Samantha had always wanted to be a mum, but a shock diagnosis of ovarian cancer in her first pregnancy left her fearing her dream of having a family would never come true.
Samantha was just 34 when she was given the life-changing diagnosis – after doctors identified a “suspicious tumour” on one of her ovaries during her 12-week pregnancy scan at Mater Mothers’ Hospital in South Brisbane.
Her diagnosis came just three months after her sheep shearing husband, Tony, was told by doctors he had terminal brain cancer, motivating the couple to start trying for a baby.
Just two weeks after her diagnosis, Mater Hospital Brisbane Gynaecological Oncologist Dr Nimithri Cabraal removed Samantha’s left ovary and a fallopian tube to prevent the cancer from spreading – enabling her to continue her pregnancy and give birth to her first baby.
Dr Cabraal said ovarian cancer in young women was “unusual” and exceptionally rare in women carrying babies.
Ovarian cancer is Australia's deadliest female cancer, with a five-year survival rate of just 49 per cent.
“We only see a handful of young women diagnosed with ovarian cancer at Mater each year – and maybe only one or two who are pregnant,” Dr Cabraal said.
“I operated on Samantha during her second trimester to reduce the risk of miscarriage. It was a small tumour and we have seen no evidence of reoccurrence.”
The wool classer from Blackall in outback Queensland, now has two “miracle babies” she adores –Wyatt, 2.5 years old, and Aspen, four months old.
Samantha said she was nervous about the possibility of losing her babies at the time, however the medical team at Mater gave her confidence to continue her pregnancies.
“Wyatt arrived happy and healthy just six months after I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer,” Samantha said.
“And a few months ago, we had little Aspen to complete our family.”
While juggling the uncertainty of her own future, Samantha revealed her 54-year-old husband Tony was also diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in September 2019.
She said Tony’s diagnosis was the reason they started their family.
“If it wasn’t for Tony’s diagnosis we wouldn’t have tried for a family at that time. My husband’s diagnosis saved my life and that of my unborn baby. Thankfully my cancer was detected at Mater at an early stage,” Samantha said.
“Doctors told us we had three weeks to ‘work something out’ after Tony’s diagnosis. Incredibly we fell pregnant with Wyatt just eight days after Tony underwent an operation to remove the brain tumour.”
As Samantha cuddles her two children in her arms, she said the only symptom she could associate with her cancer was experiencing pain during intercourse when close to her menstrual cycle.
“I am still unaware if that had anything to do with the ovarian cancer, but I've never had the pain again since surgery,” Samantha said.
Mater Hospital Brisbane Clinical Nurse Consultant Bronwyn Jennings said Samantha’s cancer was caught early, and aside from having surgery during her pregnancy, has not required any further treatment.
“If Sam’s cancer was not detected and acted upon, this could have delayed her diagnosis, leading to upstaging of her disease,” Ms Jennings said.
“This could have led to requiring other treatments like chemotherapy which would have meant lengthy periods of time away from home.
“Additionally, this could potentially have led to her cancer not being curable. While this is a difficult diagnosis at any age, for someone so young like Sam, with a small family, this would have been truly devastating.”
Samantha is currently monitored by the Gynaecology-Oncology unit at Mater Hospital Brisbane, and the FOG service (Flying Obstetrics and Gynaecological Service) through Mater.
Focused on Tony’s health and wellbeing of their children, Samantha said she had little time to worry about her own diagnosis.
“Tony has just undergone his second craniotomy and has begun chemotherapy treatment again,” Samantha said.
“We have focused on enjoying every day that we have together as a family, there’s not much else I need.
“Our children are too young to understand, but they will be told when they are old enough.”