Mum faces breast cancer diagnosis while pregnant despite double mastectomy
A mum was 'horrified' to discover she had breast cancer for a second time, while pregnant, despite already having gone through a double mastectomy.
Kate Pistilli, 34, decided to have the operation to remove both her breasts after she was first diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of just 28.
The last thing the mum-of-two expected to find was another lump and to be diagnosed with breast cancer yet again while carrying her second daughter, now one, while already looking after her eldest.
Pistilli, a social worker from Cambridge, says it was very unlikely the cancer would return after her life-changing treatment and that she felt "robbed" of her pregnancy after being faced with another "terrifying" diagnosis.
"I was four months pregnant with my second daughter when I discovered the lump and I was six months pregnant when I was eventually diagnosed," she says.
"It was terrifying. I had my eldest daughter, who was one year old at the time, and I was pregnant with my next child.
"I'd already had both of my breasts removed after I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015."
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Recalling her first time discovering a lump, she says, "I was 28 years old and having a cuddle with my boyfriend, Giuseppe, who is now my husband, when he discovered a lump in my breast.
"I had a history of breast cancer in my family, so I went to get it checked out.
"I didn't think too much of it because I was only 28 and never imagined I would have cancer.
"But it was.
"I was completely devastated."
After her first diagnosis, Pistilli opted to go through one month's worth of IVF treatment to freeze her eggs, in case her cancer treatments also affected her fertility.
She then had to endure an 11-hour operation, with surgeons carrying out her double mastectomy, as well as breast reconstruction.
The test of her strength didn't end there. "Following the surgery, I then began my six-month course of chemotherapy," she explains.
"It wasn't a pleasant time. All of my hair fell out and I was constantly in and out of the hospital.
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"I felt like my body was broken and that my femininity was taken from me. I had no hair, no eyelashes and had to have my boobs removed.
"I was also having various other treatments to target the specific type of cancer I had, such as Tamoxifen." This is a hormonal therapy drug that blocks oestrogen from reaching cancer cells.
"However, this meant that I was in [what felt like] menopause, at the age of 28, while having chemotherapy," she added.
"The treatments were successful and in 2018 I went on to marry my husband."
Pistilli knew she wanted to try for a baby so stopped taking Tamoxifen just in time for her honeymoon.
"As soon as we tried for a baby, I fell pregnant. It was a miracle! I thought that after everything my body had been through, I would struggle to fall pregnant." Little did she know she was destined for yet another surprise.
"I gave birth to our eldest daughter in 2019 and to our amazement, nine months later, I fell pregnant again."
But devastatingly, in April 2020, when she was four months pregnant for the second time during the height of the pandemic, she discovered what she thought was impossible – another lump.
"I had to have a lumpectomy to check out the lump and it came back as being cancer when I was six months pregnant," she recalls.
"It was the worst thing that could have happened to me.
"I then had to have another operation to remove the margins of the cancer while I was pregnant.
"Once the cancer was removed, I had to carry on with my pregnancy and wait until I'd given birth to have radiotherapy."
Pistilli had to go through the unimaginable, balancing being a parent, being pregnant, having cancer, and the responsibilities of life all in one, faced with extremely conflicting emotions.
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"After finding the second lump it was awful. I couldn't work because I was struggling to keep my head together and I was trying to look after my daughter while also growing another child," she says.
"I felt robbed of my pregnancy, especially as it was during the pandemic. I couldn't even see any of my friends or family, and I had to break the news to them that I had cancer again over Facetime.
"I was feeling two extremes of emotion at the same time. It was a feeling of happiness because I was pregnant, and horror because I had breast cancer again despite having both of my boobs removed."
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After welcoming her second daughter, she started radiotherapy a week later for a month.
"I was going into hospital every day for treatment, instead of being cuddled up with my newborn. It was just so wrong and so unfair," says Pistilli.
"The day after I gave birth I had to have a full-body scan to make sure the cancer hadn't spread. It was horrendous.
"Thankfully, in December 2020 I was told that I am cancer-free."
Despite everything she's been through, Pistilli is still looking at the positives.
"I believe that if I hadn't had cancer before, I wouldn't have noticed the second lump because I was pregnant and boobs change all the time throughout pregnancy," she says.
"The fact that I had implants made it easier for me to discover it.
"It's been a tough journey."
If you or someone you know is suffering, find cancer support from Macmillan by calling 0808 808 00 00 (seven days a week, 8am - 8pm), emailing the support line or chatting online (open 8am to 8pm seven days a week).
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Additional reporting Caters.