How new baby Lacey Louise brought joy for Michelle after chemo ordeal
SHE endured gruelling cancer treatment and went under the surgeon's knife to have her breast removed.
But as 32-year-old Michelle Thompson battled her life-threatening illness – a tiny baby was growing inside her.
"I was devastated when I was told I had cancer," says Michelle. "I had to have immediate treatment and it was very upsetting.
"When I then discovered I was 10 weeks' pregnant and I was totally, totally shocked. The first thing I thought was 'oh no I'm going to lose it – I've got cancer'. I needed so much more treatment and I was really scared about what the doctors were going to say."
Michelle, from Chaddesden, had scans, a biopsy and a lumpectomy before she realised she was pregnant.
When the test revealed a positive result, she was five days away from delicate surgery to remove her breast and has sessions of chemotherapy planned at the Royal Derby Hospital.
"I was worried about telling the hospital staff because I thought they might say I'd have to terminate the pregnancy," says Michelle.
"When they said they could work round the baby, I was so relieved. I desperately wanted to have it. I'd been told that my treatment for cancer could bring on an early menopause, so this baby was my last chance of having another."
Michelle went on to have a full mastectomy and six sessions of chemotherapy during her pregnancy. As her baby developed inside her, she fought to survive for her sake of her unborn child.
"This pregnancy meant the world to me and my partner, Lee. We already have a three-year-old daughter called Scarlett, but we'd agreed at the beginning of the year that we'd try and have another one.
"When I got diagnosed with breast cancer our thoughts of having a baby were put on hold. I concentrated on the cancer treatment and I stopped thinking about trying to get pregnant."
Michelle discovered the lump in her breast during the same February weekend she thinks she must have conceived her daughter.
Totally unaware she was pregnant, she started treatment for cancer. Michelle was told she would need surgery to remove the lump. She was also invited to have her other breast reduced in size. Later, she could have reconstruction surgery.
"I went in on April 18 to have my lumpectomy," says Michelle. "Everyone was so lovely to me. It's strange to think that I had Lacey inside me all the time I was going to and from the hospital. I didn't know. No-one knew."
Michelle stayed in hospital for one night and was relieved to get home to her family. Partner Lee, sister Jo Palmer and other family and friends rallied to help.
Michelle was hoping for some good news when she returned to hospital in April. She had convinced herself that doctors were going to give her positive results, but that was not the case.
"The cancer was a grade three and it had travelled into my lymph nodes. They said I'd need to have my whole breast off and I was so, so shocked," she says.
Still reeling from the shock, Michelle went home to prepare for the next stage of her treatment. Her mastectomy was booked for May 11.
But a few days before her op Michelle lay in bed one night and tried to remember when her last period had been.
Unable to sleep and knowing she had a pregnancy test in her medical kit, she went downstairs to get it.
"Lee was asleep," says Michelle. "It must have been 2am. I knew I wouldn't be able to rest until I'd done the test. When it showed a strong line, I could hardly believe it.
"I raced back upstairs and woke Lee. He almost leapt in the air. I just cried. I was so shocked, and happy, and scared.
"I was terrified that the cancer treatment might have affected the baby and I knew I was going to need chemotherapy and that was strong stuff. How could a baby survive when I was being pumped with horrible drugs?"
Michelle waited for her next hospital appointment to break the news to doctors. She was almost dreading telling them.
"I didn't want them to tell me that the pregnancy had to be terminated," she says. "That was my biggest worry.
"I was sent off for a scan and I was told that I was 10 and a half weeks pregnant. But when I told my nurse she just turned to me and said 'it's fine – we've done it before.'
"I was told that I still needed to have the mastectomy. I was reassured that the baby would be fine."
In the first three months (first trimester) of pregnancy, surgery such as a mastectomy is straightforward and poses no real risk to the baby.
Chemotherapy can be administered to a pregnant woman with cancer in the second trimester – after about 14 weeks. The placenta protects the unborn baby from harmful medication.
Michelle says: "I was so happy that the hospital team was prepared to treat me and keep my baby safe. She was so precious, considering I might not be able to have more children after treatment.
"Being pregnant gave me something else to think about. When I went in for my mastectomy, I knew I had to keep strong."
Michelle was scanned regularly to ensure that the baby was developing properly.
The mum-to-be went shopping for wigs with her friend . She says sister Jo was a tower of strength, and Lee was amazing, too.
"I felt so tired," says Michelle. "I didn't know if it was the chemo or the pregnancy. I tried to rest and spend some time with Scarlett."
Baby Lacey Louise Maskrey was born on November 22 – and she was perfect.
Michelle says: "I was induced a bit early because I was told that the chemotherapy treatment can make the placenta age faster. For that reason, I wasn't allowed to go into natural labour. But when she was born, it was so amazing. She was so small and lovely. We were all so happy and relieved that she was all right."
The final part of Michelle's treatment – a course of radiotherapy, was started a month after Lacey was born. She has just finished it. In February, she finds out if the treatment has been successful and she is clear of cancer.
"There's been so much going on I hardly had time to think about things," says Michelle. "I can't wait to find out if it's gone. It has been a horrible time but my wonderful family and friends have been truly amazing.
"They have supported me so much over these last 10 months. It has not always been easy but they have never failed to be there for me, Lee and the girls.
"It's been a true insight into how lucky I am to have these special people around me through some very difficult times. I have not been alone in this journey and it is thanks to them."
Michelle's sister, Jo, 33 said: "She's been so brave. She has kept strong and everyone has helped her."