London - Told she had cancer and then only a few weeks later that she was pregnant, Angela Marsh faced an agonising choice.
She could have immediate treatment and lose her child – or delay surgery until birth and risk the disease spreading.
So instead arsh took a third option: a high-risk operation that is thought not to have been tried in Britain before.
It worked and now she is preparing for the first birthday of Zachary, the child she thought she would never see.
“It’s been such a tough time, but to have such a special, happy baby today is the best possible reward for everything we went through,” said the 27-year-old.
“Every time he smiles, it feels like he’s summing up our whole experience over the past 12 months and telling us everything’s going to be fine now.”
The barmaid was given the shattering news she had cancerous cells after her very first cervical screening test in May 2012.
She was referred for surgery at the Christie Hospital in Manchester which, a month later, told her she was pregnant.
It was then that doctors offered her the third option – trying to remove her cervix while not harming the unborn child.
“They told me the operation hadn’t even been done in this country before,” said Marsh, who also has a seven-year-old son.
“But the alternatives were losing the baby and knowing I might not be able to get pregnant again, or waiting until after he was born when it might have spread.
“It was an easy decision for me to make – as far as I was concerned, I was just leaving it to fate to as to whether the baby survived or not.”
To give Zachary the best chance of survival, the operation at Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester was delayed until 11 weeks into her pregnancy.
Surgeons removed the cancerous cervix and rebuilt it using surrounding tissue.
The extremely delicate procedure – normally undertaken only on women who are not pregnant but who want to be able to have a child – enables the foetus to remain in the womb.
Although Zachary grew normally, Marsh, from Bolton, became convinced the worst would happen. “I understood that even if the baby survived the initial operation, it would still be a high-risk pregnancy,” she said.
“In order to cope I worked on coming to terms with the scenario that I would have no baby at the end of this ordeal so I didn’t have to grieve for it if the worst happened. It was extremely difficult for me and my whole family.
“As the pregnancy went on I began to accept I needed to buy some baby things, but there was no excitement in it. I left everything at other people’s houses so there was nothing in my home. As the weeks went by and the chances of my baby actually surviving improved, I still could not allow myself to believe everything would be all right.”
Zachary was successfully delivered by caesarean section, weighing a healthy 7lb 2oz.
“Only when I heard him cry did I allow myself to hope that everything was going to be OK,” added Marsh.
“But straight away it was as if the past 12 months hadn’t happened – he’s been absolutely brilliant.”
Marsh and Rick Norman, her shop manager partner, will next week celebrate Zachary’s birthday with a party at Wythenshawe’s Macmillan information and support centre.
Julie Kiernan, the Macmillan nurse who cared for Angela, said: “We believe this is the first time this operation has been performed on a pregnant woman in this country.
“Angela had a whole team around her to ensure the risks were minimised and her baby was given the best chance of survival.”