When a pregnancy is followed by a cancer diagnosis

Written by Hayley Price – Rookwood Station

In March 2019 I was 30 weeks pregnant, sitting in my GPs office patiently waiting for my doctor to make phone calls. Recent tests indicated that our little girl’s stomach was measuring below the second percentile, as well as my blood tests indicating that I needed to see a haematologist.

Once my GP was off the phone, she informed me that I needed to go to Townsville (a six-and-a-half hour drive away from the station) and be admitted into hospital to see the Maternal Foetal Medicine doctor, as well as a haematologist. My husband Jesse and I were so nervous. We didn’t know what to think.

Our wedding day at Paradise Lagoons, Rockhampton. Holds a very special place in my heart.
How we announced I was pregnant with Emmy-Lou on social media.

The next day we each packed a small bag and were on our way to Townsville, thinking we would only have to be there for a couple of days for them to run further tests, and then be on the road heading home. It turned out that our little girl’s stomach was indeed okay, but little did we know, two weeks after being admitted into hospital and many tests later, that I would be diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Our precious little girl had been delivered the following week because I needed to undergo chemotherapy as soon as possible.

My head was in a complete whirlwind.

We were given a couple of days to go home to the station to pack more things – we were told I couldn’t leave Townsville for the next three months once I had started chemo. I honestly felt like the rug was ripped right out from underneath me. My introduction to motherhood was now far from what I had imagined it would start out like.

April 15 2019 was the day we welcomed our precious little girl Emmy-Lou Grace into the world, at 33 weeks and three days gestation, weighing just a little two kilograms. Emmy-Lou spent one week in NICU and then two weeks in the special care nursery. We were amazed by how strong she was coming out so early and how quickly she was allowed out of hospital.

We had two weeks after the birth of our little girl to lap up as much as we could before chemo started. During those two weeks I had to undergo a lot more tests – I couldn’t have a lot of them while pregnant as they could have harmed the baby. Boy, did we thoroughly enjoy every moment we had together before everything became so much harder on me.

Emmy-Lou just 4 weeks old.
Emmy-Lou was a little upset when I was having chemo one day so she sat up on my lap for some cuddles and a nap.

Fast forward to day two of chemo: I was to receive four chemo drugs. The first one went through no worries, but I had a severe anaphylactic reaction to the second one. I seriously thought I was going to die. I have never felt so scared in my life. My entire body went warm and it felt like I was going dizzy and I was coming in and out of consciousness while they struggled to feel my pulse as it was so weak.

It was just a nurse and I in the room, but as I came in and out each time there were more and more doctors. Before I knew it, the room was full of people. Jesse had been up at the special care nursery feeding Emmy-Lou and arrived back just as I started to have the anaphylactic reaction. You could only imagine what was going through his head walking in and seeing me like that.

The next morning my haematologist came in to see me. He informed me that I would no longer be able to resume on that regime of chemo; that I would have to change, and the new one would take six months.

SAY WHAAAAT!? Six months away from home? You have to be kidding me.

It gutted me. I had only just come to terms with the fact I had to be away from home for three months, and then being told I had to stay away for six months just killed me. All I could think was how the hell were we going to cope being away from home for what would all add up to seven months? We were very lucky that Jesse’s dad was between jobs at the time and could live at our place and look after our pets as well as help Jesse’s boss out.

I just kept telling myself “I have to get through this so we can get our little girl home and watch her grow up”. I felt I held it together pretty damn well considering for the first three months of chemo, but then it eventually took its toll on me and broke me down a little emotionally.

All I wanted to do was just go home. I had had enough. I just wanted everything to go back to “normal”. I had my little moment of tears and the whole “why me?” and “this isn’t fair” talk, but then I put that brave face back on and soldiered on the best I could with only the odd little emotional day.

After my second round of chemo (two months in) I had a PET scan and we were extremely shocked that it came back clear. I had expected it to have shrunk, but to be clear so soon was honestly the best feeling. I rang all of our family and close friends as I was so God damn excited. Jesse was home at the time I found out because he was needed for a muster, and I had friends staying with me and helping out.

