Australian fashion editor Elle Halliwell has revealed she is fighting cancer at the same time she is expecting her first child. And the brave mum-to-be has ignored medical advice to abort the pregnancy so doctors can save her life.
Just two days after being diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML), Elle found out she was pregnant.
“I’d love to say I jumped for joy, but my exclamation instead was of the four-letter kind — because 48 hours before this news, I had been diagnosed with leukaemia,” Elle writes.
The 30-year-old has bravely shared her story in the Daily Telegraph, where she has worked as a journalist for 10 years. She also has a radio spot on Nova and regularly appears on the Today show on the Nine Network.
“If you walked past me in the street, or took a peek at my Instagram account, you wouldn’t believe I had an incurable disease,” Elle writes.
“I’m not bruised, bald or lying in a hospital bed, which is an image many conjure up when they think of children and adults with leukaemia.
“One of the biggest challenges right now is reconciling the fact that I feel healthy, but am far from it. There are days when I forget I’m sick. I go to work, grab coffee with friends and cook dinner with my husband.
“It’s when I pause and think of the little person growing inside me, and my responsibility to care for him, that I feel sick with worry.”
Despite being advised to abort her baby, Elle and her husband Nick Biasotto sought a second opinion and decided to go ahead with the pregnancy.
“Our specialist strongly advised us not to because, without treatment, my slow-growing cancer could possibly turn aggressive and kill me before my pregnancy reached full term,” she writes.
“He recommended I abort, freeze some eggs and immediately begin a relatively new form of oral chemotherapy called tyrosine kinase inhibitors, or TKIs, which I would have to take for at least five years — until I was 35. Only then could I consider stopping treatment and try to conceive.”
Elle, pictured above comparing baby bumps with a friend, is now 20 weeks into her pregnancy. “My husband, who was still in shock over our new situation, took charge and after days of intensive research discovered that a very small number of women around the world with CML had successfully delivered healthy children via alternative treatments,” Elle writes.
“So we travelled to South Australia to meet with CML world expert professor Timothy Hughes, who gave us some confidence that, due to the early detection, there was a strong chance I could manage the cancer until I gave birth and started on a more effective treatment.”
Elle has been keeping a video blog of her entire journey so far.
Despite weekly injections of the drug interferon to treat the cancer, ultrasounds have confirmed Elle’s little boy is growing strong.
“Interferon, which is a drug made from proteins that occur naturally in humans and are secreted by immune system cells, has been found safe for pregnant women as it does not cross the placenta,” she writes.
“It can cause patients severe side effects however, including food aversion, fatigue, depression and flu-like symptoms.”
“But fortunately I have responded extremely well.”
Elle explains if she was diagnosed with CML before 2001 she would have been given a one in three chance of surviving five years, with an eight-year survival rate of less than 15 per cent.
But with support from family and friends and invaluable donations to organisations such as the Cancer Council and Leukaemia Foundation, today she feels lucky to have a “very good chance” of being around to celebrate many of her son’s milestones.
We wish Elle and Nick well in their fight against the cancer and have everything crossed for a safe and successful pregnancy so that this brave young mum can hold her baby boy in her arms soon.