A new mum has revealed she mistook the symptoms of deadly bowel cancer for the side effects of pregnancy and is now urging others to be aware of the signs.
First-time mum Tasha Burton, 36, suffered stomach pains and extreme fatigue during her pregnancy with Alaric Corley, now 16 months, but put it down to a difficult pregnancy.
When the stomach pains, which Ms Burton, from St Albans, Hertfordshire, initially believed to be indigestion and heartburn, continued after her baby boy was born in April 2017 the mum returned to the doctors and was diagnosed with bowel cancer six months later.
The operation to remove part of her colon last month revealed the cancer had spread. It’s unlikely the mum will live past the next five years.
She is focusing on making memories with warehouse worker fiancé Dan Corley, 23, and their son, and has planned to marry him.
“It hurts more than anything that I’m not going to be in my son’s life,” Ms Burton said.
“I can’t imagine not being around for him. It breaks my heart every day but I’m going to fight as much as I can.
“I don’t want to die, I want to see him grow up. I have to fight and feel positive and stay strong.”
Ms Burton said she wants a life with her partner but their priorities have since changed after her diagnosis.
“We should be planning our future together – our wedding, holidays, days out, future schools for Alaric where I should be walking him through the school gates – but now we’re also having to consider funeral plans,” she said.
Ms Burton started to feel unwell just over half-way through the pregnancy but put it down to what she believed were typical symptoms.
“I was extremely tired,” she said.
“I was still having morning sickness and stomach pains. I was working full-time so just put the tiredness down to that.”
She added she put the stomach aches down to “indigestion and heartburn”. Ms Burton said she’d had stomach pains in the past but hadn’t “suffered with this before”.
The symptoms only got worse after her son was born and after she got home her health began to deteriorate.
“They (stomach aches) actually felt like contractions,” she said.
“At first, I was sort of able to ignore them because I thought it was just the body going back to normal.
“But then I started to worry that I was still having contraction-like feelings after he was born. I was being sick about once a week.”
The 36-year-old spoke to the doctors about eight weeks after Alaric was born and they agreed to do an ultrasound.
After finding a cyst on her pancreas they sent her for more tests. It was thought the mum may have had appendicitis, but six months after the “contraction pain” she began to have trouble eating and couldn’t stand up.
Ms Burton had a CT scan which showed she had a thickening of the bowel and it was arranged that she’d meet with a specialist.
However, before the appointment the pain became unbearable so the mum went to Watford General Hospital’s A&E where they did another CT scan and operated on her the next day.
She was in the operating theatre for about seven hours.
“They said it was an aggressive tumour and they removed quite a lot of my colon and 23 of my lymph nodes – nine of which tested positive for cancer,” she said.
She then spent five weeks in hospital including three weeks in intensive care after developing sepsis.
“My body had started to shut down and my family and friends were worried I wouldn’t pull through,” Ms Burton said.
“I wasn’t allowed to see my son because the risk of infection was too high.
“It was so hard, it broke my heart. He was only six months old when I went into hospital and not being able to see him for five whole weeks was the worst part.
“They thought the cancer had been removed but were talking about a round of chemotherapy to make sure they’d caught it all.”
The mum found chemotherapy “very tough” but forced herself to carry on to be with her son.
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Ms Burton also discovered a blood clot on her lung, which affected her breathing but managed to recover.
But last month, more cancer cells were found after another CT scan.
“That showed I had two tumours, one about 5cm in my neck and one in my back. The bowel cancer had spread via my lymph nodes,” she said.
“We had been starting to look ahead as a family and it was devastating to hear that – to think you’re getting better and then to hear that it’s spread. It’s not easy to take in.”
Ms Burton was told the cancer was terminal and that it was too dangerous to operate on the tumours because of their location.
She’s now on another course of chemotherapy at Mount Vernon hospital in Northwood, Middlesex, to try and prolong her life.
“I questioned life expectancy and about five per cent reach five years. We hope the chemo will prolong my life,” she said.
“The cancer’s not going to go away which is really hard to take. They’re trying to treat it the best as they can and give me as long as possible.
“Most people get to think about future events, simple things like taking your children to nursery or to primary school. I do wonder if I’m going to be around for that. That hurts to think about.”
Ms Burton and her partner, who met three years ago, were ecstatic on discovering she was pregnant with Alaric after she earlier suffered a miscarriage.
They family are now trying to put behind more tragedy and focus on the time they have left together.
“We’re making an extra effort now to make sure we get photos of the things we’re doing and to put them in the memory book so that Alaric can look back on it when he’s older,” she said.
“His dad is going to be there for him and he’s a good dad who really looks after him.”
Ms Burton’s family and friends have started a crowdfunding page to raise money.