A mother has revealed how she gave birth to a boy after doctors feared treatment for her brain tumour would leave her infertile.
Sarah Gaffney-Lang had been enjoying a day at the races with her now-husband Matt Lang in August 2016 when she suffered a seizure.
After months of scans and tests, Mrs Gaffney-Lang was diagnosed with a glioma in October, and told it could only be beaten with radiotherapy and chemo.
Knowing it could affect her dream of being a mother, the now 32-year-old had time for just one round of egg freezing before her therapy began.
With treatment ending in March last year, Mrs Gaffney-Lang was thrilled to discover she had become pregnant naturally just three months later.
Mrs Gaffney-Lang, whose tumour is still there but stable, was thrilled to give birth to her son Dylan on March 8, weighing 7lb 5oz.
Although the new parents feared he ‘wouldn’t make it’ when both his lungs collapsed, Dylan pulled through and the family were finally allowed to go home on March 17.
Sarah Gaffney-Lang gave birth to Dylan on March 8 after doctors warned undergoing chemo and radiotherapy for a brain tumour in February 2017 could leave her infertile. The mother-son duo are pictured together left in May, a week after a scan revealed her tumour is present but stable. Mrs Gaffney-Lang is pictured right after brain surgery in December 2016. Doctors discovered during the operation interfering with the tumour could leave her at risk of paralysis
Dylan’s life was off to a rocky start when both his lungs collapsed within hours of being born. He is pictured in neonatal intensive care at Saint Mary’s Hospital, Manchester, with his mother
Speaking of the ordeal, Mrs Gaffney-Lang said: ‘These past few years have been so surreal. In March last year, I had only just finished chemo and now, a year on, I have Dylan.
‘It’s been an emotional rollercoaster, but the best thing has come out of it – my little boy.
‘While I was going through it all, it was a case of head down and get on with it.
‘It’s only now when I look back that I can appreciate how crazy it has all been.’
Mrs Gaffney-Lang had a healthy lifestyle and was blissfully unaware of the tumour growing silently in her brain.
However, everything changed in August 2016 when she had a seizure in the hotel room she was staying in during the York races.
Mrs Gaffney-Lang regained consciousness to find the room full of paramedics, who rushed her to a local hospital.
The freelance copywriter was then referred to a neurologist at Salford Royal Hospital, who diagnosed her with a grade-two glioma in her frontal lobe, which controls memory, emotions and language.
‘I was really fit and active, so the thought of cancer – let alone a brain tumour – never crossed my mind,’ Mrs Gaffney-Lang. ‘It was a complete bombshell.’
Mrs Gaffney-Lang was forced to undergo a craniotomy in December, which involves surgically removing part of the bone from the skull to expose the brain.
She was even awake throughout the operation, which is often the case when a tumour involves ‘functionally important’ parts of the brain, according to University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.
The approach allows doctors to ‘test’ regions of the brain before they are cut or removed.
‘I was put to sleep while surgeons made the incision, then woken back up,’ Mrs Gaffney-Lang said. ‘
‘They needed me to be awake and alert, so they could do tests and work out what would be affected if they removed certain areas.
‘I was chatting away about really normal things – my holidays, what I was having for dinner – while a huge team operated on me.’
It was during this surgery that doctors discovered how ‘diffuse’ Mrs Gaffney-Lang’s tumour was. This means it has threadlike tendrils around its edges, which makes it difficult for medics to remove.
Concerned interfering with the tumour’s precarious position could leave Mrs Gaffney-Lang at risk of paralysis, the surgeons abandoned the operation.
Sarah Gaffney-Lang is pictured left enjoying a day at the races with her now-husband Matt Lang in August 2016. She endured a seizure just hours later. The married couple are also pictured right just minutes before Mrs Gaffney-Lang was taken to deliver Dylan via C-section
After three weeks recovering from the surgery in hospital, Mrs Gaffney-Lang was allowed home, only to go back in February 2017 to begin chemo and radiotherapy.
Despite everything she was going through, Mrs Gaffney-Lang went ahead with her wedding to Mr Lang, a commercial director, in March.
And she managed to squeeze in one round of egg freezing after being warned by doctors treatment could affect her fertility.
Chemotherapy reduces the number of eggs a woman has stored in her ovaries, according to the charity Macmillan.
And the radiotherapy Mrs Gaffney-Lang was having to her brain could have affected her pituitary gland, which releases hormones that stimulate ovaries.
‘With everything going on, my fertility hadn’t even entered my mind, so I’m really glad the doctors bought it up with me,’ Mrs Gaffney-Lang said.
‘I’d always wanted kids, so it would have been tough if I’d lost my chance altogether.’
