Page last updated at 02:24 GMT, Tuesday, 1 June 2010 03:24 UK

'Motherhood helped me fight breast cancer'

By Jane Elliott, video Neil Bowdler
Health reporters, BBC News


Casualty star Rebekah Gibbs on motherhood and cancer

Rebekah Gibbs was just weeks away from giving birth when she first noticed a lump in her breast.

Doctors were reassuring and said it would be benign.

But just months after having baby Gigi and after pushing for a referral, the former Casualty actress was told she had a particularly aggressive cancer.

Now she is celebrating her second year clear of the disease, but admits her life will never be the same again.

"I have just had an all-clear. You don't get a band waiting for you at the hospital doors, but it is a 'wow I have done my two years'.

A tumour was growing inside me when I was pregnant I just think could it happen again
Rebekah Gibbs

"I won't get cocky though and I take each day as it comes. I am always a little unsure about the future."

Rebekah, who played paramedic Nina Farr in the popular soap, said her daughter had been pivotal in her recovery.

"If I hadn't had Gigi it would have affected me more deeply," she said.

"I don't know how and I don't know why, but she was pivotal in healing me.

"Every day I had to get up for her, no matter how I felt.

"She kept my mind off it, if she had a nap I'd have one - we did a lot of sleeping."

Rebekah Gibbs
Rebekah played paramedic Nina Farr

The first year of her daughter's life was spent in the house, as Rebekah's poor immune system due to cancer treatment made it difficult to mix with other children.

But, she says, it was a calm and happy time.

"My life was so boiled down from what it had been on Casualty it was nice."

During her chemotherapy Rebekah, aged 37, took the drug Zoladex - a hormonal therapy - which temporarily halted her periods during treatment to help preserve her fertility.

But her cancer has left her too scared to consider another baby.

"A tumour was growing inside me when I was pregnant - I just think could it happen again? Nobody can tell me for sure.

"Sometimes I think she needs a little playmate, friends are having second children, but my world is complete."

Rebekah hopes to go back to work later this year, but says having Gigi has made her more relaxed about her career.

"When I am not working I get to spend all my time with my favourite person, Gigi.

"I think before kids when you don't get a gig it is like the end of the world.

"Now I hope to get back to work by the end of the year."

Difficult to diagnose

Rachel Rawson, clinical nurse specialist at Breast Cancer Care, said it is important, like Rebekah, to remain "breast aware" during pregnancy.

"Between one and two per cent of the 46,000 cases of breast cancer diagnosed in the UK each year occur during or soon after pregnancy," she said.

"There is no evidence to suggest that breast cancer is more aggressive during pregnancy or that becoming pregnant can cause breast cancer.

"However, we do know that it can be particularly difficult to investigate and diagnose the disease in pregnant women or those who are breastfeeding as some of the diagnostic tools, such as mammograms or biopsies, may be unsuitable for use during this time."

She says callers to the charity's helpline often say they are confused by the constant breast changes they experience during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

But she adds: "It is vital that women continue to be breast aware and look for any new and persistent changes."

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