A first-time mum struggling with breathlessness while heavily pregnant was horrified when doctors discovered the true cause — a “huge” tumour next to her heart.
Zoe Plastiras was stunned to see the “grapefruit-sized” mass in her chest cavity. The self-employed brow technician and make-up artist, from Buckinghamshire in the UK, was 32 weeks' pregnant when she was urged to go to the emergency room because of repeated breathlessness and a cough.
At hospital, on September 10, an X-ray of the 23-year-old's chest revealed an 11cm cancerous tumour in her chest cavity. As Zoe’s symptoms were minimal, the doctors were willing to hold off invasive procedures until her baby was born the following month.
“A few weeks into my diagnosis I met my surgeon and that’s when I saw the tumour for the first time – I was stunned,” Zoe, who lives with her partner Joe and their daughter Ophelia, now three months old, recalled.
“I could not believe how huge it was and that it had been inside me with me not knowing. Seeing the size of it next to my heart was shocking.”
Zoe had to continue her pregnancy with the new diagnosis and no plan in place for treatment.
Following the birth of Ophelia in October, the new mum underwent needle biopsies and a surgical biopsy, which showed she had Stage 2 Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. The 23-year-old will start chemotherapy treatment on January 10.
Stress leads to early delivery
Zoe says she had been well all through her pregnancy but believes the stress of her diagnosis caused her waters to break two weeks early on October 4. And when her labour didn’t progress, she needed an emergency C-section.
“At the time of my labour I was so anxious about the kind of treatment I would need,” Zoe said.
“Originally I was told I’d need open chest surgery which petrified me. It would have meant I couldn’t pick up my baby for two or three months while I recovered. The idea of this was heart-wrenching, I cried so many tears.
“I didn’t like knowing I’d need to leave my newborn for appointments and surgeries.”
Zoe says she feels like the end of her pregnancy was ruined by “horrible stress and anxiety”.
After Ophelia was born Zoe’s medical team came up with a plan – she wouldn’t need open chest surgery, but instead will have six rounds of chemotherapy.
“It’s been a huge relief that I won’t have surgery," she said. "But I am so sad to lose all my long hair. It’s a big part of my identity.”
Cough led to major issue being revealed
After developing a cough at 32 weeks' pregnant she was told to present to the hospital.
“I was discharged and told I had a 'slight abnormality' with my heart. But the next morning I woke up to a few missed calls and so did my partner, from the hospital. They left messages saying I needed to get to hospital in the next 10 minutes and to go straight to cardiology.
“Once we got there I had another scan and afterwards I felt like medical staff were dodging telling me what they found, but I pushed for it.
“I remember the nurse said: ‘How much do you want to know?' I said: ‘Everything – I’m about to be a mum. I have to know everything.’
“That’s when she broke the news to me that they’d found a mass the size of a grapefruit in my chest and I was being tested for cancer.
“Me and Joe looked at each other in complete shock, it was an awful day. I’ll never forget it.”
The scan showed that the tumour measured 11.7cm by 6cm by 9cm and was categorised as a stage 2 cancer.
“I will forever be grateful for my daughter as I believe they would never have found this mass if it wasn’t for her pushing everything in my body around," she said. "She has essentially saved my life.”
Zoe is documenting her diagnosis and treatment on Instagram to raise awareness of her symptoms and to share information for other patients who may be facing a similar diagnosis.
Michelle Morgan Davies/Jam Press/Australscope
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