“Both my baby and I survived cancer”

After battling ovarian cancer, Jamie Koh was devastated to learn that her baby girl had the dreaded disease, too…

“I met Jeonghyo, my Korean husband, online on a language-exchange website ― he was learning English and I was learning Korean. We chatted daily for six months before he quit his job in Korea and flew over to see me. It's been close to three years now. 

I’d always wanted to have kids early, so we were really happy when we got pregnant. My pregnancy was extremely smooth. Apart from typical morning sickness, which stopped after the first trimester, I had no pregnancy complications or any other discomfort. I slept through the night without having to get up to pee, had no water retention and could walk as briskly as before. It was a breeze.

I’m lucky to have Elise because when I was 21, I found out that I had ovarian cancer. My tummy felt hard when I pressed on it ― it was so large people often offered me seats on the train, even though I wasn’t pregnant.

My tummy felt hard when I pressed on it ― it was so large people often offered me seats on the train, even though I wasn’t pregnant.”

I went for an ultrasound scan and found that I had tumours that were too large to be measured by the machine! I went to the polyclinic to get a referral to a hospital. When I was told that it would take about a month to get a hospital appointment, I broke down in front of the doctor. Somehow, they managed, incredibly, to squeeze in a same-day appointment at the National University Hospital. On doing an ultrasound scan at NUH, they determined that my condition was serious and scheduled me for an operation a week later to remove the tumours.

My condition was known as Ovarian Immature Teratoma, a cancer which mostly manifests in children, not so much in adults. I had two tumours ― one in each ovary. One measured 23cm x 20cm x 7cm and the other measured 9cm x 8cm x 3cm. There was also another 3cm cyst which they managed to remove during the operation.

Before the operation, I was made to sign a form which stated that I knew that one or both of my ovaries may be removed as a result of the operation. But I was lucky ― I came out of the operating theatre with both my ovaries intact.

The doctors recommended that I do adjuvant chemotherapy* as there was a 30 per cent chance of a relapse. I couldn’t decide and suffered from clinical depression as a result. I was warded for two weeks and ended up forgoing the chemotherapy treatment.

I’ve passed the five-year mark without relapsing. In fact, it was through a hospital blood test (one of the cancer markers is hCG) that I found that I was four weeks’ pregnant with Elise! Indeed, I’d much rather have a baby than a relapse! Luckily, my fertility hasn’t been affected by the cancer treatment as I not only had Elise but am now pregnant with my second child.

* Adjuvant chemotherapy fights cancer by combining different forms of healing, such as chemotherapy and radiation, or chemotherapy and surgery. Usually, the chemotherapy will be used after all of the known and visible cancer has been removed surgically or with radiation.

Read how Jamie discovered her daughter had a form of cancer that affects young children...next.