Mum diagnosed with breast cancer warns others to be vigilant

Emily Stein and husband Chris McMurtrie with daughters Ada and Mabel.
Emily Stein and husband Chris McMurtrie with daughters Ada and Mabel.  Photo: Scott Hammond/Fairfax NZ

A Marlborough mother has warned women to trust their instincts after she was diagnosed with breast cancer despite initially getting the all clear.

The mother-of-two displayed several symptoms of breast cancer in June last year and underwent an ultrasound which showed no sign of a tumour.

Stein, 30, and husband Chris McMurtrie decided to progress with plans for another child, and Stein fell pregnant soon afterwards.

But being pregnant masked ongoing symptoms and Stein said she had been naive not to follow up her concerns.

"It was only after I struggled to breastfeed Mabel that we returned to the GP, and the ultrasound, MRI and biopsy were done.

"Three days afterwards and one bone scan later we learnt the cancer had travelled to my pelvis.

"The person conducting the scan was quite alarmed at the hardness and size of my left breast and I was rushed through for an emergency MRI that same day and a biopsy a few days later. 

"We expected the MRI scan to come back showing a blocked milk duct or an abscess but nothing showed up; so it was quite a shock to actually get the cancer diagnosis after the biopsy results."

Following the diagnosis Stein underwent chemotherapy, as the tumour had grown too large to be removed surgically.

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At 20 centimetres, it took up her whole breast. It was not picked up by MRI because the scan looks for areas of contrast in the tissue and there were none.

The tumour had since shrunk substantially and Stein would undergo two more rounds of chemotherapy before surgeons could do a mastectomy. 

She would have four weeks of radiation therapy and would spend the rest of her life on the drug Herceptin.

Stein said she was not angry about the situation and instead was disappointed she had not trusted her instincts or listened to her husband's requests to get re-checked.

"But in situations like this you have to stay positive," Stein said. "There is no point in thinking about the what ifs. We think about the fact that if the cancer had been picked up before I got pregnant then we might not have Mabel, and if it had been picked up during the pregnancy we would have had a very difficult decision to make. 

"Doctors can't give me a life expectancy at this stage. My condition isn't curable but it is manageable depending on how well I respond to Herceptin. The signs so far are positive.

"We are carrying on life as normal. Through the love and support of my family, friends and the wider community I am back to living my life."

Stein said the support her family was getting helped her stay strong.

"We can't thank people enough for all they have done. Everything from breast milk for Mabel, a freezer to store all the meals we were given, baking, vouchers, financial contributions to people sending thoughts and love. 

"People have been just amazing and we want to thank each and every person who has helped us in some way. The kindness and generosity has really blown us away."

The Marlborough Express