"When people ask me what I'd like for Christmas this year, the answer is simple. Nothing. I already have everything I could ever wish for.
Last Christmas, it was a very different story. I was battling cancer, undergoing chemotherapy following major surgery. And, at six months pregnant, it wasn't just my life that hung in the balance but that of my tiny unborn daughter, too.
I didn't dare dream that, this year, we'd have a family Christmas with our little star.
The problems began after our first daughter, Maia, now two, was born. I suffered non-stop stomach pains, dizziness and toilet troubles.
My doctor seemed sure it was constipation, but laxatives never worked. So I accepted what so many people said – that things change after you have a baby.
But, by the time Maia was 16 months old, the pain was unbearable and I was popping painkillers daily.
Shortly after, in October 2014, I fell pregnant again. Immediately, I put my abdominal discomfort down to that.
But each day was a struggle, and I couldn't keep any food down. It felt totally different to morning sickness, but the doctors wanted to wait until the baby was born to begin investigations. One afternoon, after putting Maia down for a nap, I was violently ill.
I phoned my fiancé Joeie, 34, in a panic. He told me to call an ambulance, and soon I was being examined at our local hospital, where I worked as a ward clerk.
Thankfully, the baby was fine, but I was admitted to hospital – I was clearly too unwell to go home.
A week later, on 7 November, 2014, a consultant reviewed my test results. I knew it was bad news when he told me to call Joeie, and they pulled the curtain round my bed.
'You have cancer,' the doctor said.
I struggled as he explained that a small rugby ball-size tumour had been found in my bowel. It had spread to my stomach, and had likely been growing for years. Without surgery, I would die.
I had only one question.
'What about my baby?'
He shook his head. 'Even if she made it through the operation, she won't survive the treatment.'
I was 20 weeks pregnant and we knew we were having a girl. I broke down in Joeie's arms as the consultant told me that he would have advised a termination, but there wasn't time.
There was no choice. Without the operation, we'd both die. And I couldn't leave Maia without a mum.
The surgery was scheduled for three days later. I begged the medics to save the little girl growing inside me. But the answer was clear – nothing could be done.
The night before, Joeie brought Maia in to see me. I clung to her, terrified it might be the last time we ever had together.
I already had her Christmas presents hidden at home. What if I wasn't there to watch her open them? 'Don't let her see me crying,' I told Joeie, turning away.
Early next morning, my baby was kicking away inside me as I was wheeled to theatre. It was like she was telling me not to give up on her. I vowed I never would.
Five hours later, I came round from the anaesthetic. The surgeon said they had removed 70 per cent of my bowel and 30 per cent of my stomach. Another, smaller tumour had been found, too.
But all I really wanted to know was whether my baby was OK.
'She's doing well,' the surgeon replied, but quickly warned me that it was likely I would miscarry over the next few days. And even if she clung on, there was still the gruelling chemo to get through.
Three weeks later, I was allowed home. A fortnight after that, just as people were gearing up for Christmas, I started my chemotherapy. 'Hang on in there, baby,' I prayed fervently.
Watching Maia open her presents on Christmas morning felt like an unexpected treat, and I was grateful for the life still inside me. I didn't allow myself to think it might be our only Christmas together.
After five rounds of chemotherapy, scans showed our unborn daughter's growth was slowing down. It was a normal side-effect, but it meant she needed delivering now.
On 5 March, at 36 weeks, I had a planned C-section. My miracle baby was born healthy, weighing a tiny 4lb 14oz I held her to my chest in disbelief, and we called her Jessica Joy.
A fortnight after her birth, I started chemotherapy again, finally finishing in June. Every check-up since has shown that the tumours are gone.
Further investigations have shown that my cancer was genetic – my dad and grandmother both died of cancer – and that I have Lynch syndrome, a gene mutation that means there's a strong chance of the cancer returning.
Under medical advice, I had a full hysterectomy to reduce the risk. After all, Jessica fought so hard to stay alive, so I will, too.
To be here with Joeie and both our daughters this Christmas is all I could ever wish for. And I plan on being around for many more to come."
By Su Karney & Kelly Strange
For more info about Lynch syndrome, visit lynch-syndrome-uk.org
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