A woman who had her cervix removed following her cervical cancer diagnosis is thrilled to have welcomed a baby, after fearing she would never become a mum.
Emma Davis, 39, from West Sussex, first noticed something was wrong in April 2013 when abnormal bleeding in between periods alerted her to other unusual symptoms, prompting her to see her GP.
The then 31-year-old had missed her routine smear test and was also experiencing back pain, weight loss, abnormal discharge and bleeding after sex.
The children’s services officer, was later diagnosed with cervical cancer and needed surgery to remove her cervix and lymph nodes.
"I had a biopsy, which revealed I did have cervical cancer and in August I had surgery to remove it," she explains.
“It wasn’t a surprise as I had symptoms. But it isn’t nice to hear you’ve got cancer at the age of 31.
“I never thought it would happen to me, but I remembered the story of Jade Goody, the reality TV star who died at 27 with cervical cancer, as it had been in the news and she was so young.”
She added: “I didn’t know anybody my age who had cancer but, because of her, I was aware that type of cancer did happen to young women.”
Knowing she wanted a family, Davis wanted to do all she could to protect her fertility.
“My doctor was focused on fertility-sparing treatment,” she explains.
Her condition, invasive adenocarcinoma of the cervix, didn't require her to have chemotherapy and radiotherapy, so she didn’t need to freeze her eggs.
But the surgery to remove her cervix, surrounding tissue and lymph nodes lasted nearly seven hours and an abdominal stitch was also put in place.
There was also a chance Davis' aggressive cancer could return within five years.
“The operation was quite brutal,” she said. “It was done robotically, by a tool called a DaVinci robot.
"It [the tumour] was large, measuring 1.7cm, and there was a chance it could come back within five years.
"I went on to have two scares in that period, but luckily it didn’t return,” she adds.
In 2017, having recovered from her operation, Davis and her husband, Rob, 43 were ready to try to start a family.
But when they failed to conceive after two years, which Davis puts down to her cancer, they began preparing for their first round of IVF in February 2020.
“We do think our difficulty conceiving was linked, as blood tests found nothing else wrong with me or Rob,” she explains.
“I had scar tissue on my cervix, which our specialist said could have prevented us from falling pregnant.
“I also developed endometriosis – where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other places and which can affect fertility – as a result of the cancer surgery.”
Watch: A future free from cervical cancer could become a reality.
Fortunately, after one round of IVF on the NHS, at Guys and St Thomas’ Hospital in London, in October 2020, Davis became pregnant.
“We feel incredibly lucky," Davis says. "We were told we only had a 20% chance of pregnancy because of my age – being near 40 – and my cancer.
“I never thought it would happen on our first try given all the complications.”
Despite her joy at conceiving, Davis' pregnancy wasn't without complication, with the mum-to-be classed as being at high risk of premature delivery, with her baby held in place by the stitch surgeons had put in during her cancer operation.
Dais also has two bleeding disorders – a factor 12 deficiency and an unclassified condition – meaning she is at risk of haemorrhaging during surgery.
Thankfully, Willow Grace was delivered safely by planned Caesarean, with Davis having to be put under general anaesthetic for the birth.
“Being under anaesthetic wasn’t ideal as it meant so many things were out of our control, but at least Rob was allowed to be there," she explains.
Read more: Urine test could mark the end of smear tests
Overwhelmed with gratitude, the couple knew immediately that they wanted to choose a baby name to honour Davis' doctors.
They picked the middle name Grace after their fertility expert Dr Jan Grace, and the cancer surgeon who helped preserve Davis’ fertility, Mr Butler-Manuel, as the charity he co-runs, funding research into gynaecological cancers and hospital equipment, is also named Grace.
"The name Grace has such a special meaning to us, so we settled on it very quickly," she explains.
"It was as much about naming her after the doctors, as it was about people having hope."
Now the couple are settling into their new life as parents and want their story to offer other couples in a similar position hope that cancer diagnosis doesn't have to mean the end of parenthood dreams.
“People should never give up hope as miracles do happen," the new mum continues.
"We were and are incredibly lucky to have Willow Grace.
“We can’t wait to spend the rest of our lives creating memories with her and watching her learn and grow.”
Additional reporting PA Real Life.