and although she is still struggling with some problems due to the surgery, she says it was all worth it.
She says: ‘It’s a small price to pay because we’re both here. We had so many miracles – the fact that I got pregnant so quickly, as if I have been earlier in my pregnancy, my path wouldn’t have been an option, the fact that we managed to conceive even though there was a huge tumour and the fact that Auburn somehow started to grow in the safest bit of my womb.
‘Then during treatment, the fact that the tumour disappeared and we both ended up beating cancer.
‘I am so grateful for all the support we had throughout it all. All the NHS staff in every department at Queen Alexandra Hospital, from oncology to maternity, were amazing. I used to get the baby checked weekly so I used to see them so often they became more like friends. They were such earth angels that helped me through.
‘I also had so much support from people that I know followed my journey by social media. Their love and positivity is what got me through it all.’
Now, Stacey is working to raise awareness of Mummy’s Star but she also wants to highlight the importance of having a smear test, especially as many people are currently missing appointments due to lockdown.
She says: ‘People need to know to go and get checked. It’s five minutes of my life and without that, it could have cost me my whole life.
‘It’s a silent killer. It had been there for quite some time and before the bleeding that I thought was because of the removal of the implant, I’d had no symptoms.
‘Regular smear tests are so important and if you notice any changes, just go and get checked.’
To find out more about Mummy’s Star and get support if you have cancer around pregnancy, visit their website.