Woman diagnosed with cancer 48 hours before giving birth after ‘spot’ turned out to be 10 cm tumour
Poppy Stewart-Brown with her daughter Arabella on their first birthday. (PA Real Life / Collect)
A woman was diagnosed with cancer only 48 hours before birth after it was found that a "spot" on her nose was a 10 cm tumor.
But after almost a year of stressful treatment, she was overjoyed to celebrate her little girl's first birthday.
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24-year-old Poppy Stewart-Brown was originally told that headaches and nosebleeds, which she suffered from during pregnancy, are common side effects.
However, two days before the birth of her daughter Arabella, she found that a painful “spot” on the left side of her nose was actually a tumor that had grown silently from her jawbone and caused her symptoms.
Doctors announced that, according to the NHS, she had Ewing sarcoma every year, a rare form of cancer that was diagnosed in only 600 people in the UK each year.
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Poppy Stewart-Brown and her newborn daughter Arabella. (PA Real Life / Collect)
The beauty therapist Stewart-Brown from Cuckfield, West Sussex, first discovered that she was pregnant in October 2018 after spending her first vacation with her partner Tommy Bolger (27), a gas engineer.
But within a month, she often got headaches and nosebleeds, which doctors said were common and were due to hormone swelling.
Although the expectant mother found blood clots in her nosebleeds and was sacrificed for her headache, she believed that she was simply having a difficult pregnancy.
“Every time [I went to A&E] they did a lot of tests to make sure that Arabella was fine, which it was.
"Everyone was amazed. There was no obvious sign that I was feeling so terrible, and everyone thought it was just a reaction to the pregnancy. "
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Then, in February 2019, Stewart-Brown found a spot on the left side of her nose and after a cream doctor had had no effect, she was referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist.
At her appointment in March 2019, a scan revealed a mass in her jaw that had grown towards her nose and caused the spot.
"I was confident that I would be fine," Stewart-Brown said, adding that the doctors initially didn't think it was cancerous. “I was only 23 years old and before that I was completely fit and healthy. Nobody would have ever expected it to be something so scary. "
Poppy Stewart-Brown with Arabella while she was being treated for cancer. (PA Real Life / Collect)
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But things escalated when she was brought to A&E with a dazzling headache just before Easter and had trouble breathing out of her left nostril.
A biopsy of the site showed that the mass in her jaw was a 10 cm tumor. At the 34th week of pregnancy, Stewart-Brown had Ewing sarcoma, a cancer that affected the bones and surrounding tissues.
"Cancer hasn't been much to which I was exposed, so I never thought I could have it," Stewart-Brown recalls.
"I honestly thought that I react very badly to pregnancy.
According to the NHS, symptoms of Ewing's sarcoma usually appear in bones such as the hip, thigh and shin, although they occasionally appear in the soft tissue. This includes pain, swelling and tenderness in the affected area, fever, severe fatigue and weight loss.
"The consultant spoke in doctor's language. I told him I didn't understand, then I realized that he said I had cancer, ”she says.
"It sounds strange now, but since I already knew Arabella was OK from all the extra tests they had done, the first thing I said was," Will I lose my hair? "
"It was the only thing I could imagine to contact a cancer patient."
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On the same day, Stewart-Brown was connected to the charity CLIC Sargent, which assigned her a social worker to assist her in the coming months.
And just 48 hours later, on April 26, she gave birth to Arabella six weeks earlier.
At only 1.9 kg, she was tiny but healthy, and soon after she was taken to the neonatal intensive care unit, she began to thrive.
Only three days later, her mother underwent surgery for five hours, with the surgeons removing as much of the tumor as possible.
Unfortunately, the doctors couldn't reach her roots wrapped around her jawbone, which meant that the young mother would need further treatment.
Poppy Stewart-Brown cuddled her daughter Arabella in November 2019 during her proton beam therapy. (PA Real Life / Collect)
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Baby Arabella recovered for eight days at the Royal Sussex County Hospital and was in a different ward a few floors away.
"Tommy was incredible and rolled me down to see her, but it wasn't the same as cuddling her whenever I wanted to," she said.
"These first days in Arabella's life were so different than I expected. My mother's instinct was to hold and weigh her, but cancer took it away from me.
"I couldn't bear to hear the other mothers with their babies in the ward. It broke my heart."
After his discharge on May 6th, Stewart-Brown took a three-week break before starting the first of 14 rounds of chemotherapy at Royal Marsden in Sutton, south London.
Although her partner and Arabella were visiting regularly, the new mother found it mentally difficult.
"I couldn't accept my diagnosis," she says. "I had seen cancer patients on TV and advertisements, but it's so different to live it. I couldn't help but think," Why me? What have I done to deserve this? '"
Stewart-Brown also struggled physically with the side effects of chemotherapy, which often made her too exhausted to take care of Arabella.
"I wanted to feed them, change their diapers and be able to bathe them. But sometimes I would be so exhausted that I couldn't have done it if someone had said to me: "I'll give you £ 1 million to make her a bottle."
"I was so lucky with the incredible support I got from Tommy and our families, but I was worried if my bond with my baby was compromised."
In October 2019, the young mother also started proton beam therapy - a pioneering form of radiation therapy that uses a proton beam or positively charged particles to precisely target tumors and reduce damage to the surrounding healthy tissue.
In addition to chemotherapy, she had 31 sessions at Christie Hospital in Manchester, where the family moved for a few months.
"The treatment left me weak, exhausted and barely able to eat," she says. “It was terrible, but we also tried to have a few happy moments and drive Arabella around town for days if we could. For these short moments, I could feel more like a mother than a cancer patient. "
Poppy Stewart-Brown and Tommy Bolger with their daughter Arabella. (PA Real Life / Collect)
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In late February 2020, after her last chemotherapy, the doctors told Stewart-Brown that they believed their tumor had disappeared and there was no evidence that the cancer was active elsewhere in their bodies.
She has to wait a little longer before receiving the all-clear, but the doctors are satisfied with her progress for the time being and will continue to monitor her with scans.
However, her biggest milestone was celebrating Arabella's first birthday on April 26th.
Even though the family was locked, they made the day as special as possible with cakes, balloons, and banners, and planned a real party if the restrictions were relaxed.
Stewart-Brown shares her experiences to raise awareness of sarcomas and thank CLIC Sargent.
"From day one, CLIC Sargent was incredible," she says. "They even helped with little things like providing vouchers that I could pamper myself with and practical things that I couldn't think about, such as parking in a hospital. It was a terrible time, but they were everywhere there - not only for me, but also for my family. "
Poppy Stewart-Brown with her daughter Arabella in summer 2019 while undergoing cancer treatment. (PA Real Life / Collect)
Rachel Kirby-Rider, CEO of CLIC Sargent, is now asking for help as the organization's income was affected by COVID-19.
"Since the UK Coronavirus, our income has dropped off a cliff, an immediate drop of 60%," she says. “We have to lose £ 8m - which is devastating for a charity of our size.
“Many of the families we support were at a financial breakdown before the pandemic, and things are becoming more difficult for them.
“Since the UK Coronavirus outbreak began, CLIC Sargent has provided hardship subsidies of over £ 45,000 to families in times of need, such as food and paying bills.
"Cancer doesn't stop for coronavirus and the young cancer patients and families we support are facing a real crisis and need us more than ever. We urgently need financial means to do this."
Click here to support and donate CLIC Sargent
Additional reporting PA Real Life.
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