Hi Mamamates 👋🏻
I had the pleasure of interviewing Gemma Isaacs! She's a mother, a breast cancer warrior, and notably one of the most inspirational women we've come across within our community. She's a woman who doesn't take no for an answer and has pushed through every hurdle to come out on the other side stronger than ever. In this interview, we covered topics around mental health, her breast cancer journey, fertility, weaning, motherhood, and so much more.
So, Let's jump straight into it! ✨
Q. Hey Gemma! Tell us a bit about yourself, your family, and your beautiful children…
My husband and I met 11 years ago whilst I was living in Israel but he somehow lured me back to London where we now live. We got married 7 years ago and have gone on to have 2 beautiful children, Ella Rae 4, and Jack 1, a Boxer dog named Reggie and a fish named Nemo. Home is very loud and noisy, with a fair amount of chaos but I wouldn't want it any other way.
Q. Describe motherhood in five words...
Q. You've been incredibly open about sharing your breast cancer and fertility journey - why is it important that you share your story?
When you hear the word Cancer, unfortunately, your mind only really goes to one place. It is extremely scary for anyone going through cancer, and unfortunately, some people do not survive a diagnosis, but there are also those that do. I am one of the lucky ones, but I found myself surrounded by negativity and not a lot of positivity. I had to search for the good and the hope, and I want to make sure that more people share their positive outcomes.
So much money and time goes into research for cancer treatments and drugs, but what I found hardest to deal with was the fact that as a young woman and as a young mum, my fertility would be affected. Treatments are there to save your life, and when you are young, there is a lot of life left to live. Unfortunately, not much is done at the moment to support women after treatment, to get back to living, and, in particular, to allow them to continue to try to have a family if that is what they wish.
I was lucky enough to be able to afford a round of IVF between diagnosis and my first chemotherapy, but for many people, this simply isn't possible, and there is nothing in the way of funding that can support those who cannot afford it. There isn't time with cancer to go on an IVF waiting list on the NHS. In general, most people have a 2-3 week window between diagnosis and starting treatments to try a fertility round, and getting a large sum of money in that time is very tricky.
I want to share my journey because it was one that ended up without any medical intervention. After treatment, I took matters into my own hands, changed my diet to a Vegan one, exercised, walked, moved, and avoided any additional hormones. There is little to confirm that this led to my pregnancy, but for me, I cannot attribute it to anything else except a Vegan diet.
There is always hope and positive stories, and I want to be a voice of hope when someone needs it most because I certainly did.
Q. When were you first diagnosed with breast cancer? Did you have any symptoms before you were diagnosed?
I was diagnosed with breast cancer without any symptoms. I knew I was potentially a carrier of the BRCA gene and was on a screening program via the NHS and the Royal Marsden. I decided to have my BRCA test and the results took far longer to come back than I expected.
I made an appointment to see the doctor as I wanted to see if I could go privately for my tests to hurry the results and whilst I was there, I asked him to double-check me. On examination, he felt a swelling in my armpit, no present or obvious lumps in my breasts but referred me for a biopsy and 3 days later came the diagnosis.
I had nothing more than a funny feeling and I would say to anyone if anything is bothering you, even if you think it is minor, there is never any harm in double-checking. An early diagnosis for me, almost certainly saved my life.
Q. How did your breast cancer diagnosis affect your mental health, and how did you form a positive mindset throughout such a difficult time?
Think it was something in the back of my mind that I always expected to happen to me at some point and perhaps because I was aware of my genetic disposition, subconsciously I had been preparing myself. The diagnosis itself was hard but once I knew that there was a treatment plan, I found a strange type of calm. I think in a way, going through treatment was the most secure I felt in a long time. I was no longer worrying about getting cancer, I had it. I was no longer worrying about dying, I knew I wouldn't and so, I just got on with it. I went through the motions, doctors told me what drugs to take, nurses told me where to be on what given day and I had very little time to think. It was only after the treatment stopped and the well-wishers were fewer, that I actually stopped and reflected on what had happened over the past year and I would say it was then that the mental health struggle for me began. Worry and fear set in of recurrence, of trauma, PTSD, and that is still something I am trying to navigate.
Q. At the time of your diagnosis, Ella Rae was only 12 months old. Did your intense treatment impact how you navigated motherhood? Did you feel like you missed out on anything?
