A mother has spoken of when she thought she was going to die after being told she had a rare cancer after giving birth to her daughter.
33-year-old Lucy Gray from Sheffield first thought she miscarried after persistent pain and bleeding after the birth of her healthy baby girl Ellena in November 2016.
But just six weeks later, a scan found that Lucy had developed choriocarinoma, a very rare uterine cancer that affects one in 50,000 pregnancies.
What followed was ‘an amazing journey’ that would leave her without the use of her legs as the cancer spread to her spine and months of treatment at Weston Park’s Teenager Cancer Trust in Sheffield away from her young daughter and family.
33-year-old Lucy Gray from Sheffield spoke of when she thought she would die after being told she had a rare cancer after her daughter was born. Pictured, in the hospital
Now Lucy shares her story to raise awareness of the tremendous effect pregnancy trophoblastic tumors can have on people’s lives and to inspire others as Weston Park celebrates its 50th anniversary.
Based in the Weston Park Cancer Center, the Sheffield Gestational Trophoblastic Disease Center is one of two specialist national centers in the UK that treat gestational trophoblastic tumors, a rare group of tumors that grow in the uterus after conception.
“I loved every minute of being pregnant and I had no birth problems at all,” said Lucy, adding her strength and determination to continue her daughter.
“But when I was told I had cancer, I thought I was going to die. I had the most amazing emotions. I had just had a baby, but it was like being in the face when I had this diagnosis. I kept thinking why bring this little person into the world and then take me? ‘
Six weeks after the birth of her daughter (pictured together), a scan found that Lucy had developed choriocarinoma – a very rare uterine cancer that affects one in 50,000 pregnancies.
The following weeks were grueling for Lucy. Scans and X-rays showed that there were tumors in her uterus, lung and brain, so she was given a stereotactic course to tackle the tumors in her brain, followed by further chemotherapy.
WHAT IS CHORIOCARCINOMA?
Choriocarcinoma is a very rare cancer that occurs in about 1 in 50,000 pregnancies.
It can develop if the cells left behind after pregnancy become cancerous.
This can happen after any pregnancy, but it is more likely after molar pregnancies.
It can happen after a normal birth, miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy or abortion
It can occur several months or even years after a pregnancy.
Although choriocarcinoma starts in the uterus, it can spread to other parts of the body – usually to the lungs.
If it spreads to your lungs, you may experience symptoms such as coughing, difficulty breathing, and chest pain.
If choriocarcinoma spreads to your abdomen, you may have abdominal pain, and if it spreads to your vagina, you may bleed profusely and a lump (lump) may form in your vagina.
If it spreads to your brain, it can cause headaches or seizures.
Chemotherapy is used to treat choriocarcinoma and usually heals it successfully.
However, this initial course of treatment did not continue to shrink the size of the tumors, and Lucy received five more chemotherapy sessions.
This was followed by a hysterectomy before she was finally discharged in December 2017 with a course of immunotherapy, which aimed to suppress the cancer by targeting certain cells in the immune system.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the cancer to return with revenge, and on New Year’s Eve 2017, Lucy collapsed to the ground, suffered severe back pain and was unable to move.
In 2018, she was confirmed to have spinal cord injury and underwent spinal surgery to remove the tumor surrounding her spinal cord.
Lucy was re-admitted to the Teenage Cancer Trust Unit in Weston Park, where she would spend most of five months on further intensive chemotherapy and specialist medical and nursing care.
Lucy added, “I never thought it was just a job for them. It was such a terrible time, but the staff made it as bearable as possible.
“I was able to take my daughter to the playroom and feed her. The staff literally sat with me until I understood what was happening to me.
“I would google things, but they told me everyone’s experiences are so different, it’s really an individual thing. I was really in the best hands. ‘
Lucy was eventually transferred to the Princess Anne Spinal Cord Injuries Center in May 2018 and then from there to the STEPS rehabilitation unit in Sheffield in June 2018, where she stayed until December.
“I was told it was unlikely that I would ever walk again. I was in a wheelchair, but I worked hard and now I can walk with two poles, “says Lucy, who hopes to get married in October 2021.
“People say you hate returning to Weston Park, but it feels like a weird comment to me because they saved my life. It really is a great place. All the good they have done over the past 50 years is phenomenal. ‘
The Weston Park Cancer Hospital, as it was then called, was officially opened on 1 July 1970 by HRH Princess Anne.