Diagnosed with breast cancer at 34 weeks
Kate Martin defied all odds to survive her breast cancer battle. All while becoming a new mother. This is her story.
Kate was a newlywed wife and 30 weeks pregnant with her first baby when she found a lump in her breast. A registered nurse, she suspected it was a blocked duct or abscess, but her training convinced her to find out for sure. Several appointments and a biopsy later, and Kate was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was 32 years old.
“I was very angry about it. I just kept thinking, why me? What did I do to deserve this? But I’d remind myself that 1 in 3 people get cancer, so it was just bad luck.”
At 35 weeks pregnant — two weeks after her cancer diagnosis — Kate was induced. It was a long, gruelling labour, but after 16 hours, on 7/7/20 at 11:30am, Kate and her husband Josh’s baby girl was born. Willow Blue Martin.
“I was heartbroken, but I was determined to fight it with everything I had. Willow was and still is my strength.”
Unfortunately, in July 2020 Melbourne was in Stage 5 lockdown. This meant Kate and Josh couldn’t have any visitors — their family couldn’t even meet their new addition to the family. Couple this with the knowledge of her impending battle with cancer, and she was struggling physically, mentally and emotionally.
“I was honestly so over it. My family wasn’t able to meet Willow during that time. I was such a high risk of getting coronavirus, so even as restrictions began to ease I literally couldn’t go anywhere. My only outing was chemo every Monday and blood tests on Fridays.”
On July 20th, Kate had a procedure to implant a port in her chest for treatments. She started chemotherapy on the same day.
Following this, the plan was to continue treatment for five months in an aim to shrink her tumour before surgery to remove the tumour or possibly her breast. But sadly, fate had other ideas.
A week before her procedure to implant the port, she received the devastating results of her PET scan. Her cancer was metastatic. This meant the cancer cells had spread through her system to form in other organs or tissues in the body. To get to this stage, she’d have been sick with cancer and not had any idea — for years.
It also meant that removing a tumour wouldn’t save her.
“It took a lot of tears and anger to finally come to terms with that news. I was heartbroken, especially with my new baby girl, but I was determined to fight it with everything I had. Willow was and still is my strength.”
“I felt so isolated. I was scared of developing postpartum depression to be honest.”
She started chemotherapy as planned. A double dose every Monday indefinitely in the hope that a positive result would be returned. Her mother became her official carer, while her husband continued to work and support their family. But outside of her mother, her husband, and baby Willow, she was completely cut-off from the world.
“I felt so isolated. I was scared of developing postpartum depression to be honest. While a few people dropped off food or gifts which I really appreciated, it wasn’t the same as having a big dinner. I just want to enjoy every moment with my family and friends while I still can.”
And then her hair started falling out.
“I can wholeheartedly say that the loss of my hair probably hit me the hardest of all the side effects I experienced. I felt like a piece of my identity and womanhood was being taken from me.”
But in the end, she chose to have her husband Josh shave her head. Her mother recorded the event so Kate can watch the video back with her daughter in the years to come. In a loving show of solidarity, Josh also shaved his head, as well as her brothers and mother’s partner.
“I feel so lucky and blessed to have the most wonderful support network. The decision to shave my head made me feel more empowered to continue fighting for my life.”
And fight she did. By late August, Kate finally received some good news. Her tumour was shrinking. Her cancer markers were trending down. The chemotherapy was working. It was the boost she needed to improve her mental health and maintain a positive outlook.
Three weeks later — eight weeks in total since she started chemotherapy — Kate had another PET scan and MRI. The results were astonishing.
“I honestly thought I’d be dead in a few years. It was a miracle. I beat the odds.”
Her oncologist told her she’d had a rare metabolic response to her treatment. Her breast lump and all of her METs had completely disappeared. After the worst possible diagnosis only two months earlier, Kate Martin was cancer free!
“I honestly thought I’d be dead in a few years. It was a miracle. The stats for what I had are astounding, but I beat the odds — at only eight weeks. I definitely feel like I have a guardian angel looking over me.”
And it couldn’t have come at a better time, as Melbourne had also reduced restrictions and she was finally able to see her family and friends. She could start feeling like herself again.
But the battle isn’t over. While there is no detectable cancer in Kate’s body at the moment, the breast cancer cells are still present — just inactive. She will have to continue weekly chemo for a long time to keep the cancer at bay. Her doctors have said it can always come back and there’s every chance that the chemo she’s on now could stop working.
“I do live with the fear that it’ll come back and I won’t get to watch Willow grow up. But at the same time I just so badly want to bring awareness and hope to other people out there. There’s still so much we don’t know about cancer, you can beat it. You just have to keep fighting.”
As a nurse, Kate has always been a caring and supportive person to everyone she meets. Sadly, as her battle continues she’s unable to return to work for the foreseeable future. A GoFundMe page has been created to help ease the financial burden that both Kate and her husband face. It’ll mean Kate can continue to care for her daughter Willow and for herself as her fight continues.
This is the cover story of Overshare magazine, launched on International Women’s Day on 8 March 2021. Get your FREE copy here.
Originally published on cassovershares.com on 14 March 2021.