Kathleen told to start chemo and lose her baby or amputate her leg
The humbling power of a mother’s love: Struck by bone cancer, pregnant Kathleen was told to start chemo and lose her baby – or amputate her leg… she didn’t hesitate
What would you be prepared to sacrifice for your child? Most mothers would instinctively say they’d lay down their life for their offspring. But mercifully, few are ever put to the test.
Poignantly, however, it’s a dilemma that Kathleen Osborne found herself presented with last year — and she never wavered.
Kathleen, known as Kat, is the young mother who revealed this week that, having sacrificed her leg so that she could save the life of her unborn baby, she is now terminally ill.
Diagnosed with bone cancer weeks into pregnancy, she was faced with the choice of aborting her third child and starting chemotherapy immediately, or having her right leg amputated.
Without hesitation she chose amputation.
Tragically, it wasn’t enough and the cancer has now spread through her lungs and is inoperable.
Kathleen, known as Kat (pictured with her daughter Aida May), is the young mother who revealed this week that, having sacrificed her leg so that she could save the life of her unborn baby, she is now terminally ill
The chances of Kat, 28, seeing any of her children into teenagehood are infinitesimally small, but she refuses to succumb to self-pity. ‘I’ve been dealt the worst set of cards,’ she says. ‘But that doesn’t mean my babies have to suffer. My children are my world. They won’t have me for long. So I’m doing everything in my power to give them enough love to last a lifetime.’
Every day she insists on walking her two sons Hayden, nine, and Leo, five, to school, all the while grappling with a crutch under one arm and pushing six-month-old baby Aida-May in her pram.
The journey is short but painfully slow. Kat only lost her leg to cancer last November and is still mastering her new situation. Bending down to kiss the boys goodbye before they scamper into class is taxing. But it’s a ritual she insists on.
‘I won’t ever let them leave before I’ve kissed them,’ she says. ‘There can’t be enough kisses and cuddles. They need to remember how much I love them.’
It’s impossible not to feel immensely sorry for Kat. She’s been dealt one blow after another. Each time she’s managed to bounce back, which makes her current situation so cruel.
Kat was just 11 when she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. The most common type of bone cancer, usually found in teenagers and young adults, it occurs when the cells that grow new bone form a cancerous tumour.
It started as a seemingly innocuous soft lump on her right knee. When it became painful, her mother took her to the GP who organised a range of scans and a biopsy.
‘Mum was with me when the doctor explained I had cancer,’ she recalls. ‘I was really scared and angry. I remember shouting and crying a lot.’
Diagnosed with bone cancer weeks into pregnancy, she was faced with the choice of aborting her third child and starting chemotherapy immediately, or having her right leg amputated. Without hesitation she chose amputation
Kat had every reason to be angry. Just a year earlier — in February 2004 — her father, Shaun, an IT worker, had died of a sudden heart attack when he was 38.
‘Dad went to the loo in the middle of the night and collapsed on the bathroom floor,’ she says quietly. ‘I heard Mum crying and trying to push the door open to get to Dad. But we couldn’t manage it. The paramedics took him away and I never saw him again. I was a real Daddy’s girl and I missed him like crazy.’
Still grieving her dad, Kat found herself undergoing an operation at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, in which most of her kneecap was removed and two metal rods inserted into her leg. She then endured chemotherapy while learning to walk again. During the treatment all her hair fell out.
‘The whole thing was tough,’ she recalls. ‘Mum was working and looking after my six-year-old brother, so she couldn’t visit often. I had to grow up fast.’
The treatment was regarded as a complete success. Kat went on to gain six GCSEs and planned to train as a nursery nurse. But, aged just 17 and in a steady relationship, she found herself pregnant.
‘It was a huge shock,’ she says. ‘I had been warned that the chemo would probably affect my fertility, so I wasn’t as careful as I should have been. But I’m not one to cry over spilt milk so I decided to make the best of it.’
It’s a life lesson Kat has been forced to embrace time and again.
Hayden was born on October 24, 2011, and Kat and her partner, Darren, settled into family life at their new home in Wisbech, Cambs, where she still lives.
