Nicola Ball was already having a hard day. She was heading back from the hospital with her partner, Mark, after yet another appointment trying to find out what was causing the pain in her breast. It had become red and swollen, and she was concerned it might interfere with breast feeding.
She and Mark were expecting their second child. They had struggled with conception, but were able to conceive their first child, Freya, through IVF a few years earlier. Nicola noticed the changes in her breast just before she found out that another IVF treatment had allowed her to conceive a second time.
But doctors had told her she looked fine and there was nothing to worry about.
Nicola and Mark were looking forward to growing their family, but she couldn’t ignore the pain in her breast. Her breast had enlarged to the point that her nipple was inverted, and the skin looked like an orange peel.
“It was really painful and I thought, this can’t be right. I wasn’t even thinking about it being cancer because I had the all clear before. My main worry at that time was that it would affect me breastfeeding,” she said.
So she’d gone back to the doctor, months after she had first complained of pain and swelling in her breast. This time the news wasn’t as good; doctors thought she might have cancer. She was 20 weeks pregnant when she got an MRI scan, one of the only scans that would be safe for an expectant mother.
It was on the way home from the scan Nicola and Mark got into a minor car accident. According to Nicola, the accident was “nothing massive, no one was hurt but it really was the last thing I needed.”
While she and Mark were on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck, her phone rang. She couldn’t bring herself to answer and handed the phone to Mark. That’s when they got the news that there was a 2.5cm lump behind Nicola’s nipple. She had inflammatory breast cancer, and there would be some tough decisions ahead regarding treatment and her pregnancy.
Nicola could start chemotherapy right away to give herself the best chance of being around to be a mother to her children, but doctors weren’t sure the full effect chemo would have on her unborn child. If Nicola decided to wait on chemo, she was putting herself at risk.
She went ahead with treatment, hoping for the best. “Doctors here have never come across anyone like me, at my age, type of cancer and pregnant at the same time so it was really scary sometimes, you’re asking questions and they simply just don’t know,” she shared.
Baby Leo was born via cesarean section at 34 weeks, and he was immediately taken to the NICU. The tiny boy had jaundice and had to have tubes inserted for feeding and for keeping his airways open. But in just ten days, he was strong enough to go home. Now he’s home and spends most of his time getting loved on by his big sister, three-year-old Freya.
Nicola will soon have a mastectomy and then find out if the cancer has metastasized.
Though the future is uncertain, Nicola is focused on spending time with her children. “I’m just happy I made the decision to have chemo while pregnant, it makes me feel like thank god maybe I did the right thing for me and my children, so they will have their mum around for much longer,” she said.
Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.