WHEN Alison Pollard-Mansergh found out she was expecting her fourth child, she was overjoyed.
Five months into her pregnancy, however, doctors broke the devastating news she had cancer. An Australian of Scots decent, Alison, who was 37 at the time, had always known she was at risk from the disease - her gran had died after a malignant melanoma spread.
But she was stunned to learn she was fighting the cancer as her unborn child grew inside her. She said: "I was worried about a spot on my arm. A doctor had frozen it off but it returned twice.
"He'd told me it wasn't cancer. When I had it frozen off a third time I insisted on a biopsy, even though the doctor still said I had nothing to worry about. "I got a call from the hospital the next day telling me to come in immediately. They said it was cancer."
Her diagnosis was made in February 2001. Because Alison, now 45, has pale skin, which doesn't have as much melanin as other types, her melanoma wasn't as dark as doctors would normally expect. Her husband Peter, 48, asked that the severity of the cancer be kept from Alison until after the baby was born.
She didn't know it was classed as stage four, the most serious form of melanoma, signalling it had spread to another part of her body - in this case her upper arm and lymph nodes. She said: "Peter did the right thing.
He and everyone around me were trying to keep me positive and I'm so grateful for that. A huge part of my healing came from friends and family who helped me laugh and to relax.
"My biggest fear was for my baby but I was also worried sick about my three boys. My oldest Aadon, who's now 21, was 13. Jared, 19, was 11, and Regan, who's now 13, was only five. "I was so afraid I wouldn't be around to see them grow up."
Alison ruled out treatment for fear it would harm her baby. She deferred her op until after daughter Siobhan was born on June 20, 2001.
Two weeks after she had recovered from the caesarian birth, she underwent surgery to remove the two areas of cancer plus one of her lymph nodes. Alison recalls: "As soon as I came round, Peter put Siobhan in my arms. As I looked at her, I knew I had to pull through for my kids." Alison has now been cancer-free for eight years. She's also made another addition to the family - son Taran, born six years ago, She keeps stringent health checks with a specialist on all the family.
Alison, who was born in New Zealand, lives in Brisbane, but the whole family has pale skin - her mother's family hails from Kinross in Fife and Peter's mum's McDonald relatives are from Caithness. She said: "We adhere to the Australian advice of 'slip, slop, slap' - 'slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen and slap on a hat'.
"People sneer at skin cancer but it's a killer. It has killed people my family." Alison's scare taught her a serious lesson - make the most of the here and now and laugh whenever possible. Her job, as an actor and artistic director of Interactive Theatre Australia certainly helps her to do that.