A new baby and cancer, all in 6 weeks

30 January 2019

On 10th February 2019, Mario Grandinetti will turn 4 years old. Little does he know that only six weeks after his celebrated arrival in 2015, his parent’s lives were thrown into complete turmoil.                    

Despite no history of cancer in her family his mum, Claudia Van Dijk, was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer and told to stop breastfeeding and to prepare for chemotherapy immediately. 

“My brain wasn’t even thinking cancer. The world fell apart really, because we’d just brought a new life into the world and then you’re being told you have cancer. 

“The next day I was admitted to hospital with the baby but I had 24 hours to stop breast feeding him which was really difficult with all the pregnancy hormones. It was very distressing, that was like a knife in my heart.”

Claudia was a 44 year old first time mum. She had sought treatment for mastitis and thought the lump she could feel was part of the milk duct infection. Extensive cancer treatment meant she never returned to breastfeeding Mario.

The plan was to have six months of chemotherapy to shrink the tumour before having a mastectomy, but Claudia’s mastitis returned days after her first chemo treatment. It was a serious infection that didn’t respond to antibiotics and after three weeks of trying to control the infection she needed an emergency mastectomy. Chemotherapy was stopped for four weeks while her wounds healed. 

In the weeks leading up to her mastectomy Mario couldn’t stay with Claudia in hospital because his cries would trigger her response to produce milk and prolong the infection, so her partner Matteo Grandinetti stopped work to look after the baby.   

“I lost 4 weeks of being a new mother, it was horrible. I felt quite useless.”

Claudia, who is the Chief Financial Officer of a software firm, spent most of her maternity leave undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy. “It pretty much destroyed me,” she said.

In May she will take part in the Hawaiian Walk for Women’s Cancer, a 35km walk through the suburbs that raises money for cancer research at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research in Perth. She says the Walk gives her a sense of purpose knowing that she can support scientists searching for more ways to beat cancer.

“I wanted to pay back in some way, and pay forward.” 

Claudia says the treatment she received came about because of discoveries in research and trials involving patients to help develop the drug. 

“So I’m a direct beneficiary of those patients and their sacrifice, and of scientific research. I owe it to keep helping to try and find a cure here. ” She says going in the Walk “is really about honouring the people who have lost their lives to cancer and raising that money for research which is so important.” 

Currently Claudia’s scans are free of cancer and Mario is getting ready to start full time kindy. 

To support Claudia’s walk, please donate by going to: http://bit.ly/claudia-walk

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