'I Was Diagnosed With Lymphoma At 24 Weeks Pregnant'
Any woman going through pregnancy knows it's no walk in the park at the best of times. But for one mum, it was even more complicated.
For Daniel and Marisa, theirs had been a modern-day love story. She moved from Peru to Australia to study English and shortly after, they met at a dance class. “He was a show-off,” Marisa laughs. “In Peru, you don’t learn how to dance, you just feel the music and start dancing.”
Their love story brought them a daughter – Sami – and last year they found out they were expecting a son they planned to call Alejandro. The couple – and their birth – are the focus of a new episode of the series, One Born Every Minute, on Channel 10.
“The first pregnancy was really good,” Marisa told Kidspot, but the second was different. “I had really bad morning sickness – which everyone said was because I was having a boy – but I was also feeling really, really tired.”
Morning sickness and tiredness turned out to be symptoms of lymphoma!
Marisa explained that she dismissed her sickness and tiredness and normal, as so many women do. “I thought, OK, I’m pregnant and I’m really tired but I have a toddler, I’m working, I’m running a household… it’s no wonder I’m tired!”
“This can’t be happening”
“The one thing I remember clearly was that I had a big red rash on my hip that was itchy. They gave me some cream but it just kept getting bigger. And then I found two lumps in my throat. Eventually my throat got so sore I couldn’t even swallow my saliva,” Marisa explained.
Marisa went back to her doctor and from there, things took a turn for the terrifying. “She took some tests on the Friday, on the Monday I was at the specialist, Thursday I was having a biopsy and on the Friday they told me I had cancer. I started chemo a week after that. I was 24 weeks pregnant.”
The cancer turned out to be symptoms of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system.
“I was in shock,” Marisa said. “I thought, ‘This can’t be happening to me! I’m pregnant, I can’t have chemotherapy!”
“I felt so guilty”
Marisa and Alejandro had lots of tests and frequent monitoring while she underwent two courses of chemo, with a third scheduled for straight after his birth.
“I felt so guilty,” Marisa said. “I felt like I didn’t want to do this to him, I didn’t want to put him through chemotherapy… but then I realised that we are a team, we have to work together. I just hoped that he was born healthy and we could laugh about this in the future.”
“I couldn’t have a c-section, because we couldn’t risk infection,” Marisa explains, so she was induced at 37 weeks. And the midwives were very careful during her delivery to prevent any extra tearing. She was also on antibiotics during the birth, as anyone undertaking chemo is at an even greater risk of infection.
“It’s important to make birth fun”
In the end, it was tapping into her love of dancing and music that got her through the emotional stress of labour. Marisa turned on some salsa and found her rhythm, the midwives agreeing that dancing definitely helps with lifting your mood!
“I definitely think it’s important to make birth fun,” Marisa says, laughing, “I actually forgot the cameras were there to capture that!” She says, “Dancing is something I wanted for the birth. It was stressful – I could feel Alejandro was feeling the effects of the chemo and I needed to take my mind off that and just focus on getting him out. I wanted to have something nice to remember out of a very stressful experience.”
“A wonderful relief”
Alejandro arrived happy and very healthy – and weighing over 4kg – and Marisa was understandably overcome with emotion.
While she wasn’t able to breastfeed – due to the chemotherapy – she says just being able to hold him in her arms and know he was OK was the biggest relief. “Just to know that he’s here, he’s big, he’s out and he’s healthy was one big weight off my chest. It was just such a wonderful feeling of relief.”
Alejandro needed to stay in the NICU for two weeks of monitoring as he was at an increased risk of infection and suffered some minor issues like jaundice and tongue tie, but soon he was free to go home and is now a very healthy 11-week- old, and the light of his parents’ (and his big sister Sami’s) life.
“Life is more fun when you’re happy”
As for Marisa, on the day we spoke with her she admitted she wasn’t feeling great as she’d recently had another chemo session but that overall, things were good.
She is meeting with an oncologist to work out the best course of action – six more months of chemo or a short, intense course of radiation – and is in the middle of weighing up her options.
She is very positive that she’ll soon put her health woes behind her. “You choose how to face things, you choose how to feel,” She says. “It’s my responsibility to choose how to live my life and it’s more fun when you’re happy.”
Marisa wants other parents going through a traumatic or complicated pregnancy to stay strong, and “know you’re in good hands.” She says to just, “Trust your team in the hospital and trust in God – or whatever it is that you believe in – there is always something bigger than us and that will keep you going. Just remember: you can do this.”
She says the one thing she’s learnt from this whole experience is that she is stronger than she ever realised. “We are all stronger than we think. We all have super powers. Keep your chin up, breathe and take it one step at a time and show yourself that you can do it.”
Common symptoms of lymphoma
There are two types of lymphoma—Hodgkin and Non-Hodgkin. The difference between the two is the type of lymphocyte cells. Most people have the latter type, which affects people over 60 years old.
According to WebMD, the common symptoms of lymphoma to be aware of are:
- Swollen glands, usually in the armpit, neck, or groin (usually painless)
- Shortness of breath
- Night sweats
- Weight loss
If you’re concerned that you might be showing signs of lymphoma, we encourage that you speak with your physician for further testing.
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