'I found out I had bladder cancer four months after giving birth': New mum's world turned upside down

Kate Leamy with her partner Mick, and sons Sonny and Rocky.
Kate Leamy with her partner Mick, and sons Sonny and Rocky. Photo: Kate Leamy

No one wants to imagine their children growing up without them, but for Kate Leamy it was a grim possibility.

After months of experiencing urinary symptoms similar to a UTI, she knew something was seriously wrong when she started having experiencing pain and bleeding while urinating, as well as extreme back pain.

"I went to the ED in Derby [in the Kimberley region of Western Australia] around five times over a couple of months and was continually turned away," the mum-of two told Essential Baby. "Until on Christmas Eve I demanded more to be done."

Finally agreeing to do a renal ultrasound, doctors noticed a mass in her bladder which they assured her it was nothing to worry about.

"But they still recommended I go to Perth for further tests," she said. "I was sent to Perth three weeks later, on my own with two young children, unaware of how serious the situation was."

Kate with Sonny and Rocky.

Kate with Sonny and Rocky. Photo: Kate Leamy

However, sitting in the urologist office with a screaming three-month-old in her arms and a whining toddler by her feet a few days later, she heard the words she'll never forget.

"This is serious, I am diagnosing this as cancer until proven otherwise," she recounted the doctor telling her. "We will be prepping you for urgent surgery tomorrow to perform TURBT (transurethral resection of bladder tumour). You need to organise urgent child care now so we get to the bottom of this."

The now 27-year-old remembers feeling shocked as she took in the news from the doctor. 

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"It was hard to swallow being told that you have cancer," she said. "It really affected the way I was mothering my two boys."

Kate's world was turned upside down as she was hurried into surgery.

"Your life flashes before your eyes" she said. "Thinking I may never see my children grow up, go to their high school ball, graduate from high school, university...or even grow old with Mick. And I just couldn't bear my children losing their mum."

Kate with Rocky on a flight to Perth from Derby.

Kate with Rocky on a flight to Perth from Derby. Photo: Kate Leamy

After removing the mass from her bladder, it was a tense two weeks of waiting to see how advanced the cancer was.

"It was like a time bomb waiting to go off. So much to absorb," Kate said. "Statistics of losing body parts, chemotherapy and what my chances were of living the next five years."

Following surgery, Kate's ongoing treatment was made more complicated when COVID-19 restrictions were brought in WA, including restricted travel between regional and metro areas, making it difficult to fly from Derby to Perth regularly.

Kate's and her family in living in the Kimberly.

Kate and her family in living in the Kimberley. Photo: Julia Rau Photography

"COVID affected many families, especially the ones who needed cancer treatment," Kate said. "I had to fly to Perth a number of times for medical procedures and surgeries to remove any tumours, about four times last year.

"Living remotely adds to the challenges of receiving treatment. We all know the best medical care is provided in the city, and it was an absolute fight to be able to have treatment in the city."

The doting mum said her cancer diagnosis made her appreciate motherhood more than ever. She admits when she found out she was pregnant with her eldest Sonny three years earlier, it had seemed like "a terrible mistake."

"I honestly thought it was the end of the world," she said. "It definitely wasn't the right time for us to have a baby — I was battling a number of health issues including anorexia, chronic pain, depression and anxiety." 

However the fear of the unknown disappeared once her baby boy arrived.

"I had no idea who I was until I became a mum. I was a troubled child and teen who but lost and frightened, and motherhood is the place I found myself," she said. "I will tell him the one day when he's old enough to understand. He is my super hero."

Kate with Mick after giving birth to Rocky in 2019.

Kate with Mick after giving birth to Rocky in 2019. Photo: Louise Kay Photography

Wanting to capture the beauty, pain and sacrifice of her second son Rocky's birth, Kate decided to hire a birth photographer.

"I was hoping to capture the struggle and the pain you go through for someone you love," she explained.

"Being able to look back on the moment I met Rocky is so incredible and being able to relive it through photography is really amazing."

Although it's been a difficult year for the Leamy family, they were ecstatic to find out they'll be adding to their family in October this year.

"I still have a long four years ahead of me with lots of surveillance procedures, but I have a 76 percent chance of living the next four years," she says determinedly. 

"I am totally hopeful, but always on the lookout for the cancer to return. Once you have had cancer there is always a risk it will come back. It is just a matter of when. But for now, I breathe knowing I am okay."

Kate Leamy after giving birth to her son, Rocky in 2019.

Kate Leamy after giving birth to her son, Rocky in 2019. Photo: Louise Kay Photography