Burgess Hill mum diagnosed with cancer two days before giving birth: beauty therapist supports Stand Up To Cancer

A Burgess Hill mother who was diagnosed with cancer just two days before giving birth is calling for people to support the Stand Up to Cancer campaign.

Poppy Stewart-Brown, 25, missed most of the first year of her daughter Arabella’s life as she had to undergo intensive cancer treatment.

She finally got time to bond with her baby when the UK went into lockdown last year, just as she was finishing the treatment.

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Poppy, who is a beauty therapist, said she was 34 weeks pregnant when she found out she had cancer, having suffered headaches and nosebleeds during her pregnancy.

Poppy Stewart-Brown from Burgess Hill with her daughter Arabella. Photo: Southern News & Pictures (SNAP).

GPs, a dentist and A&E doctors thought her symptoms were side effects of the pregnancy or toothache.

“This was my first pregnancy, so I believed them,” Poppy said.

But she was eventually referred for a biopsy when a blockage was found in her nose.

This growth grew quickly while Poppy waited for the results and almost protruded from her left nostril.

Poppy Stewart-Brown from Burgess Hill with her daughter Arabella. Picture: Cancer Research UK.

Poppy was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma in her left jawbone and also developed sepsis in her sinuses.

This rare kind of cancer, which develops in bones and soft tissue, required immediate treatment so Arabella was born by Caesarian section on April 26, weighing 4lb 4oz.

Poppy then underwent surgery to remove the tumour, before beginning 14 rounds of chemotherapy at the Royal Marsden Hospital.

Then she and her partner Tommy Bolger moved to Manchester with Arabella and Poppy’s mother Louise so Poppy could get proton beam therapy at The Christie Hospital.

Poppy Stewart-Brown from Burgess Hill with her daughter Arabella and partner Tommy. Photo: Southern News & Pictures (SNAP).

“I was there for seven weeks and was really poorly,” said Poppy.

“I was so weak I couldn’t lift Arabella and I felt a million miles from home,” she said.

Poppy said the proton beam treatment was ‘really harsh’ and that she needed to wear a mesh mask that pinned her to the bed for 45 minutes during each of the 31 sessions.

“It made me feel very claustrophobic – that period was definitely my lowest point,” she said.

Poppy endured ten months of intensive treatment, spending more than 130 nights away from Arabella.

But when she had to shield during lockdown she was able to have valuable bonding time with her child.

Arabella is now two-and-a-half years old and Poppy is on her way back to full health.

“I feel I’m still making up for this and I think I’ll forever feel guilty about not being able to have that initial mother-daughter time,” said Poppy.

“But Arabella is the one who got me through the treatment,” she said.

“I’m enjoying every last moment of being a mummy to our beautiful girl.”

Cancer Research UK played an important role in clinical trials for Etoposide phosphate, one of the drugs Poppy was treated with.

Poppy wanted to ‘give something back’ and got in touch with the charity to help share her story and inspire more people to support cancer research.

Now Poppy and Arabella are the faces of Stand Up to Cancer in Sussex.

This joint fundraising campaign from Cancer Research UK and Channel 4 is now in its ninth year in the UK.

Stand Up To Cancer helps take breakthroughs from the lab and turn them into cutting-edge treatments, like using viruses to fight cancer or finding more effective ways to deliver radiotherapy.

It has raised more than £84 million, funding 59 clinical trials and projects involving more than 19,000 cancer patients across the country.

People can support Stand Up to Cancer 2021 by raising money in their own way.

Visit su2c.org.uk to get a free fundraising kit.

People can also raise money with the range of men and women’s clothing and accessories available online.

“We’re very grateful to Poppy for helping us to continue our mission,” Lynn Daly, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for Sussex.

“One in two of us will get cancer in our lifetime, but all of us can play a part to help beat it.”

Poppy said: “My experience has helped me appreciate how crucial research is and I want to help more people survive.”

She also wants to warn people about cancer symptoms, particularly for less common cancers.

“People need to listen to their body, not feel silly about how they are feeling and go to their GP to get checked out,” said Poppy.