Queensland mum Emma was newly married and only 12 weeks into her pregnancy when doctors revealed she had stage three breast cancer.
Her first thoughts after her diagnosis were for her unborn baby – and whether he would survive.
“The news was overwhelming,” Emma, 41, of Upper Mount Gravatt said.
“I was told that the pregnancy was actually fuelling the type of cancer I had.”
Oncologists and breast cancer nurses at Mater Private Hospital Brisbane prepared Emma for the treatment that lay ahead.
She received chemotherapy specifically developed to protect her unborn child, as well as a lumpectomy, node removal and other breast surgeries.
And four weeks ago she gave birth to a beautiful and healthy 3kg baby boy, Owen, at Mater Mothers’ Hospital in South Brisbane.
“I look at Owen and he has a full head of hair, and his mum is bald – he has more hair than I do!” she said.
But Emma fight against breast cancer is far from finished and she faces several more rounds of chemotherapy.
“The hardest thing is not knowing if I will see my child grow up,” Emma said.
“It’s the hardest thing I face every day.”
One of the things helping Emma through the tough times is the support of her husband Jamie, 42, and the support from her friends, family, and colleagues.
“We were newlyweds. Jamie has been very supportive of me from the beginning and being able to hold Owen in my arms every day is a miracle,” Emma said.
Emma said her diagnosis took her by surprise however admits she had noticed changes to her breasts and put off seeing a doctor because she was “too busy”.
One in every four Queensland breast cancer patients is treated at Mater facilities across south-east Queensland and Emma is urging other women who notice changes to their breasts to get checked immediately.
“I was getting some pain, but I just thought it was pregnancy related,” Emma said.
To give back to the hospital that saved the life of her unborn baby by providing treatment throughout her breast cancer journey, Emma has signed up to this year’s sold-out International Women’s Day Fun Run, presented by National Storage - Australia’s largest International Women’s Day celebration.
She is being joined by almost 40 work colleagues from Grove Juice, her husband and little Owen, at the 5km fun run held in Brisbane on 12 March. The event raises vital funds for breast cancer research and services in Mater Foundation’s biggest community event of the year.
Mater Oncologist and Mater Cancer Care Researcher (Clinical Trials) Dr Rebecca Moor said Emma was one of six pregnant women diagnosed with cancer at Mater in the last 12 months.
“It is a challenging clinical situation since the welfare of both the mother and baby must be considered. The cancer Emma has is rare in young women,” Dr Moor said.
“Pregnancy affects what investigations can be done, how well they can be interpreted and what treatments can be given.
“Treatment is complex and requires a large specialist multidisciplinary team including obstetrics, Maternal Fetal Medicine, a specialist midwife, obstetric medicine, oncologists, a cancer care nurse, surgeons, a breast care nurse, pharmacists, and a paediatrician.”
She said pregnant women often dismissed changes to their breasts while pregnant or breastfeeding.
“If you notice any change, even a lump, get it checked out” Dr Moor said.
She said Mater Research – which receives funding from the fun run – was striving for ways to improve breast cancer patient outcomes.
“A huge part of this is by delivering cutting edge treatments through involvement in breast cancer clinical trials,” Dr Moor said.
“Clinical trials at Mater Research are a really important option for our patients, especially for advanced cancer patients. It’s another line of therapy for them.
“With advanced cancer, every six months we can give a patient is precious. Additional treatment means the world to them.
“These trials may offer patients additional lines of treatment, or access to new therapies not yet available on the PBS.”
Ash Mondolo, Clinical Nurse Consultant at Mater Private Hospital Brisbane, said that the incidence of breast cancer was steadily growing in Australia, but improvements in treatment and care meant that more women are successfully beating or living with breast cancer.
“Women must regularly check their breasts and seek medical advice if they notice any changes,” Ms Mondolo said.
“If you are invited to a mammogram, make sure you go.
“Breast cancer doesn’t care if you’re busy. A 10-minute mammogram could save your life.”
While the Fun Run has sold out, people can still register for the virtual event, which can happen anywhere in their local neighbourhood.
Emma has raised more than $2,000. To help her fundraise visit fundraise.mater.org.au/fundraisers/EmmaPerkins.