'My baby saved my life'

Published Wednesday, Apr 2 2014, 19:00 BST  |  By  |  Add comment
Nikki Witham, 29, from Burton-upon-Trent, Staffs, was diagnosed with cancer after doctors spotted an abnormality on her cervix during labour.

"If it wasn't for my two-year-old girl, Lucy, I wouldn't be here today. Not only did she give me the determination to fight cancer, but it was while I was giving birth to her that the disease was discovered. She literally saved my life.

When I fell pregnant, it was a happy accident. Well, for me anyway. My boyfriend thought differently and, after failing to persuade me to have an abortion, he left.

Nikki Witham was diagnosed with cancer after doctors spotted it during labour

© Robin Palmer

Nikki and two-year-old Lucy who saved her life

It was tough but I forced myself to be practical. It was better he left then than after the baby was born and put our child through the pain and heartache of losing a parent they loved.

There was no way I could have considered getting rid of my baby. From the minute the pregnancy test confirmed I was expecting, I was so happy.

And my delight only grew at my 20-week scan when I discovered I was having a girl. Any heartbreak over my ex was soon forgotten about as I started buying pink baby suits and blankets and spending hours dreaming about what she'd look like.

I nicknamed her 'Wrigglebum' because I loved watching my stomach roll as she squirmed around inside me and, as I lay in bed alone, I talked to her all the time. I was already besotted.

So when I started having contractions in February 2012, I could barely believe I was about to meet my daughter.

It wasn't the easiest of labours. I went to the Burton Queen's Hospital after 10 hours of pains but was sent home because I was only 1cm dilated. An hour later I had to return and, although I wasn't any further on, they let me stay because I was in agony.

A doctor examined me and gave me painkillers which made my head swim.

So much so that when a gynaecologist was sent in to ask whether I'd ever had cancer, I barely noticed. 'You have a bubbly cervix,' he said. 'You'll need to have this checked after you've given birth.'

His frightening words passed me by and a few minutes later, I was told I needed an emergency Caesarean as I still wasn't dilating. It was all a blur but before long, I was cradling 8lb 2oz Lucy in my arms.

Three days later I took Lucy home. I realised I'd never known love until I'd looked at her. The feelings that surged through me when I gazed into her huge blue eyes took my breath away and I could while away hours just watching her sleep.

'I love you so much,' I told her continuously. It didn't matter her dad didn't want to be involved, I adored her enough for 20 people, not just two.

When Lucy was 10 weeks old, I went in for a colposcopy, which the gynaecologist had booked me in for. I didn't think anything of it but as soon as the consultant examined me, her face fell.

Nikki Witham after giving birth to Lucy, then doctors diagnosed her with cancer

© Robin Palmer

Nikki's cancer was discovered at Lucy's birth

'I'm so sorry but it looks like you have a cancerous tumour on your cervix," she told me.

I was stunned. I'd never suspected I could have cancer. After all, I was young, fit. I'd even had a smear test the year before, which had come back clear.

I burst into tears. But I knew it was no good falling apart. I had to be strong – for me and for Lucy. After all, I'd brought her into this world, I had to be around to take care of her in it.

At first I was told I'd need a hysterectomy. But an MRI scan showed the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. I needed chemotherapy, radiotherapy and brachytherapy, where they insert rods inside you to deliver radiotherapy internally. It would leave me infertile, but I had to be around for the baby I had, not worry about the ones I couldn't conceive.

In July 2012, the chemotherapy started. I'd heard horror stories of hair falling out in clumps but luckily, mine just thinned. I've never known tiredness like it though and sometimes, when Lucy cried in the middle of the night to be fed, I felt like
I physically couldn't get out of bed.

But although being a new mum going through cancer treatment was extremely difficult, in another way, having Lucy was the best distraction. If it had just been me, I would have stayed in bed all day, dwelling on the worst-case scenarios.

Instead, I had to get up every morning and, being confronted with Lucy's huge smile as she saw me, I couldn't help but feel cheered.

Incredibly, after three months of treatment, the cancer was gone. It wasn't the end of my journey though. It took a long time to recover from the effects of the treatment and I'm still being checked every four months to ensure the cancer hasn't returned.

But I'm not scared of it coming back. I've got Lucy and, for her, I can fight anything.'

Nikki is supporting Cancer Research UK's Race for Life 2014. Details and registration at raceforlife.org