A lotto I didn’t want to win’: Sydney mum’s story of breast cancer, chemo and recovery

This article originally appeared on Essential Baby in support of our Women’s Appeal for 2019. To show your support for women like Amelia, donate here.

When Sydney mum Amelia Bromley discovered she was pregnant with her second baby she was ecstatic. After a dream pregnancy with her first son Toby, she and her husband, Justin, were thrilled to be adding to their family. “I was loving being a mum,” Ms Bromley tells Essential Baby.

The happy news continued – Ms Bromley soon learnt that her best friend was also pregnant with her second bub. But though their babies were due just a week apart, their symptoms were very different. While her friend complained of sore breasts, Ms Bromley wasn’t experiencing any soreness at all.

And it left her wondering why. 

Later that evening, while examining her breasts, Ms Bromley found a lump. “It was like a little ball bearing,” she recalls. Thinking it was simply mastitis, a condition she’d experienced before, the 36-year-old expected to be given a script for antibiotics. Instead, her doctor sent her for an ultrasound and a biopsy.

The results came as a shock.

“I was so unconcerned that I’d booked Toby in for his 12-month vaccinations,” Ms Bromley says of the day she was told she had cancer – a type called HER2-positive.

She was seven weeks pregnant. 

“The chances of getting breast cancer under 40 are so slim,” she says. “And the chances of getting breast cancer while you’re pregnant are so slim. It’s a weird version of a lotto I didn’t want to win.”

But while the mum was told by her doctors that treating cancer during pregnancy would be “trickier”, choosing not to have her baby was never an option.

“I said to the doctor, ‘If you’re telling me that I need to make a choice between being pregnant and being treated … do I have to make that choice? Can I have both? Until you tell me I can’t, we’ll take the trickier road.”

Taking the “tricker” road saw Ms Bromley book an emergency appointment with her obstetrician. “I needed someone to make sure my baby was okay,” she says, adding that she had a team of amazing doctors looking after her, but needed someone focusing on her growing bub. “I said to her, ‘I need to know you’ll go into bat for the baby when things get tough.'”

While nine weeks pregnant, Ms Bromley underwent a lumpectomy. “I remember saying to my husband, ‘I’m not going to feel this good for a while,” she recalls. 

What followed was a gruelling course of chemotherapy, which began when she entered her second trimester. “I spoke in detail to both doctors about whether it was safe and I was assured that the placental barrier is stronger than the barrier between the brain and the body, so none of the chemo drugs would get through to the baby.”

Despite this reassurance, however, Ms Bromley says she still found herself worrying about whether the treatment would affect her baby. “Sometimes, I still think, Is that because of the chemo? It’s definitely something that plays a bit of havoc with you, especially while you’re pregnant.”

With her husband often travelling for work, Ms Bromley says she was fortunate to have a network of supportive friends who helped her parent her toddler and care for her two-stepchildren while undergoing treatment. She was also buoyed by the regular scans she saw of her baby. “I think I had more scans than anyone has ever had,” Ms Bromley laughs, explaining that hearing her baby’s heartbeat and seeing her moving, helped her feel “like a pregnant woman and not a cancer mum.”

Baby Beatrice, ‘Bea’ was born on 10 October, 2013 at 33-and-a-half weeks  “She was 10/10,” the proud mum laughs.

 A day after welcoming her daughter, Ms Bromley began radiation – in the same hospital.  “I went from maternity on level three down to the basement,” she says. And, in the blur of those first few days, recovering from a c-section and undergoing radiation – a process she describes as “soul-destroying”, the mum says the baby blues hit – hard.

“I felt guilty,” she says. “It was unexpected. I thought, why am I so upset when I’ve got this baby? But I couldn’t stop crying.”

After four weeks of radiation, five days a week, her treatment was over. 

“You’re not supposed to be sick any more,” Ms Bromley says. “Everyone says, ‘well you should be back to normal’. But in reality it takes a really long time to feel normal again.”

Reaching the five-year milestone last year was a turning point for the executive producer who says it’s only now that she feels comfortable talking about her experience and saying, “I had cancer.” But while “life goes on,” Ms Bromley admits that “it’s always there in the background”.

“I always fear [the cancer] coming back,” she says. “I live with the fear of it returning.” The fear however, is tempered by the knowledge that treatments for cancer are evolving at a rapid rate. “If it was to happen again, the chances are better,” she says. “There are things available now, that weren’t available even for me five years ago. ” 

Photo: Amelia Bromley

Ms Bromley says she’s found strength in sharing her story – and hopes people see it as an uplifting one. “Cancer rates are going up,” she says. “We have to talk about it. If we don’t, we won’t fight it. When it comes to funding it comes down to public awareness.”

And she’s fiercely proud of her family.

“We’ve got through the worst of it,” she continues. “Look at us! Bea started school and she’s doing really well… I want other people to know how fortunate we are to live in a time where you can have horrible things happen and go on to live full, happy, amazing and incredibly ordinary lives.”