Poppy Stewart-Brown was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma in her jaw in 2019 when she 23 years old and 34 weeks pregnant. Below she tells her courageous story in her own words to raise awareness and to help others.
I first went to my GP in November 2018 as I was experiencing fatigue, sickness, nosebleeds, and headaches. I also had blood clots coming out of my mouth. I was told by the GP that these were normal pregnancy symptoms.
These symptoms, particularly the headaches, continued and I went back to my GP repeatedly.
I had found what I thought was a spot in my nose and was prescribed some antibiotic cream by my GP, which did not help. During this time, I also visited the A&E Department of my local hospital where they checked the baby was OK and I was told I was just suffering from a headache. I was made to feel like I was a nuisance.
By February 2019 I was aware that something was growing out of my nose, and I was finding it difficult to breathe out of my nostril.
I was referred to the Ear, Nose and Throat department at Brighton and Sussex University Hospital, where I was sent for an MRI scan. This is when cancer was mentioned for the first time, although the medical team were very vague and said this was the worst-case scenario and there was a 90% chance the growth was benign.
In March 2019 I also found a lump on my upper left jaw and went to visit my dentist, who told me I was suffering from wisdom tooth pain.
I went back to the hospital a few weeks later and I still didn’t have a diagnosis, although at that time they told me the chance of the growth being non-cancerous was 70%. My consultant decided to send a biopsy off to The Royal Marsden Hospital in London.
At this time, I still didn’t think it would be cancer. I was only 23 years of age and my friends and work colleagues kept telling me I was too young to have cancer.
Around the end of March 2019, I started to get more and more unwell. I was getting concerned that I would not be able to give birth naturally as I was unable to breathe properly out of my nostril. My obstetrician agreed to deliver my baby by caesarean section, and I was given and injection to prepare her lungs for delivery. 2 days later I was blue lighted to Brighton and Sussex University Hospital with terrible headaches and within a matter of days my health deteriorated, and I became really unwell.
I had an emergency CT scan and the tumour had grown from my jaw, through my left nostril down and out of the nostril. I was suffering from sinusitis, which had developed into sepsis.
I was in hospital for two weeks whilst the sinusitis was stabilised, and I waited for my diagnosis. On April 24th 2019 I eventually received a diagnosis.
Initially I was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma and only received the final diagnosis of atypical Ewing sarcoma the day I started my treatment.
April 26th, 2019, my daughter, Arabella, was delivered by caesarean section. I then had surgery at Brighton and Sussex University Hospital on the 29th to debulk the tumour. I also had a PET scan which showed the disease was localised.
On May 28th, 2019, I started nine cycles of VDC/IE chemotherapy at The Royal Marsden Hospital, London before travelling to the proton beam therapy centre at The Christie in Manchester for treatment. I was in Manchester for 7 weeks and had 31 rounds of proton beam therapy. Once the proton beam therapy treatment finished, I had a further five cycles of VDC/IE chemotherapy. The chemotherapy was so hard and after almost every round I was neutropenic and had to be admitted to hospital.
I worked out I spent 130 nights away from Arabella during my treatment, which was so difficult.
Throughout it all though Arabella had been my light in the darkness. I am so grateful my baby girl is completely healthy, although born six weeks early for me to start treatment. She is now two and a half years old and rules the roost!
I currently have no active disease and have follow up appointments every three months. I still suffer with tiredness but I'm pretty sure having a 2-and-a-half-year-old plays a big part in that. I do feel like a 26-year-old living in a 60-year old’s body though.
I have the most amazingly supportive friends and family who have supported me throughout my diagnosis and treatment.
My message to others would be to take each day at a time, be kind to yourself and listen to your body.
When I was diagnosed, I had never heard of Ewing sarcoma, and it had never even crossed my mind that the lump I found in my jaw would lead to a cancer diagnosis. I was young and naive and never thought I could have cancer at 23 years of age and whilst being pregnant.
It is so important to raise awareness as someone will be the rare case. Unfortunately, I was the rare case in this story, and my family and I had to fight to be believed that I was unwell. I feel the doctors should rule out the rare cases first then start to look at more common illnesses.