I couldn’t wait to meet my unborn baby girl. What I didn’t know was that she was causing a deadly side effect…
By Ashley Shaw, 26, from Widnes, Cheshire
As her baby bump grew, Ashley Shaw couldn’t wait to welcome her little girl into the world.
But what she didn’t know was that her pregnancy was causing a dangerous deadly side effect – cancer.
After giving birth to Layla, now two, Ashley, 26, was diagnosed with an extremely rare tumour caused by the cells that attach the placenta to the womb. Fewer than five women are diagnosed in the UK each year.
The 5cm growth, a placental site trophoblastic tumour, left Ashley having to undergo a full hysterectomy to survive.
Ashley, a rugby stadium operations assistant from Widnes in Cheshire, said: “In the months after Layla arrived in October 2014, I had this strange feeling that something just wasn’t right.
“My periods hadn’t returned to normal and I felt generally off.
“For months I begged my GP for tests, but it wasn’t until I had my routine smear in February this year that I was diagnosed with the tumour.
“When I discovered it was a direct result of being pregnant with Layla I couldn’t believe it. I’d never heard of this happening before.”
Ashley had difficult pregnancies with her two sons – Dylan, eight, and Declan, six. However, the pregnancy with Layla had been problem free until 32 weeks.
The expectant mum called the maternity unit when she stopped feeling her baby move inside her. Then, when she arrived at Whiston Hospital in Prescot, Merseyside, she discovered that her unborn baby had stopped growing as her placenta had failed.
Ashley said: “I was told that effectively my placenta had died.
“It was touch and go, and the hospital even sent a nun in to see if I wanted a blessing as Layla could have been stillborn.
“Then I was rushed for an emergency caesarean. Layla was delivered eight weeks early weighing just 4lb 15oz, and thankfully she went from strength to strength.
“After ten days in hospital, I could finally take my little girl home. At that point, I thought all the medical drama was over.”
However, while Layla thrived, Ashley was becoming increasingly worried about her own health. She was having very heavy periods and sharp abdominal pain.
Ashley said: “The longer this went on, the more worked up I was getting.
“After the smear test I was sent to the hospital for further investigations as the results showed abnormal cells.
“Then, after a hysteroscopy, where the doctor removes part of the uterus for tissue tests, I was told I needed blood tests.
“That’s when I got the first inkling that something serious was going on. Not long later, I was told it was cancer.
“Nothing could have prepared me for the news. I’d never even heard of this type of tumour, let alone thought that it would happen to me.
“At first I didn’t understand how being pregnant with Layla could have caused this. But, as I did more research things started to make sense.
“It was no wonder my placenta had failed if the tumour had already started growing.
“It was a miracle Layla was even alive.”
The only treatment option for Ashley’s tumour was a full hysterectomy, before the cells spread to her other organs. But, faced with leaving her three children without a mother, Ashley didn’t hesitate to give consent for the surgery.
She said: “By the time that I was diagnosed I’d split up with my kids’ dad and had met my new partner, Ryan Bell, 22, in October last year.
“It was still early days for our relationship, and we hadn’t even talked about having children. Suddenly, that choice was being taken from us.
“I knew I had to have the surgery to survive, but I felt awful for Ryan. He’d barely been with me five minutes when already he was dealing with this.
“I told him I’d understand if he walked away, as he didn’t have any children of his own and I knew he’d love to be a dad. But he promised me he wasn’t going anywhere.”
In March this year Ashley was admitted to the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield for the four-hour operation. But during the procedure the surgeon accidentally cut one of Ashley’s arteries, complicating her recovery.
She ended up having an artery removed from her right leg for a patch repair, and spent ten days in hospital.
“The surgery was absolutely horrendous,” Ashley said. “I was told that after the surgeon cut my artery I was five minutes away from bleeding to death.
“Even after being discharged from the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, I was in and out of my local hospital for the next few months.
“But, thanks to the support of lots of family and friends, I’ve recovered and I’m cancer free. In that sense I feel so lucky, because not everyone has that support.
“I have to have regular blood and urine tests to monitor whether the cancer has returned. However, that’s a small price to pay for surviving.
“The mental after effects of what I’ve been through have hit me really hard. I’ve been diagnosed with depression, and been prescribed medication and counselling.
“I felt like a terrible mother as I couldn’t be there for my children while I was recovering, and having no womb left me feeling like less of a woman.
“Now I want to raise awareness for other mums, as this cancer is so rare. If I can inspire just one woman to keep nagging her doctor when she notices something isn’t right, it will be worth it.”