How baby Spencer saved his mum's life

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Spencer Cody is too young to understand it right now, but he might just have saved his mum's life.

Danielle Cody was recovering from surgery for cervical cancer when her gynaecologist suggested she have a pregnancy test during a follow-up appointment.

"I had been diagnosed with the early stages of cervical cancer six months earlier after my first ever pap smear," explains Danielle.

Danielle calls Spencer her "little lifesaver".
Danielle calls Spencer her "little lifesaver". Photo: Supplied

"They removed 15mm of my cervix and said I might not get my period for up to six months."

Danielle, then just 26, was shocked when the test was positive.

"I was actually 27 weeks pregnant," says Danielle, who had suffered no other pregnancy symptoms.

Two weeks later, Danielle was attending her first prenatal ultrasound appointment when a large mass was detected on her left ovary.

"I actually had two shocks. The first was finding out I was pregnant at 27 weeks then a couple of weeks later my first ultrasound showed I had a 10cm tumour," explains Danielle.

At first, doctors were unsure whether it was a tumour or a blood clot, so Danielle was sent for an MRI, which showed a "high likelihood it was cancer".

Advertisement

Doctors monitored her pregnancy until 38 weeks, by which time the tumour had more than doubled in size to 22cm, before a decision was made to perform a caesarean under general anaesthetic then operate immediately to remove the tumour.

Spencer was born on June 14, 2017, at The Royal Women's Hospital in Melbourne. Doctors then spent the next several hours removing Danielle's left ovary, fallopian tube and appendix before "washing" her abdomen, including the stomach and stomach lining, to remove any trace of the cancer.

"The tumour was so big it had done so much damage they had no option but to remove the ovary and fallopian tube. They decided to remove my appendix as a precaution because it shares the same blood flow as the ovary, just to make sure the cancer hadn't spread," Danielle explains.

Danielle was taken to intensive care, and was only able to meet Spencer for the first time later that night.

She spent several more days in intensive care due to severe pain from the surgery and was still recovering in hospital a week later when doctors broke the news that she had a rare form of ovarian cancer.

"The type of cancer I had was very rare for my age. It normally occurs in older women," explains Danielle, who had to return to hospital a few months later for a gastroscopy and colonoscopy because the type of ovarian cancer she has originates from the bowel.

With no signs the cancer had spread, Danielle was given the all-clear but now returns to hospital every six months for check-ups, including pelvic ultrasounds and MRIs, to make sure the cancer doesn't return.

She has been told the likelihood of recurrence is now just one per cent and Danielle feels very lucky, given the five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is just 45 per cent.

Like many other women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Danielle had experienced symptoms.

Danielle suffered excruciating lower back pain – one of the tell-tale signs of ovarian cancer – for many months prior to her diagnosis.

"I had extremely bad back pain for at least six months before. My oncologist said that would have been one of the symptoms," says Danielle, who went to the GP numerous times only to be told it was nerve pain, shingles or a slipped disc.

"I did have other symptoms as well. Feeling full after a small meal, having to urinate often and bloating, but I just didn't think anything at all about those symptoms.

"I didn't know the symptoms of ovarian cancer at all.  And I never knew it would happen to someone my age."

Danielle says she was prompted to speak about her experience in the hope of spreading awareness of the disease.

Cancer Australia has released a video to raise awareness of the symptoms and the importance of seeing a doctor if you notice a change in your body that does not go away.

It is estimated 1510 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in Australia this year.

Ovarian cancer is the 10th most commonly diagnosed cancer amongst females in Australia and was the sixth leading cause of cancer deaths among women in Australia in 2016.

According to Cancer Council Australia, 938 women died from ovarian cancer in Australia in 2016, while the five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is 45 per cent.

Ovarian cancer symptoms include:

  • Abdominal bloating or increased abdominal size
  • Abdominal or pelvic pain
  • Appetite loss, feeling full quickly or indigestion
  • Urinary changes such as frequency or urgency
  • Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
  • Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
  • Unexplained fatigue

Danielle has fully recovered and relishes her time with Spencer, now 22 months, whom she calls "my little lifesaver".

She says that if it wasn't for her surprise pregnancy, it is most likely her cancer would not have been detected until it had spread, drastically reducing her chances of survival.

"I feel extremely lucky. Not many people get to survive ovarian cancer," says Danielle.

"If it wasn't for Spencer, I really think things would be a lot different. I don't think they would have found it in time.

"If I can make one other person think about back pain or pelvic pain that alerts them to get it checked out, that makes me happy."

She also wants women to speak up if they feel something is wrong and they are not getting answers.

"My back pain had not improved but I could not get an answer from the doctors so I just gave up because it was too hard," she says.

You can view the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-s7yxoXFc9Q

For more information about ovarian cancer visit https://ovarian-cancer.canceraustralia.gov.au/awareness