Mrs Gaffney-Lang was forced to endure chemo, which caused her to lose her hair (seen left). The parents feared Dylan ‘wouldn’t make it’, however, he pulled through and the family went home on March 17 (Mrs Gaffney-Lang is pictured right leaving hospital with her son)
The couple went ahead with their wedding in March 2017 despite Mrs Gaffney-Lang starting chemo and radiotherapy the month before. The married couple are pictured on their big day
Mrs Gaffney-Lang finished treatment in March last year, only to become pregnant naturally three months later.
Although thrilled to be expecting, she initially worried how her body would cope with the strain of pregnancy. However, her concerns melted away by her third trimester.
‘I relaxed and started to enjoy being pregnant,’ Mrs Gaffney-Lang. ‘My fears about my body coping had started to fade away and I allowed myself to feel excited.’
In January this year, Mrs Gaffney-Lang agreed with doctors a C-section would be the safest delivery.
She gave birth to Dylan in March at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Manchester.
‘The actual delivery was very quick,’ Mrs Gaffney-Lang said. ‘We’d asked for the drape to be dropped so we could see the moment Dylan was born.
‘We hadn’t known he was a boy until the birth either, as we wanted it to be a surprise.
‘Doctors delivered him and Matt got to cut the umbilical cord, which was very special. Then, Dylan was brought over and placed into my arms.
‘I cried so many happy tears. It was surreal he was finally here.’
Mrs Gaffney-Lang is pictured left ringing the ‘end of chemo bell’ in March last year. Although thrilled to become pregnant just months later, Mrs Gaffney-Lang (pictured right on Christmas Day 2018) initially struggled to relax, but managed to enjoy the experience by the end
The couple are pictured in November 2018, while Mrs Gaffney-Lang was pregnant. After overcoming harsh chemo and radiotherapy, she temporarily relied on a mobility scooter
WHAT IS A GLIOMA?
Gliomas are brain tumours that start in the glial cells.
Glial cells surround neurones, helping to support and protect the nerve cells.
Around 2,200 cases of glioma are diagnosed every year in the UK, statistics show.
And the tumours affect two-to-three in every 100,000 adults annually in the US.
The most common type of glioma is an astrocytoma, which develops from cells called astrocytes.
Unspecified gliomas occur when a doctor cannot tell the exact tumour grade or where it started.
Low-grade tumours, which are slow growing, may not need immediate treatment and are monitored via ‘watchful waiting’.
Around half of low-grade tumours need operating on within two-to-three years of monitoring.
Surgery may be carried out to remove as much of a low-grade tumour as possible, which is known as debulking.
Radiotherapy may then be carried out if a lot of the tumour remains.
Chemo may be recommended instead of radiotherapy if a patient has a specific genetic mutation.
High-grade gliomas require surgery, which may be followed by radiotherapy.
This does not cure the tumour but aims to control it.
Chemo may also be recommended.
But Mrs Gaffney-Lang’s joy was short-lived when Dylan’s breathing became erratic and laboured later that day.
Doctors raced the newborn to the resuscitation ward, however, the new mother was unable to join her son straight away due to her still recovering herself.
‘That was really upsetting, being away from him,’ she said.
Eventually stabilising him, medics realised Dylan had two collapsed lungs, the cause of which is still unknown.
The newborn was taken to neonatal intensive care and kept in an incubator, where he underwent a chest drain and was given medication to strengthen his lungs.
‘It was all such a shock, particularly as he had been fine when he was first born,’ Mrs Gaffney-Lang said.
‘At one point, we weren’t even sure he’d make it, so we held on to those few hours where we’d been able to hold and cuddle him before he got poorly.
‘While he was in intensive care, we could only touch him through an incubator.’
After a few days of things being touch and go, Dylan made a dramatic recovery.
‘We got onto the ward and he was on a CPAP [continuous positive airway pressure] machine to help him breathe, rather than the ventilator he had been on,’ Mrs Gaffney-Lang said.
‘It turned out he had pulled his own tube out during the night, so doctors thought they’d give him a chance to try and breathe without his ventilator.’
Dylan continued to get stronger and was finally allowed home on March 17.
Mrs Gaffney-Lang is also doing well, with her most recent scan results in May revealing the tumour is stable and there is no sign of further growth.
She is sharing her experience to help others, and to thank the charities Trekstock and Brain Tumour Research, which supported her throughout her treatment.
‘To anybody else out there, I would say there is always hope,’ Mrs Gaffney-Lang said. ‘Try to look for the positives wherever you can.
‘It’s hard to see a way through when you’re in the situation, but I have managed to come out the other side, and not only get back to normality, but also have my amazing little boy.’
Mrs Gaffney-Lang is pictured in January 2017 during rehabilitation treatment for her surgery. She underwent a craniotomy, which involves the surgical removal of part of the bone from the skull to expose the brain. And she was even conscious throughout the procedure
Mrs Gaffney-Lang is doing well, with her most recent scan results in May revealing the tumour is stable and there is no sign of further growth. She is speaking out to give others hope