As first birthday parties go, Olivia Bisson's was joyfully over the top. Held in the garden of her family home last September, the theme was 'pink princess' and there was not one but two brand-new outfits for the birthday girl (both pink, of course).
'She had the best time ever,' laughs her mother Jocelyn, her eyes welling as she remembers the happy day. 'Olivia beamed from ear to ear all day. She loves being the centre of attention, of course.'
Indulgent, undeniably – yet more than anything, it was the first time the family had celebrated the miracle that was Olivia's birth. And the fact that Jocelyn was still alive to enjoy it. For just 18 months earlier the 34-year-old beautician, who lives in Guernsey with husband Matthew, 36, a pilot, and their two other children, Harry, five, and Toby, three, was given the news that she was suffering from cancer of the cervix – the opening to the uterus. Days later, she discovered she was also seven weeks pregnant.
Once, this double blow would almost definitely have meant a hysterectomy – removal of the uterus – and, for Jocelyn, the death of her unborn child. Yet thanks to astonishing advances in cancer surgery, Jocelyn was able to have the tumour removed while preserving the pregnancy – and in the autumn of 2010, Olivia became one of the few babies in the world to be born to a mother being treated for cervical cancer.
The problems began last year after a routine smear test (all women are called for one every three years as part of the NHS screening programme). Yet Jocelyn wasn't concerned when the results indicated 'abnormal' cells were reported. Her GP referred her for further investigation, and told her she should come off her contraceptive pill in case it skewed the results.
Dr Jane Woyka, the Royal College of General Practitioners' representative to the Department of Health Advisory Committee on Cervical Screening, says the advice was unusual.
'Obviously you don't want patients who are suspected of disease to become pregnant because it complicates things hugely,' she says. 'There's no evidence I'm aware of that taking the Pill alters the results of the cervical screening test.'
Jocelyn was referred to a gynaecologist who performed a colposcopy – where a camera is inserted to examine the cervix.
'I heard the word cancer and then nothing else. I tried to listen but all I could think of was Matt and the boys.'
Jocelyn says: 'The consultant told me there was "a trace of something" so they would need to do a biopsy.' When she received a call on Mother's Day to say she urgently needed to return to the clinic, she started to worry.
'It was the anniversary of Jade Goody's death, who had died after contracting cervical cancer, and I had a terrible feeling it would be bad news.' At the clinic Jocelyn was told she had cancerous changes to the cervix caused by HPV (Human papillomavirus).
'I heard the word cancer and then nothing else,' she says. 'I tried to listen but all I could think of was Matt and the boys.' Although the tumour was small and in the early stages, it was made from rapidly growing cells.
At this point, Jocelyn did not realise she was pregnant – but because of her relatively young age, and the fact that her cancer hadn't yet spread, she was an ideal candidate for the pioneering procedure that enables surgeons to remove just the diseased part of the cervix, and surrounding areas, without damaging the womb itself.
Known as trachelectomy, the operation was performed privately by Professor John Shepherd at The London Clinic. Dr Robin Crawford, consultant gynaecological oncologist at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, pioneered the procedure.
He says: 'A trachelectomy is suitable for women who have a tumour less than 2cm in size and wish to preserve their fertility.' Jocelyn was booked in for the procedure – and a few days later discovered she was pregnant.
She called her consultant, who told her that they would proceed with the trachelectomy, and that this gave the option of saving her baby and herself. With her pregnancy at 14 weeks, Jocelyn travelled to the London Clinic for the operation, which took place under general anaesthetic.
Robotic-surgery techniques were used to remove the lymph nodes in the pelvis, part of the lymphatic system – a network of tubes and glands in the body involved in immunity. Then the tumour was removed via an incision on the lower part of the cervix, along with some of the surrounding tissue, to ensure that no tumour cells were left.
Cute as a button: Olivia at her first birthday party with her mother
At the end of the procedure a support stitch was put in to the remaining cervix to give it more strength and allow the pregnancy to continue. After five days in hospital Jocelyn was allowed home and, at 20 weeks she went back to have another colposcopy.
She was monitored closely throughout the pregnancy and it was decided that she would travel to London when she was 31 weeks pregnant and between 32 and 34 weeks she would undergo a caesarean, as the stitch in the cervix makes a natural birth impossible.
She was also advised to have a hysterectomy, because the unique nature of her situation meant they couldn't be sure they had removed all of the cancer cells.
But on September 27 last year, Jocelyn went into early labour. She gave birth the following evening by caesarean. Baby Olivia weighed 3lb 14oz and remained in hospital for five weeks.
On New Year's Eve 2010, she received the biopsy result saying the cancer hadn't spread. Jocelyn says the biggest lesson she wants to share is the importance of regular smear tests.
Source: Daily Mail