Thrilled by their positive pregnancy test, a couple bought their daughter a t-shirt saying 'I'm going to be a big sister' to wear for a photo holding the scan picture – only to be told their 'baby' was actually a cancerous tumor.
Over the moon to discover they were expecting a brother or sister for their daughter, Kaitlin, two, Victoria and Marc Johnston, of Bovington, Dorset, England, could not wait for their first 12-week scan.
But to their horror, instead of finding the baby they were so looking forward to meeting, medics discovered they were having a molar pregnancy – a mass of abnormal cells which forms in the womb, and in Victoria's case was cancerous.
Victoria, Casey and Marc (Philip Cooper Photography/PA Real Life)
Housekeeper Victoria, 31, whose husband Marc, 36, is in the armed forces, said: “We bought Kaitlin a t-shirt saying 'I'm going to be a big sister,' and planned on sharing the news with a picture of her wearing it alongside the baby scan, but it was never meant to be."
Victoria, who has a step-daughter, Casey, 14, wanted another baby while they were still in Dorset, as Marc's job meant they were likely to have to move.
So, after missing her period in August 2018, when her pregnancy test was positive she was delighted, but decided to keep the news under wraps until she reached the 12-week mark.
Victoria, Kaitlin and Marc (PA Real Life/Collect)
But, while she kept it secret from most people, she could not resist telling her toolmaker dad, Phil Cooper, 61, and her mom, Jane, 58, an admin worker.
“I confided in my mum a lot during the pregnancy, as things didn't go right," Victoria said.
“For those five weeks after the pregnancy test something didn't feel right, it's hard to explain, but I just didn't feel pregnant."
Plagued with violent sickness day and night, and a pregnancy bump that seemed “too big," Victoria's mom reassured her that it was most likely down to “carrying a boy."
She added: “Mum insisted that all of my unusual symptoms were because this time around it was a boy and that it was normal to have a bigger bump… but I looked more like I was 17 weeks pregnant than 10."
But in October 2018, when Victoria went for her 12-week scan at Dorset County Hospital with Marc, who she met in February 2016 on the dating app Tinder and married a few months later in September, the couple were dealt a devastating blow.
Casey, Victoria, Kaitlin and Marc (PA Real Life/Collect)
“It all seemed fine at first, then I was asked more and more questions," recalled Victoria, who fell for Marc even before they met, after he asked her 20 questions, going on to incorporate her answers into their first date by taking her for an Italian meal and to the zoo – both amongst her favorite things.
“The lady doing the scan told me she couldn't see anything and went to ask a colleague for help.
“When I saw the scan, what was supposed to be the baby looked almost like a bunch of grapes."
Marc, Kaitlin and Victoria (PA Real Life/Collect)
She continued: “That's when they took me into a separate room and explained to me they suspected I was having a molar pregnancy and that it could be cancerous.
“There was a story line in Coronation Street at the time about a girl who was diagnosed with cervical cancer and all I could think about was her saying how she never thought it would happen to her."
Unlike her straightforward pregnancy with Kaitlin, who was born at the same hospital on August 29, 2017, weighing 8lb 10oz, this time she was told that instead of carrying a healthy baby she was having a molar pregnancy.
She was also warned that the molar – which occurs once in every 590 pregnancies and does not result in a baby, according to Cancer Research UK – could be cancerous.
Wasting no time, the next day she was put under general anesthetic to have the abnormal cells removed, and two weeks later doctors confirmed they were cancerous.
“We were warned in advance that it could lead to this, but it still took a while for it all to sink in," she explained.
Marc, Kaitlin and Victoria (SSAFA/PA Real Life)
She continued: “It's something you can't quite describe. I went from losing a baby I was never going to have to worrying whether I would make it to see the daughter that I do have grow up."
Referred to west London's Charing Cross Hospital in November 2018, Victoria had further ultrasounds and an X-Ray to see if the cancer had spread which, luckily, it had not.
So, on December 3, she began a six-week course of chemotherapy, given every other day, on alternate weeks.
Victoria undergoing treatment (PA Real Life/Collect)
But, following a bad reaction to her chemo drugs, which were injected, they were changed.
“God, I was so sick from the weight loss it caused," she recalled. “Between finding out I was pregnant, to finishing that first bout of chemotherapy, I lost over three stone (over 42 lbs)."
Her second bout of chemo was given intravenously once a week, every other week, for three months.
“The first couple of days after the chemotherapy sessions were always hard, as I felt so tired, but at least I could start to do things towards the end of the week and the week after that," she continued.
“Luckily, I didn't lose my hair. It did start to thin, but only people who knew me noticed.
“That's not to say it was easy. The agonizing back pain, dry mouth and nausea were still unbearable."
Marc, Kaitlin and Victoria (PA Real Life/Collect)
The worst thing of all for Victoria was not being able to look after Kaitlin when she was ill.
“I was told by doctors because of my battered immune system I had basically no white blood cells and that I couldn't be exposed to any bugs," she explained.
“Kaitlin fell ill with a nasty case of the flu during my treatment and obviously all she wanted was her mummy. It was unbearable not being able to look after her and she was too young to understand."
Victoria and Marc on their wedding day (Philip Cooper Photography/PA Real Life)
Luckily, with the help of their parents and the armed forces charity SSAFA, the family were able to provide a certain level of normality for Kaitlin.
“Poor Marc, he had a one-year-old to look after and then there was me," she said.
“But my mum moved in during the treatment and Marc's parents, Andrea and Neil, even flew over from their home in Spain."
For over 130 years we have shown our commitment to ensuring that our service men and women, veterans and their fami… https://t.co/CwSbZo2EqY— SSAFA (@SSAFA)1570602600.0
She added: “Not only that, SSAFA covered the costs for Kaitlin's childcare – it was a godsend."
After finishing the grueling chemotherapy on March 23 this year, Victoria was told by doctors that the treatment had been a success, but that she would need regular monitoring for the next 10 years.
“I'll have to have regular blood tests now to check the cancer doesn't return," she explained.
Marc training (SSAFA/PA Real Life)
She continued: “First it was once a week, now it's down to once a month. Doctors told me in the past I would have had to have the tests for the rest of my life due to the nature of the cancer, but recent studies have shown 10 years is sufficient."
Discussing the prospect of trying for more children, Victoria explained she is going to “leave it to fate."
“Marc has been a bit hesitant about starting a family so soon after treatment, but you never know what chemotherapy can do to your fertility and I've decided to see what happens…what will be, will be," she said.
Kaitlin, Victoria and Marc (SSAFA/PA Real Life)
She added: “We've all been through so much, especially Kaitlin, I'm content just focusing on us right now."
Marc is now taking on an ultra-challenge to thank the charities who helped him, including SSAFA. You can donate to his challenge here.