Young mum's bowel cancer battle

By Ged Cann -
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Samantha McPherson and her partner Nick Clasper with their son Lachlan. Photo / Danielle Nicholson.
Samantha McPherson and her partner Nick Clasper with their son Lachlan. Photo / Danielle Nicholson.

At just 26 years old and 28 weeks pregnant, Samantha McPherson was diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer.

A creeping infection in her blood caused by the tumour meant the only way Samantha could receive the treatment she needed was for her premature son to be delivered by caesarean.

The procedure would reveal just how advanced the cancer was, and with only two weeks between diagnosis and treatment, the young mother barely had time to recover from two serious surgeries before intensive radiation and chemotherapy began.

Now a Givealittle page has been set up to help the young Matamata family deal with expenses related to the treatment.

For Samantha, those first few weeks of undiagnosed pain are a blur, but for partner Nick Clasper they stand out stark in his memory.

"Sam was unwell for a couple of weeks before we went to hospital and no one could pinpoint what was happening," he said.

Samantha told doctors there was a history of bowel cancer on her grandmother's side, but the possibility was originally dismissed.

"I kept on saying 'can you just have a look' when I was in hospital. That's how it was found," said Samantha, who was born, raised and studied journalism in Hamilton.

Now Samantha wants to stress the importance of getting a check, especially if there is a family history.

"You know your own body, and if you feel there's something wrong down there get it checked out. It just doesn't matter what age you are."

In those early days Samantha was sent home with painkillers.

When Samantha started suffering fevers and sweats every night between midnight and 3am, they returned again.

This time when Samantha was sent to hospital she wouldn't leave until the problem was found.

Nick had work the next day, but at 1am he received a phone call any partner would dread.

"Sam had taken a turn really fast. She was whiter than the pillow and shaking and vomiting," Nick said.

Finally doctors were able to see just how ill Samantha became at night.

"We spent four or five hours giving her blood transfusions, giving tests, and they said there was nothing to look for," Nick said.

At this point Samantha was going septic from the infection nobody could identify.

It was another week in the high dependency unit before doctors came back with a theory - appendicitis or a twisted cyst.

Finally, an MRI revealed an abnormality in Samantha's bowel.

"They decided the best thing to do was deliver Lachlan early, because he was stable and Sam was not," Nick said.

Young Lachlan Clasper is a fighter, just like him mum Samantha McPherson. Photo / Danielle Nicholson.
Young Lachlan Clasper is a fighter, just like him mum Samantha McPherson. Photo / Danielle Nicholson.

"If they did it early they could do it under controlled circumstances rather than an emergency caesarean."

Lachlan was safely delivered, protected in the womb from the septicemia, but the procedure finally revealed to the doctors just how bad the infection was.

The tumour had pushed through Samantha's bowel wall and leaked into her abdomen.

Samantha came out of what was supposed to be a straightforward caesarean with an ileostomy bag.

Nick barely had time to welcome his son into the world before he was called back to his wife's side to be told the news.

"It was Friday, she didn't see Lachlan until early Sunday night. Sam has no real memory of anything during that week when she got to hospital," Nick said.

The infection needed to be treated with a strong course of antibiotics so Samantha could have a chance to recover before the first round of chemotherapy and radiation could start.

The couple were told it would likely be a month before cancer treatment was started, but just the next day Samantha had an appointment with oncology.

"It was three days after that when we began treatment," Nick said.

Diagnosis to treatment had taken just two weeks.

The couple hoped to harvest eggs so that in the future they could look at surrogacy, but there was not even time for this.

"The radiation where it's targeted is affecting her ovaries, and it means she starts menopause at the age of 26," Nick said.

Samantha said the hardest part was battling the nausea and loss of appetite from chemotherapy everyday and radiation treatment five days a week.

"I have my days, some days are better than others," Samantha said.

Sundays are the good days because Samantha has recovered a little from the last week's radiation.

Unfortunately the journey isn't over.

Once her first round of treatment is finished, Samantha will have surgery to remove the tumour and her uterus. The procedure will likely leave Samantha with a permanent colostomy bag.

Lachlan continues to flourish but it will be a number of weeks before he can be taken home.

Born weighing 1.13kg, almost six weeks on he weighs almost 2.4kg.

Having suffered chronic endometriosis earlier in life Samantha had been told she would likely be unable to conceive.

Samantha and Nick are counting their blessings that Lachlan is healthy.

"A couple of kids would have been nice but we will run with what we've got. Lachlan is our little blessing and our little star. We are just so thankful we have at least got him," Nick said.

A Givealittle page has been set up to help Samantha and Nick afford the ongoing costs of transport to and from hospital and the added time Samantha must take off work.

"Samantha saved her son and her son saved her - we just want this treatment to be a success so her little boy can have his mum forever," Nick said.

"We are so humbled by the support that has come back from Givealittle. We didn't expect anywhere near what's come through so far and the people that are coming out of the woodwork who we haven't spoken to for a while - it's amazing."

If you would like to donate to Samantha and Nick visit

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