Mother, 24, found out she had a rare form of cancer 48 hours before giving birth

A mother, who feared she may never see her daughter’s first birthday, has celebrated her recovery from a rare cancer after she was diagnosed 48 hours before giving birth. Poppy Stewart-Brown, 24, from Cuckfield, West Sussex, suffered headaches and nosebleeds during her pregnancy with daughter Arabella and was told these were common side effects. The expectant mother said she felt like a ‘failure’ for being so unwell and did not know how women had more than one baby.But just two days before giving birth to her daughter, she discovered that a painful ‘spot’ on the left side of her nose was actually a tumour that had been silently growing from her jawbone and causing her symptoms. Poppy Stewart-Brown, 24, cuddling her daughter Arabella in November 2019, during her proton beam therapy treatmentPoppy was diagnosed at 34 weeks with Ewing sarcoma, a rare form of cancer diagnosed in only 600 people in the UK each year, according to the NHS, and underwent surgery three days later. Speaking out during Cancer and Pregnancy Awareness Week, Poppy, whose partner Tommy Bolger, 27, is a gas engineer, recalled how she feared she would never see Arabella’s first birthday on 26th April. The beauty therapist said: ‘I feel so lucky to be here today. Celebrating Arabella’s first birthday was incredible, especially because it was a day I thought I might never see.’Poppy discovered she was pregnant in October 2018 after her first official holiday in Antalya, Turkey, with Tommy, who she had met and fallen in love with over the summer on the Greek island of Zante where she was working in a bar. The beauty therapist with her daughter Arabella in summer 2019, whilst she was undergoing cancer treatment’While we were in Turkey, I picked up what I thought was a sickness bug. I was nauseous and felt so tired,’ said Poppy, who had moved back to the UK with Tommy after the summer holiday season.’I didn’t want him to think I was boring, but I was so exhausted that all I wanted to do was lie down.’He jokingly asked if I could be pregnant and we decided to take a test just in case. It turned out I was about six weeks gone.’It hadn’t been a sickness bug at all. It was a little Arabella growing away.’ Poppy after surgery to remove the tumour in her jaw on April 29. The first-time mother feared she would not see Arabella’s first birthdayPoppy on her first day of chemotherapy in May 2019 (left). Arabella whilst she was in neonatal intensive care (right) Although unplanned, the couple were overjoyed to be pregnant. But, within a month, Poppy started having frequent headaches and nose bleeds, which doctors said were common and attributed to the swell of hormones.In February 2019, she also discovered a mysterious spot on the left side of her nose, which soon turned septic, when the body attacks itself because of an infection, and she was referred to a specialist for further investigations.Then, just before April’s Easter Bank Holiday, she went to A&E at the Princess Royal Hospital, Haywards Heath, with a blinding headache and struggling to breathe out of her left nostril.  Poppy and Arabella celebrating her first birthday in April this year. Although unplanned, the couple were overjoyed to be pregnant after meeting in ZantePoppy celebrating her 24th birthday in August 2019, with boyfriend Tommy Bolger and daughter Arabella (left). Poppy with Tommy and Arabella in hospital, whilst she was having chemotherapyHer mother, Louise Stewart, 49, begged doctors for help, believing something was seriously wrong.And her instincts were right, as a biopsy of the spot revealed that, then 34 weeks pregnant, Poppy had sarcoma, a cancer affecting the bones and their surrounding tissue.But her shock had barely registered when, just 48 hours later, she gave birth to Arabella by caesarean section, recalling: ‘Cancer is not something I’d been exposed to much before this, so it never crossed my mind that I could have it.’I honestly thought I was just reacting very badly to being pregnant. I felt like a failure, and couldn’t understand how women had more than one child.’I missed out on so much in the first months of Arabella’s life. You picture taking your baby home from hospital and starting this new life together – but instead I was beginning cancer treatment.’Before her diagnosis, Poppy had believed she was simply having a rotten pregnancy, although she had found clots in her nosebleeds and had even been to casualty because of her headaches.’I went to A&E a few times,’ she said. ‘Every time, they did lots of tests to make sure Arabella was okay, which she was. Before her diagnosis, Poppy had believed she was simply having a rotten pregnancy with Arabella, although she had found clots in her nosebleedsThe couple moved back to the UK together after meeting on the Greek island. The couple with Arabella while Poppy was undergoing chemotherapy in summer 2019’Everyone was baffled. There were no obvious signs of what was causing me to feel quite so awful, so everybody thought it was just a reaction to the pregnancy.’It got so bad that clots would just appear in my mouth and nose. It was absolutely vile.’On top of all that, I was utterly exhausted. I would get up, go to work, then come home and just sleep.’ Then, in February 2019, Poppy found a spot on the left side of her nose and, after a cream doctors gave her had no effect, she was referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist. The new parents with Arabella on a walk while Poppy underwent cancer treatment in 2019 Poppy and Tommy when they met in Zante, Greece, during the summer of 2018 (left). Poppy seen with a head patch on when she was seven months pregnant and suffering with a headache (right)  Poppy with Tommy and Arabella at Old Trafford football ground, Manchester, whilst she was having proton beam therapyAt her March 2019 appointment, a scan revealed a mass in her jaw, that had grown up towards her nose, causing the spot.’I had faith that I would be okay,’ said Poppy, adding that doctors did not, initially, think it was cancerous. ‘I was only 23 and, before this, had been completely fit and healthy.’Nobody ever expected it would be something so sinister.’But things escalated when Tommy and her mum took her to A&E before the Easter bank holiday.She said: ‘My head was in agony and I was struggling to breathe out of my left nostril because the spot had grown.’When tests revealed that the spot had turned septic, she was blue-lighted to Brighton’s larger Royal Sussex County Hospital, where she was given painkillers and antibiotics and a biopsy of the tissue on her nose was sent away for analysis.’Because I’d gone in right before two bank holidays, it took a while for the results to come back,’ she said. The new mother with Arabella while she was having proton beam treatment in November 2019’The doctors were absolutely fantastic and I can’t thank them enough, but I was in so much pain that the memory is still a little hazy. I couldn’t even have the light on as it hurt my eyes.’I remember them using strong painkillers and thinking, “This must be bad if they’re giving me these while I’m pregnant”.’On April 24, her test results revealed that she had Ewing sarcoma and that the mass in her jaw was a 10cm tumour.Usually occurring in bones like the hips, thigh, and shin – though occasionally found in soft tissue – symptoms of Ewing sarcoma, according to the NHS, include pain, swelling and tenderness in the affected area, a fever, severe tiredness and weight loss. On April 26, Poppy delivered Arabella six weeks early. At just 4lb 4oz, she was tiny, but perfectPoppy said: ‘The consultant was speaking in doctor language. I told him I didn’t understand, then it dawned on me that he was saying I had cancer.’It sounds strange now, but because I already knew Arabella was okay from all the extra tests they’d been doing, the first thing I said was, “Am I going to lose my hair?”.’It was the only thing I could think of to associate with a cancer patient.’     That same day, Poppy was linked up with the charity CLIC Sargent, who assigned her a social worker to support her through the months ahead.And, just 48 hours later, on April 26, she delivered Arabella six weeks early. At just 4lb 4oz, she was tiny, but perfect. Arabella taking nap while Poppy was undergoing cancer treatment. Recovering for eight days in Royal Sussex County Hospital, baby Arabella was a few floors away on a different ward as Poppy faced a five-hour operation ‘I had coincidentally booked in for a C-section at 31 weeks, before my diagnosis, as I had been struggling so much with pregnancy, I didn’t know how I would get through a natural birth,’ she said.’The doctors wanted to keep Arabella in my womb for as long as possible and, at 34 weeks – two days after my bombshell news – it was decided she was strong enough.’Once born, Arabella was taken to neonatal intensive care, where she soon began to thrive.But Poppy faced a five-hour operation just three days later on April 29, during which surgeons removed as much of the tumour as possible, but could not reach its roots, which were wrapped around her jawbone, meaning she required further treatment.Poppy with her daughter Arabella, pictured here during her last chemotherapy session in February 2020 (left). The couple with Arabella at Christmas 2019 (right) Recovering for eight days in Royal Sussex County Hospital, baby Arabella was a few floors away on a different ward.’Tommy was amazing and would wheel me down to see her, but it wasn’t the same as being able to cuddle her whenever I wanted to,’ she said.’Those first days of Arabella’s life were so different to what I’d anticipated. My mother’s instinct was to hold and cradle her, but cancer took that from me.’I couldn’t bear to hear the other mums with their babies on the ward. It broke my heart.’ The couple with their daughter Arabella at a party they had in lieu of a baby shower in May 2019Discharged on May 6, Poppy had a three-week break before beginning the first of 14 rounds of chemotherapy at the renowned Royal Marsden in Sutton, south London.She continued: ‘I was put on a special ward for young people and the staff were incredible, even giving me a private room so Arabella and Tommy could visit.’But when they weren’t with me, I barely left my room. Mentally, I couldn’t come to terms with my diagnosis. I had seen cancer patients on TV and in ad appeals, but it’s so different to be living it.’I couldn’t help but think, ‘Why me? What did I do to deserve this?’ The couple celebrating Arabella’s first birthday in April 2020 which marked a milestone in Poppy’s recovery from cancer In addition, Poppy struggled physically with the side-effects of chemotherapy, which often left her too exhausted to look after Arabella.She added: ‘I wanted to be able to feed her, change her nappy and bathe her.’But at times, I’d be so exhausted that if somebody said to me, ‘I’ll give you £1m to make her a bottle,’ I wouldn’t have been able to do it.’I was so lucky with the incredible support I got from Tommy and our families, but I worried in case my bond with my baby would be impacted.’In October 2019, Poppy also began proton beam therapy – a pioneering form of radiotherapy only available at a handful of UK hospitals, which uses a beam of protons, or positively charged particles, rather than high energy x-rays, to target tumours precisely, reducing the damage to healthy surrounding tissue.She had 31 sessions, alongside chemotherapy, at Manchester’s Christie Hospital.’Tommy, Arabella, my mum and I all relocated to Manchester for a couple of months while I had my treatment,’ she said. ‘I had 31 sessions in total, five times a week for just under seven weeks. Poppy said: ‘I was so lucky with the incredible support I got from Tommy  (pictured with Arabella) and our families, but I worried in case my bond with my baby would be impacted”We stayed in special accommodation, but it was really difficult being so far from home.’The treatment left me weak, exhausted and scarcely able to eat. It was awful, but we tried to snatch some happy moments too, and take Arabella for days out around the city when we could. WHAT IS EWING’S SARCOMA  Ewing’s Sarcoma is a cancer of the bone, which usually affects the ribs, pelvis and spine. In rare cases, it also occurs in the soft tissues.The condition affects less than 30 children a year in the UK.Around 225 young people are diagnosed annually in the US.Ewing’s Sarcoma’s cause is unclear but may relate to the timing of rapid bone growth.The most common symptom is pain, which is usually worse at night.Others may include:SwellingTendernessFeverWeight lossTreatment depends on the size and position of the tumor but usually involves chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy.Amputation may be unavoidable if the cancer affects the surrounding blood vessels and nerves.However, this may be avoidable by replacing the bone with a prosthesis or a bone from elsewhere in the body.Source: Macmillan  ‘For those brief moments, I could feel like a mum rather than a cancer patient.’At the end of February 2020, once her chemotherapy finished, doctors told Poppy they believed her tumour had gone and that there were no signs of the cancer being active again elsewhere in her body.She has to wait a little longer before receiving an official all clear, but, for now, doctors are happy with her progress and continue to monitor her with scans.But her biggest milestone was celebrating Arabella’s first birthday on April 26.Although in lockdown, she made the day as special as possible with cake, balloons and banners and hopes to have a proper party with all her loved ones when restrictions are eased.Speaking out to raise awareness of sarcoma and to thank CLIC Sargent – who helped with everything from practicalities to emotional support – and to urge people to donate to their emergency appeal so they can continue to be there for families navigating cancer, she said: ‘I have so many people I want to thank – Andrew Pelser, the ear, nose and throat doctor, and his team, who saved my life, the midwives on the maternity unit who delivered Bella, Julia Chisholm and the absolutely amazing staff at the Royal Marsden, Sam at Teenage Cancer Trust and each and every incredible NHS worker, from cleaners to consultants, at Princess Royal, Manchester Christie and Royal Marsden Hospitals.’From day one, CLIC Sargent have been incredible. They even helped with little things like providing vouchers to pamper myself with, and with practicalities I didn’t have the headspace to think about, such as hospital parking.’It was a horrible time, but they were there throughout – not just for me, but for my family.’CLIC Sargent Chief Executive Rachel Kirby-Rider is appealing for help, as their income has been decimated by Covid-19.She said: ‘Since the coronavirus hit the UK our income fell off a cliff, an instant 60% drop. We face losing £8million – which for a charity of our size is devastating. Poppy and Tommy on New Year’s Eve, 2018, in the early days of her pregnancy after meeting on the Greek island ‘Many families we support were already at financial breaking point before the pandemic and things are getting tougher for them.’Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak in the UK, CLIC Sargent has given out over £45,000 in hardship grants to families in crisis struggling to afford the essentials such as food and paying bills.’Cancer doesn’t stop for coronavirus and the young cancer patients and families we support like Poppy are facing a real crisis and need us more than ever. We urgently need funding to do that.’
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