A mother gave birth and started the menopause weeks apart after ‘the change’ was triggered by her bowel cancer treatment.
Sima Davarian, from Plymouth, thought she had piles when she saw bright red blood in the toilet while 35 weeks pregnant.
But a hospital examination revealed a small lump in the then 34-year-old’s rectum, with a biopsy confirming she had stage-three cancer.
Just five days after her devastating diagnosis in September 2015, Mrs Davarian gave birth to her daughter Mathilda via a C-section.
She was given a few weeks to recover before having chemo, radiotherapy and surgery to remove her colon, leaving the English teacher with a stoma bag.
Although cancer-free, radiotherapy triggered an early menopause, leaving the mother-of-one unable to have any more children.
Mrs Davarian never thought she may have cancer when she saw blood in the toilet in her third trimester.
But she went to her GP to be on the safe side and was referred for a biopsy.
‘My husband Michael, who works in travel destination marketing, was abroad at the time, so I went to the hospital appointment on my own, expecting the tests to show I had haemorrhoids or piles,’ Mrs Davarian said.
‘I was nervous but not really worried, until the consultant said he hadn’t expected to find what he discovered, which was a small lump measuring just over an inch.
‘He told me it had nothing to do with the pregnancy and took a biopsy, after which I had to wait for 12 days for the next appointment with the colorectal, or colon specialists, at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth.
‘It was a strange time. I went through lots of emotions but eventually felt quite peaceful thinking whatever happens happens.’
Mrs Davarian and her husband, 43, attended the follow-up appointment together, where doctors broke the devastating news she had an advanced tumour that had embedded itself into her intestinal wall.
‘It’s like having a pause button on your life when you hear those words,’ she said.
‘We were all taken aback, including the doctors and the nurses. My husband cried and I felt something drop in the pit of my stomach.
‘The doctors told me it is very rare for someone of my age to have this cancer and there were no more tests that could be done until after I’d given birth.
‘I would need major surgery and a colostomy – diverting my waste into a stoma bag.’
However, Mrs Davarian had to continue with her pregnancy and give birth before she could start treatment.
‘The doctors made it clear there was no choice about this and left Michael and I alone in the room for a while with a box of tissues,’ she said.
Mathilda arrived less than a week later, weighing 5lbs 8oz, in a bittersweet moment for the first-time parents.
‘It was surreal, strange and traumatic,’ Mrs Davarian said. ‘It was very, very difficult to become a new mother in those circumstances.’
After bonding with her daughter, Mrs Davarian soon began treatment. This involved having radiation therapy every day for a week to shrink the tumour before going under the knife on October 26, 2015.
‘I had an abdominal perineal resection, which means surgeons took away my rectum, anus and the descending colon to make sure they removed all the cancer in a six-hour operation,’ she said.
‘It was brutal, but we knew it was for the best. Because I was so young, they wanted to be as thorough as possible to ensure it could never come back.
‘It was becoming hard to untangle being a patient from being a new mother.’
Mrs Davarian struggled to come terms with the prospect of not having more children, but her doctor reassured her it was for the best.
‘He told me it was highly curable with the operation and we had caught it in the nick of time,’ she said. ‘If I went ahead with everything they recommended, it would mean I would most likely live until old age, as normal.’
Doctors then discovered Mrs Davarian had cancer cells in her lymph nodes, which forced her to endure four rounds of chemotherapy.
‘The chemotherapy knocks the stuffing out of you,’ she said. ‘Both my white blood cells and platelets were low, so I was high risk for infection and was hospitalised with the flu during the chemotherapy treatment.
‘It was a hard slog just to get up in the morning. My immune system was battered and I was running on empty.
‘That meant Michael had to be even more hands-on with Mathilda, doing the night feeds and so on. It was tough on all of us.’
Three years on, Mrs Davarian’s cancer has not returned, however, the radiation therapy is thought to have attacked her ovaries, plunging her into an early menopause.
Since May 2016, she has been taking HRT to compensate for her loss of oestrogen.
‘I was suffering from awful cramps and nausea,’ Mrs Davarian said.
‘The doctors thought perhaps, despite the radiation treatment, my ovaries may have some slight function which was causing that – but this has now settled down, because of hormone therapy.’
Despite enduring hot flushes, fatigue and low mood, Mrs Davarian is trying to live life to the full with her husband and daughter, and credits her other half for supporting her throughout the ordeal.
‘It was very hard for both of us when it all started,’ she said. ‘Michael wasn’t sure how best to help me and so threw himself into looking after Mathilda when he wasn’t working, meaning we were often apart.
‘If I woke up having a bad day after a round of chemotherapy it was hard for him to go to work and leave me, but somehow, we got by.’
The health scare has also made Mrs Davarian more appreciate of what she has. ‘It is very sobering to have a brush with your own mortality at such a young age,’ she said.
‘I do feel strong for managing to get through it all and I am now much more appreciative of what’s important – which is family and friends.’
She is speaking out to raise awareness of bowel cancer, particularly in young people. ‘I remember feeling like the only person under 40 who had it, but it can and does affect young people,’ Mrs Davarian said.
‘It’s important to remove any stigma about it to learn to talk about uncomfortable things.’
Find out more about bowel cancer here.