Mother Fights Rare Cancer Diagnosed During Pregnancy

It had been hard for Layla Stephen and her husband Andrew to conceive their first child. But when things were finally looking up for the couple,  it was ironically the pregnancy that revealed that she was suffering from a rare form of cancer.

When Layla was first found to have a rare invasive form of slow growing cancer called carcinoid all she really hoped was that she could remain alive to see her son going to school.

‘When you’ve never been diagnosed with anything and you’re healthy you think “I wonder what it would be like to be diagnosed with something, to be told you’ve got cancer. Wouldn’t it be awful”,’ says Layla.

‘But nothing can ever prepare you for it. I can’t put into words how horrific having someone tell you that is. It’s the most frightening thing.”

35 year old Layla is a business development manager. She and her husband Andrew,38, were keen on starting family. Finally after four years of waiting Layla was pregnant with her son Hadley after she underwent an IVF treatment.

Although it was to be the happiest moments of their lives, when Hadley began kicking inside, Layla realised something was not right.

Layla suffered from crippling stomach pain. Even after Hadley was born in 2008 when the pains did not subside, a scan revealed that she had carcinoid cancer.

‘I went from a massive high to a massive low,’ remembers Layla. ‘Everything was great, he was perfect, everything was perfect and then six to eight weeks after he was born I fell ill. ‘I couldn’t eat, I was passing out and had stomach pains. I lost something ridiculous like more than three stone in two months.’

Layla says that the doctors thought that the tumor had been pushed into her intestine because she was carrying Hadley in her womb.

“When the cancer was discovered it had spread all around my body. I had tumours in my appendix, stomach, liver and neck. If left much longer I wouldn’t be here today. Being pregnant saved my life.”

But the discovery was just the beginning of a difficult journey for the family.

Carcinoid cancer is when tumors develop on the neuroendocrine system and the cells within the hormone and nervous systems are affected. It is the same cancer that Steve Jobs suffered from.

For the new mother the most anguishing part was worrying that she would never see her son grow up.

‘I didn’t want to leave what I’d got. I thought “Who’s going to be there for Hadley, to take him to school, to help him do his homework, to teach him how to play the piano?”

‘I didn’t want to leave him. I’d got this fantastic life, this perfect child – then your whole life is flipped on its head. All you want to do is go back there, pretend this almost isn’t happening.’

But Layla knows today that she lucky to be alive even after being diagnosed with a rare cancer which till date has no cure.

Carcinoid can go undetected for many years as it is a slow growing cancer. Layla remembers having severe stomach pains earlier too but never related it to something as drastic as cancer. Carcinoid is sometimes mis-diagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome but Layla had also suffered from flushing a side-effect of the condition.

When her cancer was found, her liver had not yet been affected and that helped give her a better chance at life.

Neil Pearce and his team at Southampton General Hospital played a massive role in Layla’s life after the diagnosis. The new mother met the doctor for the first time two days before Christmas.

‘It was a significant day. He spent two hours going through everything and it made a massive difference. I didn’t know how important he was in his field but he was brilliant. Everything he said would happen, happened.’

On Christmas eve her treatment began with twice daily injections to prepare her for treatment. The surgeries that followed removed her gall bladder, the primary tumour, her appendix, a large section of her bowel and a tumour in her neck. The injections helped save her liver.

Currently Layla has two tumours in her stomach and a new one on her liver that will need to be operated on. She might also need a liver transplant and is prepared for the day when one of her tumors cannot be surgically removed.

She says that after the diagnosis her perspective of life has changed for the better.

‘When I was diagnosed I was gutted, so scared,’ she says. ‘The fear was awful and we spent a lot of time just crying. I remember I was having a real sorry for myself phase just after I’d been diagnosed, but something a friend said to me pulled me out of it.He’d been diagnosed with hodgkin’s lymphoma when he was a child and he said to me “What’s your problem? You’re going to pull through, you’re not going anywhere.”

Layla adds, ‘I’d been so wrapped up in my own little place but I knew I had it in me to fight.Hadley was upstairs asleep and I got him up to change his nappy. I looked into his eyes and thought he’s right, I’m not going anywhere. I’ve got too much to live for.’

Layla is now helping Neil with his charity PLANETS dedicated to defeating pancreas, liver and neuroendocrine tumours. It will raise money for the Southampton General Hospital while also supporting patients like Layla.

‘I am hell-bent on seeing a cure for this cancer in my lifetime as I feel deeply for those people who are walking into a consultant’s room only to be told some devastating news,’ says Layla.

‘I want to see a day when this no longer happens.’

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About the author


Atula is a writer, traveler and a nature-lover. She is also mom to a boy who seems to have inherited all her creative genes. When Atula is not busy making up stories with her son, she writes for numerous magazines, websites and blogs. She is also working on her site on endangered species called

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