A mother who delayed cancer treatment so her unborn baby could survive has learned she will not live to see her daughter grow up. Sarah Brook was six months pregnant when she was told that her morning sickness and agonising backache was caused by bowel cancer.
Doctors said her pregnancy hormones were accelerating the growth of the tumour and that she could postpone chemotherapy for only two weeks before she became too ill.
The delay was just long enough to enable her daughter to survive and Polly Jean was born by Caesarean section at 27 weeks, weighing around 2lb.
She is now four weeks old and, despite medical complications, is getting stronger.
But Mrs Brook, 32, from Islington, north London, has been told the cancer has spread to her pancreas, intestines, lungs and neck and cannot be cured.
Doctors say there are only 25 reported cases worldwide of those with the same scale of secondary tumours. She said: ‘I just want to be a mother to my baby girl and continue to be a wife and best friend to my husband for as long as possible.’
Mrs Brook, a former pupil at the prestigious City of London School for Girls, now lives in Australia after emigrating with her husband Ben, 35, following their marriage in 2006.
The Brighton University graduate is spending most of her time at the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, either having cancer treatment or visiting Polly, who will be in the neo-natal intensive care unit for several months. Describing her daughter as ‘a little fighter’ and a ‘miracle’, she said: ‘I knew that having a baby would be a life-changing event but even I couldn’t contemplate quite how much. The feeling when I first saw her was just complete love.’
Mrs Brook is having chemotherapy. She could not receive the treatment while she was still pregnant as it would have put the foetus at risk. She said: ‘It’s not been easy to get my head around the idea that doctors talk in terms of treatment rather than cure. The situation has been incredibly difficult for my husband as he may need to come to terms with how life will be without me, and how he will raise Polly as a single father.’
Bowel cancer can be hard to diagnose in pregnant women because its symptoms – changes in bowel habits, nausea, vomiting and back pain – resemble those experienced during a normal pregnancy.
A fundraising campaign for Mrs Brook has been started. Friend Karina Sharp said the money would ‘remove financial stress and give them time to love their newborn’.