A mother was told she had three cancerous tumours in her right breast while pregnant with her first child.
Just weeks after being induced early to deliver her son, she had two mastectomies and feels ‘grateful to be alive’.
Rhiannon Baxter, 35, a pharmacy care coordinator who lives in Wallasey, in the Wirral, said her breasts felt ‘tender’ when she was approximately 34 weeks pregnant.
After feeling a lump on her right nipple, she believed it was a blocked milk duct and ‘thought nothing of it’.
Due to family history of cancer, Rhiannon was told to get it checked – her mother had breast cancer (and beat it) and her uncle had died of cancer.
After a hospital scan, she was handed a Macmillan card by a breast cancer nurse, who informed her the lump may be ‘sinister’.
Later, she received the devastating news she had invasive cancer.
‘I was scared because I had finally got to a point in life where I loved my life and I didn’t want to leave it, and I thought, I’ve got a husband and a baby now, I cannot leave them,’ she said.
‘I just thought, I can’t die, I have too many people to live for.’
Rhiannon was then induced at 38 weeks pregnant, which is considered full-term, and she gave birth to her now 11-month old son, Alvie.
Four weeks later, she underwent a mastectomy to remove her right breast, but since pre-cancer had been found in her left breast as well, she underwent a second mastectomy six weeks later.
‘It was the worst week of my life waiting for those results, because I thought, if it has spread anywhere else, I can’t do it; if it’s just breast cancer, I can do this,’ she said.
Thankfully, it had not spread, but she then needed 15 rounds of chemotherapy and three weeks of radiotherapy.
Having watched her mother go through her cancer journey with such positivity and strength in the past, Rhiannon thought, ‘I can do this as well’, when she received her diagnosis.
The thought of losing her breasts was devastating, but she had been able to breastfeed Alvie for three weeks which helped her make peace with the loss.
‘I had a panic attack before the first procedure and I couldn’t speak, but the second time, I just thought, I’ve done this before, let’s get it out of me before it spreads,’ she said.
‘I remember getting in the bath and hiding myself because my husband was bathing me, and I remember crying – sobbing – in the bath.
‘He said, “What’s the matter?” And I said, “You’re 36 years old, and you’re bathing your wife in a bath with no breasts, this is not fair, this is not fair on you”.
‘He just said, “But I don’t care, it doesn’t bother me, I don’t see you like that”, and because he’s so loving and so amazing about it all, I’ve become a lot more confident with it.’
Though it’s difficult to come to terms with, she’s grateful to be alive.
Rhiannon said she felt fatigued and lost her eyelashes and leg and armpit hairs, but as a result of using a cold cap during chemotherapy, she was ‘never completely bald’, losing about 50% of her hair.
On her final chemotherapy session in April this year, her family and friends came to support her, wearing pink, and releasing balloons into the air in celebration.
Rhiannon is now receiving ongoing hormone treatment to prevent recurrence and taking several medications.
She plans to have breast reconstruction surgery later to help her feel like herself again.
‘If you are worried that you’ve got a lump or anything, go and get it checked because it’s better to catch it earlier – and just remember, having cancer is not a death sentence,’ she added.
Rhiannon is supporting Breast Cancer Now’s wear it pink fundraising day to raise awareness of breast cancer and help raise money for life-changing research and support.
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