A mum has spoken out about the terrifying moment she found out she had an extremely rare form of cancer while six months pregnant. Aimee Hill, 33, said a ‘freckle’ was spotted in the back of her left eye during a routine check-up at her optician in November 2020.
She underwent more tests and was quickly referred to hospital where further scans showed she had ocular melanoma – an eye cancer found in around 750 people in the UK each year. Aimee then had to make the almost impossible decision about whether to start treatment straight away or wait until her unborn baby had been delivered.
“Obviously, being six months pregnant and being diagnosed with cancer was a traumatic and difficult time,” she said. “My pregnancy wasn’t easy either. I was really sick and I already felt like I was going through it – and then to be diagnosed with cancer was devastating.
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“But then I was like ‘right, you need to sort yourself out now because you need to ask questions about the baby and how this is all going to affect him’. There was a risk of miscarriage with treatment as I’d need to go under general anaesthetic, but there was also a risk of the cancer growing or spreading elsewhere.
“I didn’t want to have cancer anymore, but at the same time I didn’t want to do anything that was going to affect the baby. I was obviously advised to start treatment straight away so that’s what I did.”
Aimee, from Port Talbot in Wales, had her initial eye scans carried out at Singleton Hospital in Swansea and had to attend the alone appointment due to Covid restrictions, reports Wales Online. She recalled: “As soon as I went in to see the doctor and she showed me the scan of my eye, I knew straight away that something wasn’t right. She mentioned the word ‘tumour’ but cancer wasn’t mentioned at that stage.”
Aimee was then referred to the Royal Liverpool University Hospital for further examination. She added: “I had to wait a couple of weeks and for my appointment to come through which obviously left me feeling quite anxious. My appointment was on December 18, 2020. I’ll never forget that day because that was the day we went into lockdown again and that was the day that I was diagnosed with cancer.”
In January last year Aimee started treatment at St Paul’s Eye Clinic in Liverpool. She had plaque radiotherapy – a high dose of radiation to a small area. A small radioactive disk was placed over the cancer on the affected eye to continually give off radiation.
“I was seven months pregnant when I had my treatment. My time at the hospital was so hard. I couldn’t see my husband, Aaron, due to Covid restrictions, and I could only have paracetamol for pain relief,” she explained.
Aimee then recovered at home before giving birth to her son, Evan, in March 2021. “He was born happy and healthy, and I felt so grateful he was okay. When he was born, I thought I can forget about everything that’s happened now and then move on, which was probably not the right thing to do, but at the time I needed to do that as I was looking after a newborn baby.”
But three months later, what had happened began to catch up with Aimee and she started to struggle emotionally. She added: “That’s when I started going to Maggie’s cancer charity just for some support, and that has really helped.”
Being a mum to Evan, who Aimee says is ‘such a happy baby’, has also been a light in her life. “You could be having the worst day ever and then he will smile or giggle and then you’re fighting again,” she said.
Six months after her surgery, Aimee returned to the eye clinic in Liverpool for her follow-up and received the news that her cancer had not shrunk. “I was expecting them to say I had the all-clear as they told me the treatment had a 95% success rate. But unfortunately the cancer is still there and the tumor is the same size but it isn’t any bigger which is a positive thing.
“And I think that was the moment I realized that actually, this is probably something that I’m going to have to live with for a while. In my mind, before I was diagnosed with cancer, I either thought that you survived cancer, or you didn’t. I didn’t realize that you can just live with it.”
However, Aimee is hoping the treatment she has already had will have an impact on the tumor. “I had an appointment in January and a scan showed scarring around the tumor. The scarring will hopefully mean the cancer can’t grow any further and it will slowly be suffocated.
“I will be having appointments every six months for the next five years to monitor the situation. I might have this for the rest of my life. As long as the cancer doesn’t get any bigger, it might just kind of be there, so I’m trying to change my mindset about it.”
Aimee said she is now looking forward to taking part in Swansea’s Race for Life at Museum Gren alongside her husband Aaron and son Evan. Aimee has been chosen to be Cancer Research UK’s VIP starter at the event on July 24. She is hoping to encourage women and men of all ages and abilities to sign up to their local event at raceforlife.org
Aimee added: “I’m proud to Race for Life… For me, it will be something really positive to look forward to as well as being a chance to raise money to help others facing cancer right now.”
And Aimee is already a keen supporter of Cancer Research UK and was proud to take part in the charity’s Shine walk last year. “I took part with my cousin and a bunch of my friends and I think we raised about £1,800. And my husband did Race for Life as well on his own and raised £1,700. My husband has been amazing. I don’t know how I would have gotten through it without him.”
Aimee said she is also keen to raise awareness to help other people affected by cancer and added: “I want to be open about it because I think a lot of people struggle to talk about cancer. One in two people will get cancer in their lifetime , and I think a lot of people are scared to talk about it.
“When I was going through it, a lot of people I thought would be there for me and talk to me weren’t. But I think it was because they were probably worried about saying the wrong thing.
“But actually, not saying anything at all is worse. Don’t get me wrong, loads of people were there and supporting me, but I know a lot of people do find it difficult and I think that’s why I think it’s so important to talk about it and to break down those barriers and raise awareness.”
Aimee added: “Having cancer changes your perspective on life. I know a lot of people say that, but until you go through something like this, you don’t realize. You appreciate what’s really important in life. I’ve recently just left my job that I had before being diagnosed, and I’m so much happier now.”
Aimee’s final message is to encourage people to visit the opticians regularly. She said: “There is so much more to an eye test than just checking your vision, and I don’t think a lot of people realize that. After sharing my story on social media, I’ve received so many messages from people saying “I’m in my 30s and I’ve never had an eye test before. Because of your story, I’ve booked it and I’ve gone for an eye test. And that’s really important to me.”