By Sophie Norris
A single mum who had a mastectomy while five months pregnant claims her unborn daughter saved her life – and had a stunning photoshoot to commemorate their fight.
Terra Houska was unsure whether she or her daughter would survive when a lump near her left breast swelled to the size of an avocado in just three weeks.
She was so worried about their future that she refused to cut the tags off her baby gifts just in case they needed to be returned.
Mum-of-three Terra said she felt depressed immediately following her mastectomy but her spirits were lifted when she removed her bandages and saw her surgery scars and ‘cute’ bump.
Artist Terra, 38, decided to commemorate her ordeal with a brave photoshoot flaunting her mastectomy scars and baby bump.
After two rounds of baby-safe chemotherapy Terra gave birth to healthy daughter Zanni Houska on May 3.
Terra from Piedmont in South Dakota, USA, said: “It was hard looking in the mirror for the first time after the bandages came off but when I saw my cute belly it took the sadness away.
“Knowing my baby was inside of me and protecting me from this disease made everything feel so much better. She really saved my life and she and my boys keep me strong.
“I decided to get the pregnancy pictures because I felt it important to document everything.
“The pictures mark a time in my life I will always remember. I want Zanni to look back on them and see what we went through together.
“Taking the maternity photos felt empowering. I felt beautiful and that my daughter and I could make it through anything.”
Terra was 15 weeks pregnant when she discovered the lump in her armpit and visited the midwife for an ultrasound scan.
By the time she had a biopsy three weeks later the lump had grown to the size of an avocado.
Terra underwent a mastectomy and had 47 lymph nodes removed at Rapid City Regional Hospital in South Dakota on January 26 when she was five months pregnant.
Her family turned up to the hospital wearing t-shirts to support her on the day of her surgery.
Terra said: “I was about 15 weeks pregnant when I found a lump in my armpit. The midwife wanted to keep an eye on it and said if it didn’t go away they’d do a biopsy.
“It stayed and grew bigger. Between when I had the ultrasound scan and a biopsy three weeks later, the lump had doubled to the size of an avocado.
“The doctors think it was my pregnancy hormones that made the disease progress so quickly.
“When I found out I had cancer I was already 21 weeks pregnant, the week after that I found out I was having a little girl.
“My two boys were very excited about getting a little sister but the news I had cancer was just devastating for them.
“I was terrified Zanni wouldn’t make it. I didn’t take any price tags off gifts just in case she didn’t survive.
“By the time I got to the mastectomy the cancer had spread. I thought I was having four lymph nodes removed but when I woke up they told me they’d removed 47 in total.
“On the day of my surgery my family, friends and co-workers came to support me. They even got t-shirts printed.”
Following the surgery Terra was told she would have to choose between delaying chemotherapy to carry Zanni to full term or start the treatment and give birth to her at 24 weeks.
Instead she found a doctor able to treat pregnant women for cancer in Sioux Falls – a five-hour drive away.
After two rounds of chemotherapy before her daughter’s birth and subsequent treatment Terra’s PET (Positron emission tomography) scans showed no further signs of cancer.
Terra said: “I did two rounds of chemo while pregnant. I took a break after that to deliver Zanni.
“When she was born she needed a bit of help breathing but she was out of the neo-natal intensive care unit in no time and hasn’t had any problems since.
“Now she’s five-and-a-half weeks old. I named her Zanniyanwin which means ‘healthy woman’.
“Her big brothers Sinte, 7, and Mato, 6, adore her. She stops crying when they hold her.
“I have had chemo since giving birth and on my latest PET scan they didn’t find any evidence of cancer.
“I’ve got another six weeks of radiotherapy ahead then will have to take Herceptin [a breast cancer drug] every three weeks for a year.”