A NEW mum has been given just months to live after doctors discovered her watery eye during pregnancy was actually a rare form of cancer.
Gemma McGowan, 29, is only the third person in the world to be diagnosed with Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the nasal cavity.
The veterinary nurse, from Paisley, has now endured emergency surgery and chemotherapy while pregnant, and given birth six weeks early in a bid to beat the cancer.
She also underwent a second operation to remove her right eye when the tumour continued to grow.
Despite radiotherapy, immunotherapy and hopes of the all clear, Gemma’s cancer has spread and is terminal.
She told the Scottish Sun Online: “No further treatment options are available.”
JOY TURNED TO FEAR
Gemma and fiance Steven Murie, 30, were over the moon in February last year when they discovered they were expecting their first child.
In the weeks that followed, Gemma developed a watery eye and a lump started to form.
Convinced it would just be a blocked tear duct, she booked in for a routine appointment at her optician before being referred for a hospital scan.
But the mum-to-be waited more than a month to be seen after her ophthalmology appointments were cancelled twice.
She said: “Had I not pushed for them to be reinstated I may not have been here now.”
At almost six months pregnant, Gemma then began four rounds of chemo to reduce the tumour size. They failed and she was told she needed more surgery.
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Warned it wasn’t safe to proceed while pregnant, the couple welcomed their beautiful baby boy Arran into the world six weeks early in August.
Less than three weeks later, the brave new mum went under the knife to have her eye, surrounding tissue, nasal bone and the base of her skull removed.
She spent three weeks in hospital, away from her fiance and newborn tot before returning home to begin a gruelling six-week bout of radiotherapy.
In the run up to Christmas, while feeling unwell from the radiotherapy, Gemma developed pains in her abdomen.
She began immunotherapy in the New Year but the pains continued and she was admitted to A&E in February where doctors found the cancer had spread to her liver.
At this point, Gemma was told the tumour was more aggressive than ever and was inoperable.
On March 8, medics delivered the shattering news that the cancer is terminal and the 29-year-old only has months to live.
But the brave mum insists she’s grateful she’s not been robbed of her chance to become a mum and has been able to bond with baby Arran, now almost seven months old.
And she hopes speaking out about her ordeal will help to raise awareness about her rare cancer.
What is Squamous Cell Carcinoma?
Squamous cells are the flat, skin like cells that cover the lining of the mouth, nose, voice box (larynx), thyroid and throat.
Carcinoma means cancer.
So squamous cell carcinoma is cancer that starts in these cells.
According to the NHS, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is aggressive and can spread to other parts of the body.
It can be tricky to diagnose on clinical appearance alone.
She said: “This past year has been tremendously difficult with the Covid-19 pandemic and being a first time mum, but I would urge anyone who felt that something wasn’t right to push to be seen.
“I found myself thinking I was overreacting at points but it turns out it was completely justified.
“I am only the third person in the world diagnosed with it.
“But the treatment and care I received from the ENT department at the Queen Elizabeth hospital and the Beatson were absolutely outstanding and without them I may not have had the opportunity to be a mum.
“I would also really like to urge everyone to help Cancer Research in their fight against cancer by continuing fundraising efforts. This will hopefully assist someone with more treatment options with a cancer as rare as mine in the future.”
Gemma and Steven lived alone before lockdown and her cancer diagnosis but moved in with her parents Lorraine and William after surgery for extra support.
Lorraine told us: “As an ex-nurse I know these things happen, but everything changes when it’s your child.
“She had six weeks of daily radiotherapy which was horrific to watch. She was really quite unwell with it, and having a tiny newborn baby as well was extremely difficult.
“We have been talking about her bucket list and having a chat about what her wishes are when she’s dying.
“This isn’t something I should be having to talk to my daughter about. I never, ever thought we would be having these conversations.”
But the family are now hoping to create some special memories to make the most of the time Gemma has left.
And tying the knot to become Mrs Murie is top of her bucket list.
Gemma’s one-year battle
- February 2020 – Found out she was pregnant.
- March – Symptoms started, watery eye and lump forms.
- April – Two urgent referrals cancelled and two trips to A&E.
- May – Diagnosed with cancer, first surgery to attempt removal of tumour is unsuccessful.
- June – Four rounds of chemotherapy to reduce tumour size are unsuccessful.
- August – Gave birth to Arran six weeks early, and spent three days at home with him before being admitted to hospital.
- September – Had eye removal plus nasal bone and base of skull removed/repaired. Spent three weeks in hospital.
- November – Started six weeks of daily radiotherapy.
- December – Started getting pains in abdomen.
- January 21, 2021 – Started immunotherapy. Pains continued.
- February- Admitted to A&E to investigate pain. Cancer had spread and is now inoperable. No further treatment options available.
- March – Terminal diagnosis is given. End of life discussion takes place, and doctors say she has months left to live.
Gemma and Steven, an engineer, have been together for nine years.
The pair got engaged in 2019 and were set to wed last year – before Gemma’s cancer news and the Covid pandemic forced them to delay.
Her mum Lorraine told us: “The wheels are in motion for the wedding.
“At the moment within herself she’s fit enough and she’s got medication to help with any pain so the old Gemma is there.
“She’s been amazingly strong throughout this whole thing. Laughing and joking. I don’t know where she gets the strength from to be able to do that but she’s done it.
“But I am very aware that at some point that will change.”
Gemma has also requested a full Christmas dinner with her family after being too ill to eat in December due to radiotherapy.
And her cousin Mark McAloney has launched a fundraiser to help with the wedding costs and bucket list, with more than £3,000 banked so far.
Sharing the GoFundMe page, he said: “We as her family and friends want to give Gemma the best opportunity to make the most of the next few months and to help and support her in any way we can.
“The money raised will be used to give Gemma the most memorable few months possible and hope to support her son and family going forward.
“Gemma has been an absolute inspiration in how she has and continues to handle this, so if anyone is in a position to help at this heart-breaking time in any way, it will make a huge difference and on behalf of Gemma and family I’d like to thank you all.”
To donate to the fundraiser, click here.
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