In October 2012, Matilda Tristram found out she was expecting her first child with her husband, Tom. They had always wanted children and were thrilled.
However, early into her pregnancy Matilda started experiencing severe stomach pain.
At first she didn’t think anything of it but it quickly became unbearable. She said, “I had been having stomach pain and gradually it got worse. By the time I was already well into my pregnancy, I was sick every time I ate.”
She went to see a gastroenterologist and when she was 13 weeks pregnant, she found out she had bowel cancer. The cancer went undetected for over a year because of her young age; but the tumor had completely blocked her bowels.
Immediately after her diagnosis, doctors told her she needed to start chemotherapy. They also said she had three options in regard to her pregnancy: have an abortion and begin treatment, continue the pregnancy and start chemotherapy risking possible fetal deformities, or take the pregnancy to term before tackling the cancer.
She said, “I didn’t want an abortion and I really wanted to make sure I didn’t die, and nobody could really tell us about the risks to the baby of me having chemotherapy because not many pregnant women get cancer. But we had been lucky with the timing – chemo in the first three months would have been a complete no-no – so we decided to give it a go.”
Thankfully, modern medicine has allowed cancer patients during the second and third trimester of pregnancy to receive some types of chemotherapy without harming the baby. This comes as a surprise to many, even to some doctors, who believe that women who have cancer during pregnancy cannot receive any treatment. In Matilda’s case, the cancer cells hadn’t spread to her lungs or liver, but did infect five of her lymph nodes.
She said, ‘Obviously everyone wanted to know how I was doing, but whenever I picked up the phone, I would get upset. Being able to send them drawings seemed much less stressful. I know how hard it is – everyone wants to do the right thing. But sometimes you can’t face explaining. The comic enabled me to tell them what I was thinking without saying it out loud.”
She continued, “People often ask why I decided to write about it. Suddenly life was so terrifying and different. I was meeting all these strange and interesting people in the hospital, I didn’t have to try very hard; there was so much to write about. I recorded how absurd and funny the rest of life seemed in contrast to what we were going through. I loved writing about people in east London, the trendy projects, funny conversations and how seriously people took things. It definitely helped to distract from what was going on and I could turn my emotions off.”
Three months into her treatment, she gave birth to a healthy son. Now Matilda is cancer free and after tweeting her first comic venture, she secured a publishing deal for a book. In her memoire, Probably Nothing: A Diary of Not-Your-Average-Nine-Months, she shares more about her experience with cancer during pregnancy. Matilda concluded, “It was nice writing about the jokes me and [husband] Tom managed to share with each other. We did have some really nice times and it is helpful and healing to see how well we managed.”