Dawn Hockey

It was Christmas Eve. All the presents were wrapped and under the tree. But I didn't care much about those. I was too busy unwrapping another little box.

Now, perching on the edge of the bath, I squeezed my eyes shut and said: 'I can't look. You're going to have to tell me." I peeped out of one eye and then the other and saw that my husband Michael was grinning at me. He didn't need to say a word. We jumped up and down and I said: 'I can't believe it. It's a Christmas miracle.'

I had endometriosis and had been told I would need IVF to fall pregnant. Instead, it had all happened naturally. In time, I went into labour and gave birth to a healthy little boy, William. He was placed on my chest and instantly started to breastfeed.

It was very important to me, both to give him a good start in life and to create a bond. It seemed so natural. When he was full he fell asleep in the crook of my arm. Being a mum already felt as wonderful as I had imagined.

I took William home and he remained a contented baby. He didn't cry when he was hungry. He just let out a soft whimper and would nuzzle his face close to my breast. We began trying for another baby and were overjoyed when we discovered I was expecting again. Six weeks into my pregnancy I took part in the Race for Life with my mother-in-law, for Cancer Research UK. Two days later I was in the shower when my fingers brushed over something on my left breast. I got out and looked in the mirror. I could see a lump.

I had suffered from a blocked milk duct before but that had felt like a hard pea. This was spongy and the size of a ping-pong ball. I went to see my GP. She said: 'You're young and you're breastfeeding. It shouldn't be anything serious but I'll refer you just to be on the safe side.'

At the hospital I had an ultrasound and a biopsy and went home to wait. The following week I returned with my mum and Michael. The consultant said: 'I don't know how to tell you this, but we've found some cancerous cells.'

Michael clung to me and started to cry. I just stared, my mind blank. I managed to say: 'What about my baby?' The consultant said: 'It would be easier to treat you if you weren't pregnant...'

'But I am,' I said. 'It's advised that you have a termination.' Michael sobbed even harder. I said: 

In the past I wasn't sure I'd even be able to have children. I'm not getting rid of my baby. There has to be a way around it.

I needed a mastectomy and chemotherapy. I saw an oncologist and thankfully he said I wouldn't have to terminate my pregnancy. I didn't want to push my luck but I said: 'I think I know the answer to my question However, it's really important to me.... Will I be able to breastfeed during the treatment?' He shook his head.

'The chemotherapy will affect your beast milk, so I'm afraid not.' I was devastated. He booked me in for a mastectomy and then delivered another blow.

'Your milk needs to dry up before the operation. You'll have to stop breastfeeding – today.' I wasn't prepared or such sad news but I had to comply.

When I was 15 weeks pregnant I went into theatre for a single mastectomy. There was a risk that the anaesthetic could cause a miscarriage and I was terrified as I was put to sleep. The surgery took place and when I came round, a nurse was at my side holding a Doppler heart monitor. She said: 'Let's check the fetal heartbeat.'

My own heart was pounding and I hoped my baby's would be as strong. Like me, he had been anaesthetised and I prayed he would be ok. I didn't even think about what my body looked like. The nurse was running the Doppler all over my small bump and I could hear my breathing but nothing else.

'Try not to worry,' she said. Seconds felt like hours. Then, suddenly, there was a familiar sound. Whoosh-whoosh, whoosh-whoosh. I burst into tears. I recovered and my pregnancy continued. Nine weeks after the mastectomy, I had my first session of chemotherapy. It was administered through a drip in one hand. With my other hand I rubbed my belly and I chatted to the nurses to try to take my mind off things.

At 33 weeks I went into premature labour. I left our home in Glossop, Derbyshire, and gave birth at Stepping Hill Hospital, Hazel Grove, Greater Manchester. For a few brief moments I was allowed to hold our son before he was whisked to the special care unit. He weighed 4lb 10oz. We called him Alex. I was taken in a wheelchair to see him and I reached inside the incubator and gently stroked his soft skin. Next day I changed his nappy and fed him through his tube.

When he was three weeks old, he was strong enough to come home. Although I had hoped to resume breastfeeding after chemo, the stress had taken more of a toll on my body than I had realised, and sadly I was unable to do so.

Now I give Alex lots of cuddles and I know we have created a bond as close as the one I have with William. I have had a mammogram and the cancer has gone. That is the most important thing. It means I will be here for my family.

Source: Take a Break Magazine, December 2010

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