A Birmingham woman diagnosed with cancer halfway through her pregnancy has spoken for the first time of how she defied the odds and medical advice to give birth to a healthy boy.
Suzanne Ford was married two days before Christmas, while having treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia, after gaining special permission from the Archbishop of Canterbury for the wedding to be conducted in the chapel of Heartlands Hospital.
The 29-year-old teacher from Sutton Coldfield gave birth to Joseph, who weighed in at 5lb 7oz, on March 1. After four courses of chemotherapy, she is in remission and yesterday described her battle to beat cancer and keep her baby.
Mrs Ford and her husband Peter, who also teaches at St Francis of Assisi School in Aldridge, Walsall, were devastated to learn she had a rare form of leukaemia three weeks before Christmas.
Routine blood tests at Good Hope Hospital in Sutton Coldfield for haemoglobin were low, and doctors initially thought she was anaemic, after suffering severe morning sickness.
But when a second round of tests showed her levels had plummeted to 6.2 – a normal reading is 12.0 – doctors called her in for a consultation.
“When they told me to ‘bring someone with you’ I knew it wasn’t going to be good. And when they mentioned a bone marrow test, I knew they were testing for cancer,” said Mrs Ford.
Just hours after undergoing the painful test the couple were called back to hospital.
“Pete tried to reassure me but to be honest I don’t remember what was said, it was all such a blur, it didn’t really sink in,” she said. Mrs Ford was immediately transferred to Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham and told she would be under specialist care.
“When I heard that my heart sank, I just thought our baby would never survive this. We asked if treatment could be delayed until after the baby was born and if I would be strong enough to have him.
“But the following morning the maternity consultant asked me ‘What’s the point in having a baby without a mother?’ which left us utterly heartbroken.
“I’d had a 20-week scan before I was diagnosed with leukaemia, and it looked like a baby, so I just prayed to God to let us have this baby.”
Don Milligan, chief consultant in haematology, was more optimistic as he had treated a pregnant woman with leukaemia before, but not in Britain.
“He said I could have the same treatment and he would help me keep my baby, which was fantastic to hear.”
Mr Ford had planned to propose to her on a New Year’s Eve trip to New York, but instead popped the question on the first day of her treatment.
“I thought he knew something bad but wouldn’t tell me, so I asked him what was going on and he asked me to marry him,” said Mrs Ford. “Although getting married was brilliant, I was allowed out of the isolation room for two hours and had to wear a mask, but I didn’t care,” she added.
Just days after completing her second round of chemotherapy in February, Mrs Ford was taken to maternity on February 28.
“I was 34 weeks gone by then and I just wanted to have this baby, for peace of mind, I wanted to know my baby was okay,” she said.
Looking at little Joseph in her arms, she added: “This was my prize for going through eight hours’ labour with no drugs, except a bit of gas and air.
“I will never forget that pain, but hearing him cry for the first time made it all worthwhile.
“We wanted him so much and I was so scared of what could happen during the cancer treatment, that I might not have my beautiful boy, but I am so thankful to everyone who looked after us.”
She lost her hair during the cancer treatment and added: “My hair had always been really long, I could almost sit on it, and I didn’t really lose it until Joe was born, but to be honest it doesn’t really bother me, it’ll grow back.
“That was the least of my worries during the whole process, and I think being pregnant gave me something else to focus on.”
Marjorie Small, clinical haematology oncology matron at Heartlands, said: “All the staff on Ward 19 couldn’t believe it when we realised we had both a wedding and a birth to celebrate at the hospital.
“Suzanne is an inspiration to all young cancer sufferers. She showed great courage and determination in facing her battle.”