Mum's crusade to save breast cancer lives
WATCHING her young son blow out the candles on his second birthday cake was a moment of extreme and contrasting emotions for Naomi Thomas.
The doting mother was thrilled with being blessed with the child she thought she would never have; yet the moment was tempered by the thought she may not live to see him do it again a year from now.
"I hate putting my little boy to bed," she said. "I miss him so much in the night and just want to be with him all the time. I get emotional at special events like Christmas and birthdays – not knowing if I will live to see him celebrate another one."
Naomi, 30, of Sidmouth, has been told she is dying. Her cancer, which started in her breast at the age of just 26, has spread to her bones and there is no cure. She was told she was dying just six days after giving birth.
"I was emotional watching him blowing out the candles on his cake at his birthday last week knowing it will be another year until he does it again and not knowing if I will still be around.
"You really appreciate every moment so much more. Rather than staring death in the face, you need to enjoy every moment of your life."
She is devoting whatever time she has left to stockpiling such blissful family memories, while doing everything she can to spread the message about the signs and symptoms to ensure the potentially lifesaving early diagnosis of breast cancer.
Telling her story to mark the start of breast cancer awareness month, Naomi revealed she was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2009 at the age of just 26. "It was very bad timing," she said, having recently started a new relationship and been made redundant from her job at the city council.
"I went to see the doctor with a lump and he sent me away and said he was sure it was nothing.
"I was still worried so went back a week later and was sent straight off to the hospital for scans and a biopsy. They quickly realised it was breast cancer. I had the lump removed and they removed the lymph nodes from my arm, which was all clear as well. They were happy with how it had gone."
She then underwent a gruelling five-month course of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiotherapy. And afterwards, as far as she was concerned, everything was great.
"I thought I would be cancer-free in five years," she said.
"I decided to get on with my life. I had always wanted to have a family but did not know if it was possible as the chemo destroyed my body.
"They put my ovaries to sleep to try to protect them, and to my absolute shock I fell pregnant the first month of trying. A week before Devon was due to be born I went to the cinema with my partner and my back seized up and I was unable to move. I was taken straight to hospital and did not leave until after my son was born."
Naomi had been home with her newborn son for just six days when her body seized up again and she went into a spasm with "the worst pain I have ever felt".
Once in hospital she contracted MRSA.
"They did a scan to find the source of that and then realised I had broken my back in three places," Naomi said. "My cancer had returned in my bones and I had a tumour in my pelvis the size of an egg."
Planned surgery was deemed too risky and the operation was cancelled three days before it was due to take place. She is currently managing on a concoction of drugs to keep it at bay as long as possible.
"It is not classed as terminal, but potentially terminal," she added. "Once it has spread to the bones it is on the move. It will spread again and cannot be cured, but people can live on for several years. The average is five years and for me it has been almost two to the day.
"When I went back into the hospital I wasn't able to see my son for two weeks, which was horrid. The moment I had him, I felt my life was fulfilled. I felt I had done my time with cancer and here was my reward.
"I was in floods of tears. I was so happy he was here and never thought in a million years I would have a baby. He was so beautiful and healthy – it was by far the best moment of my life.
"Then I was told I had cancer again. It was not until about two weeks later that I went to talk about the chemo that they told me 'you are going to die from this'. That was the point the realisation set in.
"I spent a few days feeling angry and upset but then thought I am not going to waste my life. I am going to get on with it and throw myself into charity work."
Naomi married her partner Graham earlier this year. She now runs her own charity, the Wedding Wishing Well Foundation, which organises weddings for people who are terminally ill.
She is also involved in the Bosom Buddies charity which visits schools, youth clubs and employers to spread the message about being vigilant checking for signs of breast cancer.
She said: "It can happen to anyone, and we should all know the signs and symptoms to look out for. People should not be embarrassed to go to the doctors to be checked out. It is better to know – if you leave it God knows what will happen.
"I am looking at going into some local schools so anyone who wants us to go in, please get in touch to make an appointment.
"Mentally I am coping really well. I look at it as you cannot change it and at the moment health wise is as good as it can be. If I spent all the time worrying about dying I would waste all the time I had left. Physically there are good and bad days. I am in constant pain and there are things I can't do anymore. But I don't put anything on hold – I just go for it. Having cancer has opened so many opportunities I would not otherwise have had."
Naomi has also created a personal bucket list of things that include "silly little things" like flying a kite, seeing more West End shows and going to the Blackpool illuminations.
She said: "There is the odd occasion when things get me down. When I know I have got scan results coming I am petrified in the few days before. I know the results could be bad news. But when it is good news I almost pass out with the pure adrenalin of it all. My message to people is if you have any concerns get it checked out. It could be the difference between life and death."
For details of Bosom Buddies visit: www.bosombuddiesuk.com