A BABY born at Worcestershire Royal Hospital has been described as a ‘miracle’ after both the mother and father underwent chemotherapy for lymphoma during the pregnancy, with all three now well and looking forward to their first family Christmas at home together.
In December 2021, James and Bethany Jefferson-Loveday from Evesham were rocked by the news that doctors had diagnosed James with Hodgkin lymphoma – an uncommon cancer that develops in vessels and glands throughout your body.
The diagnosis led to the couple to try for a baby before James’ treatment began, in the knowledge that conceiving may be more difficult after chemotherapy. Bethany, 30, was “over the moon” when she found out she was pregnant in January, but joy later turned to despair when she was diagnosed with a high grade of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma – a similar form of cancer – at 21 weeks pregnant.
Consultant Haematologist, Dr Salim Shafeek – who has treated both James and Bethany for cancer this year – said: “The combination of being pregnant and having high-grade Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is exceptionally rare, and Bethany is the first case of this I’ve treated in my 25 years as a Consultant Haematologist.”
Bethany’s symptoms began in her first trimester, whilst her husband was still undergoing chemotherapy treatment for his lymphoma. After weeks of minor symptoms progressed, Bethany contacted her GP, but at this stage it was believed her symptoms were pregnancy related.
“I started to get a severe pressure build up in my head and had the worst headaches I’ve ever experienced. I became breathless, unable to do my usual activities, and a hard lump appeared on my collarbone. But despite all of this, I was in-denial that anything was wrong. I assumed that my symptoms were pregnancy related and that the lump must have been a cyst”, said Bethany.
“Eventually my mother persuaded me to go to A&E and I was then referred for an MRI, CT and biopsy. I will never forget the moment I was given my diagnosis. I remember questioning how this was possible as my husband was undergoing treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma at the time.”
Bethany then had what she calls “the most difficult conversation of my life” with a Consultant Obstetrician at the hospital about the options for her pregnancy. “My Obstetrician had to explain all the possible options for the pregnancy to me including termination. I came out of the appointment feeling like 80% of my options were negative and that I had only the tiniest glimmer of hope that the pregnancy would reach a successful outcome”, she explained.
Meanwhile, Dr Shafeek was forming a plan to treat Bethany with an intense course of six cycles of chemotherapy, being admitted to the Haematology ward at Worcestershire Royal Hospital each time to allow her time to recover and for staff to monitor her baby.
Dr Shafeek said: “With this type of lymphoma at this stage we would normally give a stronger form of chemotherapy, but this wasn’t possible due to her pregnancy. We couldn’t delay chemo until the baby was born as Bethany wouldn’t have survived, so we had to get all the chemo in before 35 weeks of pregnancy to give her chance to recover before childbirth. But thanks to great team working across different departments at the hospital, we were able to give her all the chemotherapy she needed without delay.”
With both husband and wife needing chemotherapy so close together, the couple shared a unique understanding of the experience of their treatment.
Bethany described: “I felt total despair at the thought of having chemotherapy and losing my hair but James was such a great support to me, he completely understood what I was going through. He shaved my head for me when my hair started to fall out, just as I had done for him earlier in the year.
“The nurses were so kind and we used to have a chat whilst they were giving me my chemo which took my mind off it. After every chemotherapy I felt a sense of celebration that I had another one under my belt and was closer to having my baby.”
After finally finishing all her chemotherapy, Bethany eventually had a Caesarean section to safely deliver their baby daughter, Heidi. “James and I both agree that Heidi’s birthday was the best day of our lives. It is the happiest I have ever felt. Dr Shafeek described Heidi as a miracle and reflecting back on the past year, he is absolutely right.”
Despite what both parents had endured throughout the pregnancy, Heidi was born completely healthy with no adverse effects. Both James and Bethany are now in remission and no longer require treatment.
Bethany said: “Dr Shafeek and his team are an outstanding group of doctors, nurses and staff. The standard of care they provide is incredible. The staff on Laurel 3 ward at Worcestershire Royal Hospital treated me like a member of their own family. They are so kind and nothing is too much trouble, I felt in extremely safe hands throughout my treatment under their care.
“I have to commend the collaboration across different departments at Worcestershire Royal Hospital. As each day went by, I had a new Consultant from a different department reassuring me about their aspect of my care plan. All manner of scenarios had been mapped out to ensure a plan was in place to manage any risks should they arise.
“I had weekly midwife visits at home from the local midwife team and midwives visited me to listen to the baby every time I had my chemotherapy which was so reassuring and invaluable to me at the time. Even after Heidi was born I was unable to breastfeed due to the chemotherapy, but my Obstetrician arranged for donor breastmilk at my request which was so greatly appreciated. It’s difficult to put into words how grateful we are as a family for everything they have done for us.”