Body & Fitness

My baby had ovarian cancer

The mum-of-five fought doctors to get answers.

It was clear to Bianca Wilson that there was something very wrong with her baby girl. Every night was an exercise in pure exhaustion as newborn Jodeci screamed in pain – Bianca resorting to crashing on the sofa, cradling her daughter in an upright position, in order to calm her enough to sleep.

Jodeci’s stomach was huge – “it was like a wide band that ran all around her” – her hair was patchy and growing in clumps, and she had an oversized tongue. Most worrying of all, Jodeci had developed breasts.

Bianca – a 41-year-old Napier mum who works in security – recalls taking Jodeci (now 8) to doctor after doctor, pleading for a diagnosis.

“Because she was number four of my five kids, I knew there was something amiss. But the doctors insisted she had gas. We even ended up in hospital at one stage and I begged for an X-ray.

“But they refused to do it – they didn’t think it was necessary. I remember a specialist there telling me to ‘calm down’, saying that I was just being ‘an over-excited mum’. That didn’t feel right to me at all.”

It was Bianca’s aunty Vanessa and grandmother Patsy, who were both taking care of Jodeci while Bianca – also mum to Siobhan (24), Mitchell (22), Tylah-Belle (10) and Devante (6) – went through a difficult and distressing divorce, who may well have saved little Jodeci’s life.

Jodeci and her sister Tylah-Belle with grandmother Patsy.

She was by then an 11-month-old, and as her great-grandmother Patsy (81) changed her nappy, it became obvious the situation was critical.

“It had green mucus in it,” Bianca tells.

Her aunt Vanessa flew into action.

“She told my grandmother, ‘Take the nappy and the baby to the doctor, put both in front of him and don’t let him speak until he has an answer for you!’”

And fortunately, that’s pretty much what Patsy – herself a mother of 10 – did. An X-ray – necessary after all, smiles Bianca grimly – showed a large tumour on one of Jodeci’s ovaries. Bianca remembers getting the phone call no mother wants – informing her that her baby was being flown straight to Wellington Hospital and to get there as soon as possible.

“When I was told it was ovarian cancer, that was a huge shock – how does a baby get ovarian cancer?” wonders Bianca, still stumped by the diagnosis.

Jodeci was swiftly taken in for surgery to have her ovary – which had swelled to the size of a golf ball – removed.

It was a lucky save. Surgeons were confident they had got all the cancer and that Jodeci would not need to be subjected to chemotherapy. And Bianca says the physical and emotional changes in her daughter were obvious as soon as the family was cleared to leave Wellington Hospital and return home.

“She was giggly, happy – there was no more crying or screaming,” says Bianca. “Her hair began to grow – a lot!

“However, she also became quite clingy and I wonder if that’s because I literally held her in my arms for almost a year.”

Jodeci still feels emotional when she sees photos of herself as an unwell baby.

Jodeci, who had looked so malnourished in the past with her large swollen stomach, was also making up for lost time when it came to food.

“She developed a ravenous appetite. Now she has the biggest appetite in the house!” laughs Bianca.

“At one point, she’d finish her own plate, then my plate, then everyone else’s plate. It was funny at first and we nicknamed her Garbage. The running joke with leftovers was ‘Don’t worry, Jodeci will eat them!’”

But jokes aside, Bianca knew her daughter had a new health concern to deal with. Jodeci’s gut bacteria was out of balance, possibly as a result of her illness.

“So we put her on a whole food diet – plants, lots of fruits and vegetables, less meat, no refined sugars and lots of yoghurt and fruit, and vegetable supplements in chew form.”

Now there are only scars and snapshots to tell the story of Jodeci’s journey to health. The courageous Tamatea Primary School student is four years cancer-free, healthy and happy. And loud!

“So loud,” groans Bianca.

“She loves singing and dancing, creating her own songs – most of which are about lollies! But she also feels things deeply. She knows her fertility is affected and that she has about a 50 per cent chance of having her own babies. That doesn’t worry her too much right now, but she can get a little bit tearful when she sees photos of herself in hospital, inside a cage with IV lines going into her body.”

It brings Bianca to tears, too, from time to time.

“I’m reminded of how tough and stressful that time was” she says quietly. “I’m just so grateful to my grandmother for taking action when she did.”

Bianca’s message to other mothers is to be persistent and when the answers don’t come, be more persistent still.

“I think every parent should have the right to demand testing if they sense something is wrong with their child,” she says.

“Get advice from other mothers. Go looking for it. And trust your instincts because I think I stopped trusting myself when I could have been pushing harder for answers.”

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