At 7 months pregnant, Renee walked into chemo. Alone.

McGrath Foundation October 29, 2020 2 mins read

Renee Jones was just 33 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was also 13 weeks pregnant with her second child. Immediately, Renee’s concern jumped to her unborn child. With a strong team around her, including McGrath Breast Care Nurse Leanne Storer, Renee has been able to receive treatment and carry on with her pregnancy, using humour to keep her spirits buoyed.

 

While trying to conceive their second child via IVF, Renee noticed a small lump on her breast. She had recently had a mole removed so didn’t think too much of it, assuming it was likely just scar tissue. She noticed the lump starting to change so she went to the doctor and was referred on to have it checked out.

It wasn’t until she was 13 weeks pregnant that the lump began to change a lot, so Renee was scheduled for an ultrasound to find out what was happening. The ultrasound showed there was a lump, so she was referred to a breast surgeon for a biopsy. Renee still didn’t think it was breast cancer.

‘It wasn’t until my GP called me in tears to tell me the biopsy results that things really clicked for me,” Renee said. “I had five minutes to process what was happening, before I called my husband, Trevor, and asked him to come home from work.

Once in Ballarat, a 45-minute drive from her home in Bacchus Marsh, Renee and her family met with a breast surgeon. It was in this meeting that Renee also met Leanne Storer, a McGrath Breast Care Nurse based in Ballarat.

“Due to COVID-19 Leanne had to be dialled in over speakerphone. I knew that she must be important if my surgeon was finding a way to loop her in from the beginning, but I didn’t know how crucial Leanne would become.

“I immediately thought of my unborn child, I didn’t know how or if treatment would affect me and my baby.”

“I immediately thought of my unborn child, I didn’t know how or if treatment would affect me and my baby.”

“We lost Dad four years ago to cancer, so Mum really struggled with my breast cancer diagnosis. The hardest part was telling my brothers, they were so upset.”

“We hadn’t told too many people I was pregnant which was a good thing because I still didn’t know if I would be asked to terminate. As it turns out, my surgeon has supported pregnant patients before, as has Leanne, so I was able to keep my pregnancy. It did add an extra layer of complexity to my treatment, and the medical teams had to devise a specific plan to ensure my wellbeing and that my unborn child were looked after.”

“Mum has been a great support. She was supposed to be on long service leave and travelling but because of COVID-19 she’s at home with me and is a huge help. I’m so grateful for everything that she is doing for me.”

“In some ways COVID-19 has been a blessing in disguise because it’s meant I can’t go anywhere and no one can come around when I’m tired so I can focus on recovery.”

“At the moment, my only outing is to go to chemo and I can’t have a support person there because of social distancing. Sometimes I find myself falling asleep in the chemo chair because I’m just so tired from the combination of cancer treatment, pregnancy, work and caring for my daughter.”

“Eden is only two so she’s not completely across what’s happening, but kids are really initiative, so she understands that mummy is sick, and likes to tell people “my mum has sore boobies” which does make me laugh.”

“As much as possible, we talk to Eden about what’s happening so that she’s not frightened. She came with us when Trevor and I had our heads shaved. Eden likes to rub her hands over my head and tell me how pretty my new haircut is.”

“Eden is only two so she’s not completely across what’s happening, but kids are really intuitive, so she understands that mummy is sick, and likes to tell people “my mum has sore boobies” which does make me laugh.”

“I was 15 weeks pregnant when I was scheduled for a lumpectomy and to have some lymph nodes removed. My surgeon got good margins on the lump and lymph nodes were clear, so I was feeling really positive about that. Tests showed that I had triple-negative breast cancer.”

“Two weeks later, I started having chemotherapy, which I will have until I’m 36 weeks pregnant. The worst part for me was having the port put in, I rang Leanne and asked if all my treatment was going to be that bad!”

“At the moment I’m really tired but it’s unclear if that’s because of my pregnancy or because of the chemo. I’m lucky in that I don’t have too many side effects. Often, I ring Leanne to ask about the side effects and we have a laugh because a lot of them could be either because of the pregnancy or the chemo. Leanne is a constant source of knowledge, which is invaluable because otherwise, I’d spend more time googling, which is never a good idea.”

“My McGrath Breast Care Nurse Leanne helps allay my fears, stressors and concerns by always being on the other end of the phone. She knows what side effects to be worried about and what just needs to be managed.”

“The first thing we did was figure out a timeline of treatment in conjunction with Renee’s pregnancy,” Leanne said, “Because of her pregnancy, the window in which Renee could be given chemo was very narrow.”

“She’s very calm and takes everything relevant on board. Immediately, Renee thought of herself and her baby as one entity and wouldn’t make any decisions without knowing how it would affect her pregnancy.”

“COVID-19 has presented a lot of challenges but we’ve found workarounds to ensure Renee and her family are fully supported.”

“My Mcgrath Breast Care Nurse, Leanne helps allay my fears, stressors and concerns by always being on the other end of the phone. She knows what side effects to be worried about and what just needs to be managed.”

“I believe everything happens for a reason, so I often wonder if I’ve been given breast cancer while pregnant because I’m strong enough to handle it,” Said Renee “I also use a lot of humour to cope with being diagnosed with breast cancer while being pregnant in the middle of a pandemic.”

“I’ve set up a Facebook page to help keep my friends and family up to date on my experience as well as boost spirits. I’ve named my cancer Titiania the Tit Tumour and although I’m upfront and honest about the realities of treatment and side effects, I have to laugh and find some light about what’s going on.”

“Breast cancer doesn’t discriminate, and I’ve become a huge advocate for people going to the GP as soon as they notice something’s changed or is unusual. People need to know what’s normal for them and what’s not. Don’t be afraid if you do find something you need a second opinion on, because it’s better to catch it earlier than later.”

“Right now, I’m focusing on getting through my treatment and to the other side of my pregnancy. I’m so looking forward to the milestone of meeting my baby.”

 

McGrath Breast Care Nurses like Leanne provide support at no cost to the families experiencing breast cancer, but we urgently need your help to continue to fund this vital support. This Christmas, give the gift of support to families just like Renee’s.