When Samantha Cook visited a Brisbane hospital for her 12-week pregnancy scan, she was thrilled to see her baby on the monitor for the very first time. But in an instant, her joy was swallowed by fear when a doctor found a tumour on her ovary, putting her own and her baby's life at risk.
Ms Cook, from Blackall in outback Queensland, was 34 years old when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, just three months after her partner Tony received his own life-changing news. The 52-year-old was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and had just months to live.
"I was scared for the baby, not for myself when I found out," Ms Cook told Yahoo News Australia. "My main focus was to try and keep the baby alive." To do that, the mum, now 36, had to undergo surgery at the Mater Hospital in South Brisbane to have her left ovary and fallopian tube removed to prevent the cancer from spreading and ultimately enabling her to continue with her pregnancy.
Despite the risks, she said it was something she had to do. "If Tony wasn't going to be around, I wanted that part of him," she said. "People probably thought I was a bit crazy for having a child to somebody who possibly wouldn’t be around for much of their life".
Husband's terminal diagnosis led to miracle pregnancy
It was 2019 when the couple were catapulted into parenthood. They'd been together since 2017. If not for Mr Cook's terminal diagnosis in September, they wouldn't have tried for a baby so soon. He already had three grown-up children from a previous marriage, and she'd not considered it yet, but their sudden change of circumstances meant they had to
"Doctors told us we had three weeks to 'work something out' after Tony’s diagnosis," she said, forcing them to consider different fertility options because the cancer treatment meant he'd likely become sterile.
Ms Cook remembers feeling "terrified" when she got the news of his condition. "I had a hot rush go from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet and I had never been so terrified in my whole life," she told Yahoo, and 24 hours after his diagnosis he was rushed into emergency surgery.
"They removed what they thought was 95 per cent of the tumour. Then he had radiation and chemotherapy to get rid of the remaining 5 per cent," Ms Cook said. Incredibly, the couple fell pregnant naturally just eight days after Mr Cook's brain surgery. "It was unbelievable," Ms Cook said.
Early detection was key to saving Ms Cook's life
What followed was months of travelling to Brisbane from their home in Blackall for his treatment — and that's where Ms Cook decided to have her check-up scan. It was the night before Mr Cook's final treatment that they got the gut-wrenching news about her tumour.
Bronwyn Jennings, a Clinical Nurse Consultant at Mater Hospital Brisbane, said thankfully Ms Cook’s cancer was caught early.
"If Sam’s cancer was not detected and acted upon, this could have delayed her diagnosis, leading to upstaging of her disease," Ms Jennings said. "Additionally, this could potentially have led to her cancer not being curable which would have been truly devastating."
'My husband's diagnosis saved my life and that of our unborn baby'
Ms Cook said her husband's diagnosis "saved my life and that of my unborn baby". Because she had no symptoms she would not have known she had cancer, if not for the pregnancy.
Dr Nimithri Cabraa, a Gynaecological Oncologist at the hospital, said ovarian cancer in young women was "unusual" and exceptionally rare in women carrying babies. Ovarian cancer is Australia's deadliest female cancer, with a five-year survival rate of just 49 per cent.
"We only see a handful of young women diagnosed with ovarian cancer at Mater each year – and maybe only one or two who are pregnant," Dr Cabraal said."I operated on Samantha during her second trimester to reduce the risk of miscarriage. It was a small tumour and we have seen no evidence of reoccurrence."
Couple fall pregnant again post cancer treatment
"Wyatt arrived happy and healthy just six months after I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer," Ms Cook said of the miracle baby, who's now almost three years old. The couple welcomed another baby, Aspen, just four months ago, completing their family of four. She fell pregnant easily despite what they'd each been through.
Mr Cook outlived the doctors' predictions of just a few months, but there's still a chance the cancer could come back and claim his life, Ms Cook said. He relapsed again in November and needed another surgery as well as more chemotherapy, "but we’re just happy to get every day that we can together," she said.
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