Pregnancy & Birth

Abi Johnston's joy after shock cancer diagnosis

Cancer free, the brave mum can finally enjoy life with her girl

By Kasia Jillings
Marvelling at her precious five-month-old daughter Lilah, Abi Johnston is overcome with joy and gratitude as she reflects on how far they've come together following her shock diagnosis of aggressive breast cancer while pregnant.
The Northland mum was just 27, and 26 weeks pregnant, when she learnt she had stage-three triple positive breast cancer requiring immediate treatment.
Medical professionals rallied to find the lowest-risk option for her then unborn baby and during chemotherapy, it was often the thought of being able to cuddle Lilah soon that kept her going.
Now beaming with pride as she talks about her daughter, Abi knows it's all been worth it.
"The highlights of being her mum so far are really all of it," enthuses Abi. "I just feel like being a mother is my calling in life. Seeing her light up and knowing I bring her so much joy with the simplest of things, and all the little cuddles are amazing."
The Weekly first met the radiographer in April when she shared her story in the hope other women would be more vigilant with having symptoms checked as soon as possible.
Abi initially dismissed the lumps she found, believing they were probably due to hormonal changes in pregnancy. Not wanting to waste her doctor's time, Abi waited several weeks before seeking treatment and still wishes she'd acted sooner.
Since then, she has completed eight rounds of chemotherapy, undergone a mastectomy and lymph node removal, and is excited to share that she's now cancer free.
Abi faced a cancer diagnosis while pregnant with Lilah.
"Until recently, life has been so uncertain, not knowing if I'm going to be cleared or unwell for a long time," she shares. "But we got the great news there's no cancer left, so I'm very optimistic and it's easier to dream a little further ahead."
It's a moment she has dreamed of, but nothing will compare to the highlight of when Lilah was born. With her trademark laid-back nature, Abi calmly recalls her little girl's dramatic entrance into the world.
She tells, "I was induced at 39 weeks because I still needed more chemotherapy after and they wanted to get back to it as soon as possible. During labour, it was a little stressful because her heart rate kept dropping, so they decided on a Caesarean, but as they were taking us to theatre, she was crowning and ended up being born naturally at 11.30pm on June 8.
"There were a few hours where it was a little worrying thinking maybe the cord was caught, but she was born healthy-as and came straight up onto my chest. It was a pretty unreal moment – just so much happiness and joy."
Throughout everything, husband Broc, who is a support worker for people with traumatic brain injuries, has been by her side.
Seeing him meet their daughter is a treasured memory. "He was speechless and took a moment to take it all in, but he was right there next to me, holding her hand from the beginning."
Throughout the journey, husband Broc has been her rock.
While the new parents quickly revelled in their roles as mum and dad, Abi had just one week at home with Lilah before needing to start chemotherapy again.
"I held her as much as I could and just really soaked in every moment with her."
Abi remembers crying through the first session, wanting so badly to be back home with Lilah. "Being away from her was so hard and going back to chemo, which I knew made me feel yuck, was so much harder emotionally after having a break.
"We were lucky enough Broc had time off work so he was with her. We split pretty much everything – he would do the nightshifts helping with feeds so I wasn't doing it all. They have developed such a great bond and I really couldn't have done it without him being so involved."
Abi has since taken her wee girl to meet all of the nurses who helped care for her during pregnancy and shares that Lilah quickly won over many hearts.
"I just feel like being a mother is my calling in life," says Abi.
"They all call her 'their baby'," laughs Abi.
There's still radiation and hormone treatment to come, but life is looking good.
"The hard bit is over," says Abi. "Of course it's still going to be challenging, but mentally, I'm on the home stretch."
For now, Abi wakes up each morning grateful for the day ahead with Lilah and Broc.
"The diagnosis really made me focus on the good things in life, to really enjoy these moments and not take anything for granted."

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