Real-life Special: A Mother’s Strength

We had such a fantastic response to our real life special earlier in the year, that we’ve decided to turn it into a regular feature. Over Winter and Spring we’ll be running another six stories, detailing the amazing and inspiring real life experiences of our readers and their families.

All families are unique, and we love to celebrate them – and to pay tribute to the strength and determination which enable people to overcome setbacks, large and small, to forge the family that they have hoped for. This issue you we bring you Sadie Sheliker who battled a rare cancer while she was pregnant, in order to give birth to baby Jessica; Samantha Feeney, who was distraught when she spontaneously went into labour at the end of her second trimester; and Kirsten Mieklejohn, who managed, very unusually, and through sheer force of will, to have a natural, home birth – even though her baby was in a breech position.

Pregnancy, and the arrival of a new baby, are transformative experiences for parents, and our children come into the world with their own individual stories already underway. Whether you’re suffering from a minor complication of pregnancy, or facing something more serious, it’s always comforting to know that other people have faced similar things, and with the love and support of those closest to them, have survived to tell the tale.

We hope you enjoy reading about this season’s families.

adie and John Sheliker had been together for eight years when they discovered that Sadie had cancer. Understandably, at that point, having a baby was the last thing on their minds.

“We found out about the cancer just after Christmas 2010,” remembers John. “Sadie had been coughing for a few months, so she went for a chest x-ray. They saw a shadow on her lungs, but initially they thought that it was benign, because she was a non-smoker and very young.”

However, further tests revealed that Sadie did indeed have cancer – not lung cancer, but Synovial Sarcoma – a very rare form which appears in soft tissue. Sadie and John were shocked, but determined to beat the illness. “It was devastating,” says John, “but Sadie was fantastic and took it in her stride.” Sadie was admitted to the Royal Marsden Hospital for chemotherapy, and was given six months of intensive treatment, followed by an operation to remove a third of her lung.

After the aggressive chemotherapy, John and Sadie assumed that Sadie wouldn’t be able to have children, but they were too relieved that Sadie seemed to be getting better to worry about it. “We didn’t really think about children, because we thought that the chemo had put paid to that. We were just happy that everything had gone as well as could be expected, and were getting on with our lives, going on holidays, and enjoying spending time together.”

Unfortunately, six months later, the cancer came back, in Sadie’s breast. This time the tumour was small enough to be removed, and Sadie was in hospital, about to have the operation, when she and John received some very unexpected news. “The nurses came in, sat us down, and asked us whether we realised that Sadie was pregnant! It was a massive shock, because we’d thought it was impossible.”

Despite the pregnancy the operation went ahead as planned, and afterwards Sadie and John were forced to make a decision. “We sat down with a doctor from the Marsden, to decide whether we wanted to go ahead with it. They said that they would support us in anything that we decided. It was a no-brainer.”

The pregnancy went smoothly, and Sadie felt well throughout the first two trimesters. Then, suddenly, at 28 weeks, she was rushed into hospital in acute pain. The doctors discovered that the cancer had come back again, and they decided that they would have to deliver Jessica early. “They asked Sadie to hang on until 30 weeks,” says John, “because it would be better for the baby. At exactly 30 weeks, after Sadie had been in pain for eleven days, they performed a caesarean and Jessica was born. I was at the head end!”

“I was absolutely over the moon – but there was also sadness, because Sadie was too ill to see Jessica straight away. When we were both able to go up and see her together, it was indescribable.”

Both mum and daughter were now in need of some expert medical attention. Jessica was whisked into special care in Lewisham Hospital, where she stayed for two weeks, before being transferred to the Princess Royal Hospital in Farnborough. “She was looked after by some fantastic nurses – we love them all,” says John. After ten weeks in hospital, Jessica was able to go home. “We couldn’t believe that it had finally happened – we were so happy to have our little baby in our home, doing normal things.”

Meanwhile, however, the cancer had returned in Sadie’s abdomen, back and clavicle. She was forced to undergo chemotherapy and radiotherapy for six months, which took a huge toll on her health. “After the chemo finished, we expected Sadie to be ill for a while – but she wasn’t getting any better,” explains John, “she couldn’t eat, and she was constantly sick.” Sadie was admitted to the Royal Marsden for tests, where it was discovered that a tumour in her abdomen had blocked her stomach.

Sadie and John were then given a pretty terrible dilemma. The surgeon offered them two options: to give Sadie a potentially fatal operation to bypass the tumour, or for her to go home, where she would be kept as comfortable as possible, but there would be nothing else that could be done.

“We didn’t really have a choice,” says John, “but saying goodbye to her before she went for the operation was the worst experience of my life. I thought I’d never see her again.”

The surgeon phoned John two hours later – to say that the operation had been a complete success. “I burst into tears in the middle of John Lewis!” Sadie had one further operation, to stem some internal bleeding, and she has recently been able to return to the family home in Bromley. For the time being, Sadie’s mum will be looking after both Sadie and Jessica, while John returns to work. “During all the time Sadie’s been in hospital, Jessica has been looked after by Sadie’s parents and aunt – they’ve been fantastic, nothing has been too much trouble,” says John. “My work have also been fantastic, and they’ve allowed me as much time off as I’ve needed, which has been a real help. All our friends have rallied round offering to help, they’ve been great – we couldn’t have coped without them.”

Jessica is now seven months old, and she is doing well. “She was weighed yesterday, and she’s 20lb,” says her proud father. “She sleeps through the night, and she’s a joy to be around.” And Sadie and John are staying positive. “It’s been a very eventful and emotional period, but hopefully Sadie is turning the corner. We live one day at a time, and just wish to be a happy family growing up together.”

Sarcoma UK is a small charity which raises money to combat the rare cancer which has affected the Shelikers. To donate please go to