I was jumping for joy for days, but then the realisation of still having to complete another four rounds of chemo kicked in. The thoughts rolling through my mind were “But it’s all gone, why do I have to keep going? I just want to go home”. I quickly shoved that thought to the side and reminded myself I have to get through it all to give me a better chance at it not returning. If I stopped then there was a very high chance of it coming back, so I had to do all of the rounds to make sure I well and truly kicked it out of my body.

Our life before having to up and leave the station was very different to the life we were living in Townsville. Jesse had been busy fencing, checking waters and cattle work before we left. I would help out where I could, but as you know being pregnant limits what you can do a little. I mainly went on water runs.

Once in town he was going stir crazy and driving me insane being there for so long not working or having much to do. He needed to be burning a lot more energy than what it took to look after Emmy-Lou and me. He would drive me crazy, like a kid stuck inside on a wet day.

The hardest thing about being in town was we had no family or friends, just the three of us until we started to make friends with others in a similar position to us. An average fortnight for me in Townsville would involve having chemo one day out of 14, and feeling like absolute rubbish not wanting to get off the couch and slept a lot. The next seven days I would start to pick up a little and want to get outside for a walk or just go for a drive to the beach to get some fresh air, staying far enough away from being when my blood levels were low. When my blood levels were up I would go to a quiet shop just to see civilisation/get a bit of normality back into my life. I spent most days in the unit on the couch watching movies or sleeping as well as doing what I could with Emmy-Lou.

As everything was ticking along nicely in the doctor’s point of view, they did end up letting us go home a couple of times for a long weekend, which really came in handy for my mental health and for Jesse to get some work done. A good friend of mine would come and stay so she could help me out, allowing Jesse to get as much work as he could done. Jesse also painted Emmy-Lou’s room while we were there one weekend. Sadly, we didn’t get around to finish setting up and getting everything out of her room before everything happened. It really came in handy going home those few weekends to make a start, so we didn’t have to get it all done at once when we first got home.

One of the 3 trips home we made while going through chemo for Jesse to do some work. A friend of mine came to stay to help me with Emmy-Lou so Jesse could get some work done. Couldn’t resist taking her down to the yards to see what Jesse gets up to.

Fast forward to October 9: the day we farewelled our friends and staff at the Leukemia Village Townsville and the doctors and nurses at the hospital. It was home time!

There were so many mixed emotions running through my mind; “But what if something goes wrong and I am too far away from the hospital?”, “The day has finally come that we get to take our little girl home for good”. Living across the road from the hospital gave me a sense of security. It had become my security blanket and it was hard to leave. Especially the amazing now life-long friends we had made. We were so lucky to have such amazing facilities to live in for free throughout our almost seven months stay. Not having the stress of having to find accommodation and then find the money to pay for it really helped ease the load.

We have all settled back in well as a family of three on the station. Emmy-Lou is almost 10 months old now and a very busy little girl. She loves getting out on the property doing station duties with Jesse and I. Emmy-Lou is not one to be sitting still for too long – she’s all for the adventures that come with living on a property, especially the ones that involve animals.

The day we FINALLY got to head home for good.

It took me a good three months to gain a lot of energy back and not needing to nap throughout the day.

An average day for Emmy-Lou and I now differs from day-to-day depending on what Jesse has to get done. We will go out and pick Jesse up from being out on the dozer and grader, or as simple as going out on a lick and water run. Every afternoon we go out and do the afternoon chores of feeding the animals.

Emmy-Lou and I went down to help Jesse induct weaners.
Early morning out checking fences with Daddy.
One of Emmy-Lou’s favourite afternoon chores.

We go to the closest small mining town which is roughly 70km away once a week for swimming lessons during the warmer months, as I feel learning to swim is very important living on a property with so many dams around.

My favourite thing about being home on the station is finally being able to show our little girl the importance of the agriculture industry is and introducing her to the lifestyle that we love. Health-wise everything is looking really good for me and I am almost back to myself.