breast cancer, mama disrupt

‘I found out I had breast cancer the same day I found out the gender of my baby’

In Features, Guest Editors, Motherhood, Pregnancy + Birth, Stories, Wellness by Nicole Fuge

Jessica Allen chats with Mama Disrupt® about juggling a rare breast cancer diagnosis, pregnancy and new motherhood semi-solo.

By Nicole Fuge, Mama Disrupt® Managing Editor

“Holding tightly onto the hand of my three-year-old son I found out I had breast cancer…”

Oof. As a mother of a three year old boy, this hit me harder than I can explain. And I knew Jessica Allen’s story was one that would stay with me.

Early on in her pregnancy, Jessica noticed that she had a lump in her breast. At 16 weeks, she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer – she was only 35 years old. And as her hubby was a Fly-in, Fly-out (FIFO) worker, Jessica relied on the pure comfort of her darling son, Houston, to get her through the diagnosis.

“At the time I was worried about the lump, a potential breast cancer diagnosis and I wasn’t sure if I would even be able to keep my pregnancy,” she says. “I had never seen anyone go through a breast cancer diagnosis while pregnant.”

Jessica started chemotherapy when she was in the second trimester – something she describes as “an extremely isolating experience”. Then she completed her treatment postpartum, while also caring for her newborn babe, Bodhi.

Told you she was bloody amazing! Keep scrolling to read our Q+A with Jessica, who is sharing her story for the first time as part of the National Breast Cancer Foundation 30th Anniversary.


breast cancer, mama disrupt
Was it a difficult decision to have the chemo while pregnant?

I thought it was going to be difficult, and wanted to make sure I was around for my son I already had. But I wanted to do anything to make sure my baby survived and myself as well.

I remember my oncologist being so cool, calm, and collected about the situation but he was a professor, and I was so lucky to have him by my side through the journey. Of course, my brother Googled him like crazy and gave his tick of approval; as big brothers do for their little sisters.

I think I had the reassurance that he had dealt with many other pregnant women in the past. Some that had said no to treatment, and it didn’t always turn out great. And women who did treatment and never once had issues with their babies. The only side effect I was told for my baby is that he would be a little bit smaller (which he was) and that I would most likely have to have him between 32-34 weeks. It was also the safest time to do chemo in the second trimester.

The first day of chemo all I wanted to do was run away. You try to be healthy through pregnancy and here I am putting something so potent in my body. Before I started chemo, I had my surgery and had a partial mastectomy. My cancer was quite large, so I did lose half my breast. This was probably the most stressful time I had with the baby, as being put under anaesthesia can make your baby go into anaphylactic shock. I had no idea when I woke up whether my baby was still going to be alive or not.

breast cancer, mama disrupt

Being pregnant is hard enough, but then undergoing chemo at the same time (wow!) How were you feeling throughout your pregnancy?

I felt like I was holding my breath the whole time and once I had my baby I could breathe again. I had constant panic attacks.

Other than the normal medication you take for chemo, I didn’t have anything else other than medication for the panic attacks. It was just something you had to get through.

After each treatment I felt like I was in labour for the first 10 hrs and by morning it would disappear. It was excruciating, but just another hurdle to get over. I needed to get through the first half of chemo before I had the baby.

Having chemo while pregnant isn’t something you hear much about, is it rare?

I had never heard of it happening before. Turns out it is so much more common than you think. Since treatment I have become good friends with another girl who just finished her treatment while pregnant, and she has become a life saver. Being able to talk to someone else who has been through it and really understands it has really helped me.

It really is one of the hardest experiences of my life, but it’s just something you must do – I had to keep going for my baby and my eldest son.

breast cancer, mama disrupt

How did you feel the moment your son was born?

It felt like I could breathe again. And if you ask my husband, he will tell you that I never put the baby down and never wanted to hand him over to anyone.

I barely slept for the first three months because I just couldn’t let him go. Me and him had been through this experience together that no one else will ever understand. He is healthy and the most beautiful blue-eyed boy. Both my kids will mean more to me than anyone will understand.

When Bodhi was born, I made him a promise that no matter how hard it ever gets I will keep fighting for him and Houston no matter what. The hardest part has been since treatment finished, and I can tell you there had been so many times I wanted to throw in the towel on life, but looking at my boys reminds me what I fight every day for.

How did you manage postpartum, looking after your newborn, your four-year-old, and continuing treatment, all while your husband was FIFO?

Haha well this was tricky. My husband took a few months off work after Bodhi was born. We were so lucky to have his work raise some money for us that he could take that time off to be with me. Financially it was hard knowing we had to pay for a new baby, and I couldn’t work for a while.

We also had my mum come and stay with us a lot. If my husband had to go back to work for a little bit, then my mum would come and stay with us. We lived four hours south of her, so we didn’t have many people around us, except our in-laws who also came to stay at times to help.

I was lucky to be able to take Bodhi to treatment with me. The nurses loved him. It was awfully hard, but I just had to keep going. I was lucky to have such amazing support from my husband. He did everything he could to make my journey easier.

mama disrupt

How are you now?

That is a good question. I struggle severely with anxiety and depression comes and goes. I still have panic attacks at times. It’s like you push all the mental side of it deep down and now I’m only dealing with it. But I do feel like I have come a long way.

I have chronic pain, which I will have forever, so at times it can become a bit much to mentally deal with, and you just don’t want to get out of bed.

But I am cancer free and having regular check-ups and scans to make sure nothing returns. I don’t think that worry of it coming back will ever go away.

To celebrate finishing active treatment I made a bucket list, so working my way through prioritising that in life and not waiting around anymore. If that’s one piece of advice I could give to anyone is, ‘don’t wait, do your life now’.

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