Against all odds: Meet the mum who gave birth just months after surviving cancer

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Against all odds: Meet the mum who gave birth just months after surviving cancer

Gemma Isaacs, who was diagnosed with breast cancer 18 months ago, overcame the seemingly impossible to have her second child during lockdown

Gemma and Daryl Isaacs with baby Jack
Gemma and Daryl Isaacs with baby Jack

You could be forgiven for thinking very little good news has come out of 2020. But for  Gemma and Daryl Isaacs the arrival of their  baby boy is more than a happy event – it is virtually a miracle.

Gemma, 33, is putting her Jack Alfie down for a nap and three-year-old daughter Ella in front of Paw Patrol as we chat, a week before she’s scheduled to have her ovaries removed. She was actually waiting for the results of a genetic test when she received her breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 31, the age both her grandmother and cousin had been when they also discovered they had the disease. Her father and many people on his side of the family had the BRCA1 gene mutation, which means a high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.

“I just had a bad feeling that something wasn’t right,” she says. “I wasn’t in control of my breast cancer diagnosis, but choosing to have my ovaries out is in my control. I’d rather be one step ahead.”

But rewind to the beginning of the year, when the couple found out they were expecting, 18 months after Gemma’s diagnosis and endless rounds of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a double mastectomy.

After being told by more than one consultant gynecologist that her ovaries were not longer functioning, she took matters into her own hands to get as fit as she could, running marathons with her fellow ‘BRCA sisters’ (a group of female friends who share the gene) and going vegan to cut out all possible hormones from meat.

Then against all odds – including an unrelated struggle to conceive her daughter – Gemma was ecstatic to be pregnant again, having worried constantly that she would never be able to have another child.

Gemma and Daryl Isaacs with baby Jack and with big sister Ella

“It was so amazing to go to a doctor and be given good news,” she beams. “It just made me feel normal. The doctor said to me, ‘Ironically, you’re the healthiest person I’ve seen all year.’ I had gone in there feeling like I was already on the back foot and I left feeling like you know what, I am going to boss this!”

A few weeks later the country was plunged into the first lockdown, and Gemma ended up keeping her growing belly under wraps for nearly five months. “You can only see top halves on Zoom,” she laughs, “and the rest was nothing a baggy jumper couldn’t hide.”

Husband Daryl, 35, was only able to attend one scan, having to dial into the rest over FaceTime. Gemma’s first time leaving the house mid-April was for an ultrasound on her own which was “pretty scary”. Her breast cancer team also couldn’t see her, because of her pregnancy and high-risk category of catching Covid-19 in hospital, which presented an extra dimension of anxiety. But after a long lockdown pregnancy, she gave birth by caesarean section on 21 August.

Gemma is now balancing working from home with a job in advertising and raising her little ones with Daryl, who works in finance, through a second lockdown. But with all the obstacles that have been thrown at her, she is nothing but positive. And while, like the rest of us, she longs to meet a friend for coffee with her newborn, or go to a baby class – or anything that isn’t standing in a park in December – she’s thankful for what she does have.

“Having been through what I’ve been through has given me a lot of perspective. I no longer sweat the small stuff.” Sounds like she is definitely “bossing it”.

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