Mum-to-be who blamed breathlessness on pregnancy told she had cancer at 17 weeks

On New Year's Eve 2022, while she was 17 weeks into her pregnancy, Mrs Hemmings-Slack was diagnosed with cancer. Credit: BPM Media

A first-time mum has told how she underwent chemotherapy treatment while four months pregnant at Royal Stoke University Hospital.

Victoria Hemmings-Slack, who is 30-years-old, gave birth to baby Gabriel on May 7 2022.

In December 2021, Mrs Hemmings-Slack had assumed her getting out of breath was down to being pregnant, but she then started to experience night sweats, itchy skin and a pain in her chest.

On New Year's Eve 2022, while she was 17 weeks into her pregnancy, she was diagnosed with cancer.

She went to A&E at the Royal Stoke University Hospital where a chest x-ray revealed an 18cm butterfly shaped tumour on her chest.

Doctors then found a lump in her neck and Mrs Hemmings-Slack was diagnosed with stage two Hodgkin lymphoma.

She is now in remission, but must undergo a further four rounds of chemotherapy.


'I went to the doctors who said they thought it was a chest infection'

Mrs Hemmings-Slack said: "I'm a regular gym goer, I would go about four or five times a week, but when I got married last September I took about two weeks off the gym.

"I came back from my wedding and found I couldn't catch my breath when I was working out, I thought it was strange because I'm in good shape and I didn't understand.

"I went to the doctors who said they thought it was a chest infection and I had some antibiotics, but it didn't clear.

"I then found out I was six-weeks pregnant and I thought that will explain why I've been getting out of breath. But my breathing then rapidly deteriorated, I couldn't walk up the stairs without getting out of breath.

"My main symptoms were itchy skin, all over itching and night sweats, waking up at night sweating. When I'd lie down I could also feel something on my chest, it was horrible."

Royal Stoke University Hospital

Mrs Hemmings-Slack endured five rounds of chemotherapy while she was pregnant with Gabriel.

She says she is "so grateful" that she didn't have to make a decision between saving her or her baby and was able to undergo the life saving treatment while pregnant.Doctors had planned for Gabriel to be born via a caesarean, but he came naturally at 35 weeks. He spent 18 days in the intensive care unit at Royal Stoke.

Mrs Hemmings-Slack continued: "I never expected to have cancer, I'd just got married, moved into our first home and we were expecting our first child. It felt really perfect, it was a massive shock.

"I was just so grateful to have this pregnancy and being able to have this treatment and I wasn't having to make a decision of it's me or the baby.

"But as much as I tried to enjoy my pregnancy, I was constantly worried about any reduced movements, constantly thinking what am I doing to my unborn child?"

Mrs Hemmings-Slack says the treatment she received at the Royal Stoke was "absolutely incredible" and now wants to raise awareness of the Hodgkin lymphoma symptoms.

She added: "I never thought I'd get cancer at such a young age and I'd never heard of lymphoma.

"It's actually more common than you think. If I had noticed the lump in my neck, the cancer would have been caught earlier but I never checked my lymph nodes.

"As women we're told to check our breasts, but check your lymph nodes too."

Dr Neil Phillip, Consultant Haemotologist at University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust, which runs Royal Stoke University Hospital said: “Lymphoma can present with very vague symptoms such as tiredness and unexplained weight loss, itching or sweats or temperatures.

"It can present with swollen lymph glands but also symptoms such as tummy pains, chest pains or shortness of breath because of the swollen lymph glands growing in the chest and pressing on the lungs as with this case.

“It can more difficult to diagnose in pregnancy as the symptoms can mimic some of the symptoms of a normal pregnancy and therefore we often see patients who are either referred from the emergency department or the GP.

"If a lady’s symptoms don’t appear to be improving she should seek advice again.

"Lymphoma needs to be treated quickly with chemotherapy and this can be given safely to women if they are pregnant with close co-ordination between haematologists and obstetricians.

"Thankfully, as with Mrs Hemmings-Slack, it can often be cured with chemotherapy with excellent outcomes for mummy and baby and we are thrilled for her and her husband in welcoming their beautiful baby into their family."