When Lisa Forrest was in the early stages of pregnancy with her first child, her GP sent her for a routine pap smear.
She was stunned when the results showed some abnormalities.
Further testing diagnosed the then 27 year old with cervical cancer. Twenty weeks into her pregnancy she faced the terrifying decision of either terminating or proceeding with chemotherapy.
“As you can imagine, it’s one of the most devastating pieces of news you could get when expecting your first baby,” Lisa recalls.
“We were super excited when we found out about the pregnancy … at 27, I was very fit and healthy and then all of a sudden you are thrown into the high-risk category for your pregnancy.
“Specialists told us we had two choices; terminate the baby and undergo a radical hysterectomy or continue the pregnancy and fight the cancer. We were advised that undergoing chemotherapy while pregnant could potentially harm our unborn daughter but we both felt we had to take this gamble.
“My partner, Charlton, and I desperately wanted this baby, so our decision was made. At 20 weeks we were half way there … it felt like we were on the home stretch of having a baby. So we decided we were going to fight, stay positive and do all that we could to keep this little girl.”
Over a 10-week period, Lisa went through six cycles of chemotherapy.
“In a weird way I never ever thought I was sick … I was just thinking about being pregnant and getting the baby into the world,” Lisa recalls.
“Looking back I wasn’t thinking of myself and I was fighting for the baby. You just have to deal with (it) day by day. You literally have to get up and just see what the day brings. You can’t think too far ahead or it overwhelms you. I also think I was trying to be strong for the people around me.”
If the chemo wasn’t successful, Eadie would be brought into the world at 24 weeks.
“This could have meant all sorts of complications, such as hearing and vision impairment … so we were preparing ourselves,” Lisa says.
Incredibly, after the first six weeks scans showed that the tumour had reduced in size by 30 per cent.
Encouraged by the positive response, doctors upped the treatment to weekly chemo and at the 30 week mark they advised that the tumour had actually disappeared.
“That was phenomenal … that meant the chemo stopped and was out of my system for four weeks before Eadie was born,” Lisa says.
“They advised me that chemo wouldn’t cross the placenta … but we were still nervous, you never really know.”
On March 28, 2012, Eadie Piper was born at 34 weeks without a single health complication.
“I underwent the radical hysterectomy immediately following the caesarean,” Lisa says.
“I was fortunate enough to retain one of my ovaries so we have the option of pursuing surrogacy in the future.”
Eadie is now a healthy six-year-old. “She saved my life,” Lisa says.
Without her — and the GP who suggested the pap smear — Lisa says she may not be here today as “early detection is key”.
“If cancer is diagnosed in the early stages, people may have a chance. Everyone has special woman in their life; a mother, a daughter, an aunt, a friend, a colleague or a sister so we all need to do what we can to ensure no one else is impacted by this terrible disease,” she said.
It’s a sentiment that is particularly pertinent to Lisa at the moment as she has just discovered that she has the BRCA2 gene and is considering a preventive double mastectomy.
“My mum Sue was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, so I was tested for the gene and discovered I have it,” Lisa says.
“You can choose to monitor it with regular tests but I just feel personally, with my history, I don’t want to muck around, I have a daughter to consider now.
“I can actually prevent it … no way is cancer coming back into my life.”
She says watching her mother (successfully) beat breast cancer through chemo, radiation and a double mastectomy has shown her where her own fighting spirit comes from.
“I look at my mum and she is absolutely made of steel and I see where I get it from”.
Looking back on her own cancer battle, Lisa, now 34, says she couldn’t have done it without her carers.
“I’ll never be able to thank my partner enough for being so supportive — I think carers need to be recognised … they make you have a bite to eat when you don’t want to eat and a sip of water when don’t want to drink because you have a mouth full of ulcers from the chemo.”
She says her daughter has a keen understanding of cancer for a six-year-old.
“We’ve spoken openly with Eadie about cancer … she has seen my mum go through it and she understands I was sick, because in class they bring in baby photos and she has to explain to other kids why her mum is bald in the photos.
“She probably thinks cancer is normal”.
Talking about it all now is a “surreal” experience for Lisa.
“When you say it out loud, everything that happened, you can’t believe it’s actually your own story.”
— Pink Hope is a breast and ovarian preventive health hub, working to ensure every individual can assess, manage and reduce their risk of breast and ovarian cancer, while providing personalised support to at-risk women. For information visit pinkhope.org.au.