I had a weakened immune system whilst going through chemotherapy and places like kid's birthday parties and soft plays were a hotbed of germs and somewhere I had to avoid. So that was the physical things I missed out on but more so, what I really craved was having the mundane worries of motherhood like anyone else. Most new mothers worry about bedtimes, sleep training, tantrums and I was worried about survival.
I longed for the trivial issues that I saw others around me have. One thing I am grateful for is that Ella Rae was so young, she had no idea what was going on. She never noticed when I lost my hair, lost my eyebrows, or had bandages or physical scars. To her, I was mum and she treated me the same.
Q. After finishing treatment, you were told by a fertility doctor that it looked like your ovaries had stopped working, and you likely wouldn't be able to have another child. We can only imagine how painful this must have felt. How did you react to the news? What's the one thing that you remember telling yourself? And now, looking back how does that make you feel?
I think that was the hardest thing for me to cope with across my diagnosis and treatment. I remember going out with a friend that evening who told me "don't believe everything, doctors can be wrong" and I took that to heart and decided to try everything I could to prove them wrong.
Q. What lifestyle changes did you make while trying to conceive against the odds?
I researched a lot and a common theme was diet, particularly a Vegan diet had linked those with fertility trouble to conception. I am an avid gym-goer, I have always had a healthy diet but decided I had nothing to lose by going vegan and adopting a vegan diet. After 2 months of going vegan, I got my cycles back, something that hadn't happened in two years, and from that moment, I truly believed it was going to work.
Q. Can you describe the moment you found out you were pregnant with your second child?
To be honest, it was all so surreal. My husband kept telling me I was being really emotional and he was avoiding me. I put it down to my body adjusting to cycles again but I had bought a pregnancy test on the off chance. I did a test but it was an own-brand range and after 2 minutes nothing happened so I put it in the bin ( even though I was supposed to wait for 5 minutes)/. A couple of hours later before I was getting ready to go out, I thought I should just triple check the bin, and then, fishing out the test I saw a positive line. I was shocked - screamed at my husband to run to boots before it closed and buy some more tests and there were 3 positive tests staring back at me. I was excited yes but I think nervous was the overriding feeling both then and throughout my pregnancy as I was so used to bad news. That may sound sad but I didn't feel like I was ever going to have something good happen again... I no longer feel that way
Q. Has your outlook on life changed since fighting cancer and having two children?
I don't sweat the small stuff as much but I am still trying to figure out the answer to that question!
Q. What advice would you give someone who thinks they may have breast cancer or has been newly diagnosed?
Take one day at a time, only deal with what is right in front of you because it is much easier to overcome small hurdles than face the mountain in front of you. And find positive people, they keep you afloat!
Q. What are the biggest challenges you are currently facing as a mum of two?
As a full-time career mum, juggling childcare, office hours, and running a house is a real challenge and I should be far more organised than I actually am!
Q. Mental health plays such a vital role in anyone's day-to-day life. What are a few things that you do to keep afloat not only as a mum but also as an individual trying to navigate your personal identity?
Exercise for me is a complete saviour. I go to the gym at 6 am every day to have my own time but also to keep myself healthy. It is a routine that I crave and every workout I do, I am reminded of how strong I really am
Q. When did you first come across Mamamade? And what's your favourite aspect of our brand?
Sophie and I were actually in the same antenatal group so I was lucky enough to be an early tester of Mamamade products! The ease of it is brilliant, particularly as someone who found weaning extremely stressful and time-consuming. I found it so hard to think of recipes and food mixes that hit all the food groups and Mamamade makes life much easier for me
Q. How does Mamamade fit into your schedule as a family?
Ashamed to say that time is not on our side so it is a brilliant solution for us when trying to feed everyone before a busy nursery and school run! It also takes the worry away that my son isn't getting a balanced diet so for me, MamaMade ticks every box
I would like to say a huge thank you to Gemma for taking the time out for this interview! I am honoured to know and share your motherhood and breast cancer journey through this blog to hopefully help other women who are looking for some support and guidance. If this blog has resonated with you, please share your thoughts with Mamamade on our Instagram or Facebook group. And follow Gemma on Instagram at @gemma_isaacs.
Himanshi @ Mamamade