A Hemel Hempstead mum is celebrating after becoming pregnant with a ‘miracle baby’ while being treated for breast cancer.
Jenny Powell, 37, feared her family’s Christmas would have to be cancelled after she was diagnosed with cancer in November 2020.
She then went through a mastectomy on December 23 but now she has reason to celebrate.
The sudden cancer diagnosis led to a difficult end to an already difficult year for most of us. It left mum-of-three Jenny having to find money to buy new clothes, bras and wigs to help her through the treatment, as well as planning for the festive period.
But throughout it all she has had incredible support and – after being told she might not be able to have children again due to her treatment – she found out she was pregnant earlier this year.
“The first lockdown was fine, we kind of breezed through it, and then we could see a few people again which was nice,” Jenny said.
“Then we were locked down again, [with] Christmas, and then cancer, I was like ‘how do I deal with this then?’”
‘Everything I was trying to forgo for Christmas I needed to buy’
While treatment is available on the NHS, there are the smaller costs that soon add up for those diagnosed with cancer, when it’s already a difficult time.
For Jenny, that included supported bras for after the mastectomy, as well as wigs and make-up to help her feel better during her treatment.
The mum said: “Hospital bags never really have anything like that, so it’s all the little things but they all seem to add up.
“Clothes as well – because I had my lymph nodes removed I couldn’t actually put on a jumper, everything has to be either buttoned up or zipped up because I couldn’t lift my arm up, so it’s a whole new wardrobe as well.
“Everything I was trying to forgo for Christmas, I needed.”
The mum had been providing childcare for her family, and hadn’t been working during the pandemic so it all added unwelcome extra stress.
It meant that she almost had to choose between buying Christmas presents or buying herself everything she needed.
However, thanks to cancer charity Macmillan she was entitled to a £350 grant to help with those essential costs, as well as priceless emotional support during her treatment.
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Jenny said: “I purchased some wigs and I did get my makeup and everything just to make me feel a little bit more feminine.
“Because, at the end of August, I shaved my head to raise money for Macmillan, so I was bald and had my boobs chopped off – I thought, I don’t feel feminine at all.
“I bought long haired wigs [and] the makeup I always wear because, otherwise, I just felt really ugly if I’m honest. It wasn’t particularly nice.”
The mum was told of the support after Debbie Kingsley from Hertfordshire Macmillan Benefits Advice Service – a partnership between Macmillan Cancer Support and Hertfordshire County Council – called her and explained what was available.
Jenny added: “It just lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. It was something I didn’t have to sit and stress about, she was actually a godsend.
“It makes me quite tearful to think about it because I was actually very lucky.”
Debbie and Macmillan’s support extended well beyond the practical and financial support though, and Jenny was often able to share things with them that she didn’t want to talk about with her family.
‘It just felt like one thing after another’
Jenny joked that she would rather always see the silver lining, so had started to look forward to getting new boobs as a result of the treatment, which seemed minor to her family but is something Debbie could understand.
She also laughed that: “When I did shave my head, I did think God was going to exempt me from cancer – and he didn’t!”
Jenny added: “I could literally talk to her about anything, even if I had serious concerns about what was going to happen.
“I had my mastectomy, at the beginning of January, I then had to go in to have my nipple removed, and that was another blow.
“I thought ‘It’s just one thing after another’. All my family kept saying at least you’re going to be alive but, because Debbie’s been through all this and spoken to so many people, she knows it isn’t.
“You’re fighting cancer and you’re worrying for your life – it can damage you mentally.”
Emma, her Macmillan nurse at St Albans City Hospital, was also able to support her through the medical side of the treatment, which was invaluable as visitors weren’t able to come into the hospital.
That meant Jenny had to try to digest all the information on her own.
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‘I was told that I might not be able to have children again’
That all became even crucial after the shock of finding out she was pregnant, just as they were weighing up the options for her next stage.
Jenny said: “Radiotherapy was meant to be starting last month but, because of the lymph nodes, I’d still got a bit of cording so I had to go to physio to get my arm to be able to be lifted up completely.
“However, there has been a slight spanner in the works as I’m now pregnant.
“The miracle baby considering all of this, I was told with the chemo I probably wouldn’t ever be able to have children again.
“The hormone tablets, they do advise that you don’t fall pregnant for two years, and you can’t have breast reconstruction until you’ve finished having your family so that would have been another three years to wait.
“There was very much a plan and it’s gone a little bit skew-whiff, but after being told that I might not be able to have children and now that I’m pregnant, it’s definitely a shock but a positive one.”
‘I feel like a warrior now’
While the treatment to try to prevent the cancer from returning could take years, Jenny is now much more optimistic about the situation and grateful for the support available.
She urged people going through cancer treatment to reach out to the charities available, as difficult as it can be when you’re first diagnosed.
Jenny said: “I cannot express how much Macmillan have done for me, not just financially but mentally. I wouldn’t be where I am today and I am so positive about the situation.
“It definitely felt at the beginning I was deformed, disgusting and it definitely hurt my confidence but now I’m so proud of it – so proud I have a scar.
“I feel like a bit of a warrior and Macmillan definitely helped me feel like that.”
What support is available for people being treated for cancer?
Macmillan Benefits Adviser Debbie Kingsley, based in Hertfordshire, said: “The sad truth is that more than a third of people with cancer (39%) are severely financially impacted by their diagnosis, with many now having to deal with the double blow of being diagnosed during the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s a devastating reality to contend with and many are simply unaware of the support that exists.
“A Macmillan grant, for example, can help pay for the little things that make a big difference to the lives of people with cancer. Our advisers can also help people to navigate the benefits system, advising which benefits they may be entitled to, assisting with claim forms and liaising with the Department for Work and Pensions on their behalf.
“Where people have been affected financially by Covid-19, on top of cancer, we’ll point them towards schemes specifically for them, and can also help people complete Blue Badge applications to make life that bit easier.
“Since our service launched locally in 2017, we’ve been able to secure more than £20m of vital financial assistance, through benefits and grants, for local people affected by cancer.”
More information on the support Macmillan provides can be found at www.macmillan.org.uk .