‘Right from the start I loved being a mum,’ she says. ‘Being ill had made me grow up and appreciate the simple things in life. I was happy just playing with Hayden and taking him for little walks in his buggy.’
However, the strain of a new baby proved too much for the relationship. And when Hayden was three, she and Darren parted.
Kat was single for a year before she fell in love with an old school friend.
Still grieving her dad, Kat found herself undergoing an operation at Addenbrooke’s Hospital (pictured), Cambridge, in which most of her kneecap was removed and two metal rods inserted into her leg. She then endured chemotherapy while learning to walk again
‘I’ve known James — who is a year younger than me — for years,’ she says. ‘Right from the start he was wonderful with Hayden, who, sadly, doesn’t see his natural dad.’
Eager to extend her family, Kat was overjoyed when, in January 2016, their son Leo arrived. With a new baby and a boisterous four-year-old to care for, Kat was able to ignore the niggling pains in her shoulder.
But then, in May 2016, she was in such agony that James took her to A&E. Scans revealed that, after 11 years, the cancer had returned. It was now in her lungs. She would need chemotherapy to shrink the tumour followed by an operation to remove it.
‘I was devastated,’ she says. ‘The doctors were shocked, too. Childhood cancers normally come back within three years. I had been clear for 11 years and annual check-ups showed nothing.’ Leo was just three months old when Kat, then 22, started a gruelling chemotherapy treatment at Leicester Royal Infirmary. It was to last six months, with Kat only allowed home one week in four.
‘It was so much harder because I had my boys to think of,’ she says. ‘Leo was too tiny to understand why I had disappeared. But Hayden cried when I told him I needed to be in hospital and the medicine would make my hair fall out.
‘James brought them in to see me almost every day. But Hayden was so clingy, he had to be peeled off me when it was time to go.
‘I was in pieces, but I tried to make it as light as possible. He loves trains so I would promise him: “Next time you come, Daddy will bring you on the train.” ’
Kat missed so many milestones, such as Leo rolling over for the first time and taking his first faltering step. But one milestone she moved heaven and earth not to miss was Hayden’s first day at school.
‘I was there in the morning to get him dressed in his new uniform and walk him to school,’ she says. ‘I was so proud and terribly tearful.’
Kat finished her treatment in time for Christmas. In February 2017 she had the lower lobe of her right lung removed. Doctors told her it had been a complete success. She had six-monthly check-ups just to be on the safe side.
But then, in August 2020, she found a pea-shaped lump at the top of her right thigh.
Her GP organised a series of scans at Leicester Royal Infirmary. The results left Kat reeling. The cancer was back in her leg. She was also 16 weeks pregnant.
The chances of Kat, 28, seeing any of her children into teenagehood are infinitesimally small, but she refuses to succumb to self-pity. ‘I’ve been dealt the worst set of cards,’ she says. ‘But that doesn’t mean my babies have to suffer. My children are my world. They won’t have me for long. So I’m doing everything in my power to give them enough love to last a lifetime.’ Pictured: Kat with her daughter Aida May and her two sons Hayden and Leo
‘I sat there numb with shock,’ she recalls. ‘My periods have always been irregular so I had no idea. I was so excited to be expecting but devastated to know that the cancer had returned.’
The news left her with a dilemma. She could start chemotherapy immediately to shrink the tumour and it would hopefully save her leg, but she would need to terminate her pregnancy. Or she could save her baby and have her entire leg amputated.
‘I burst into tears,’ Kat says. ‘I’d only just discovered I was pregnant. Now I faced losing my baby.
‘They gave me the night to think it over but I knew my decision. The chances of beating the cancer were just as good either way. I could live with only one leg but I could never forgive myself for aborting my baby.
‘James was happy whatever my decision, but many of my friends thought I was mad.’
The amputation at London’s National Orthopaedic Hospital was scheduled for November 17, 2020.
Leo was just three months old when Kat, then 22, started a gruelling chemotherapy treatment at Leicester Royal Infirmary (pictured). It was to last six months, with Kat only allowed home one week in four
‘I couldn’t get my head around any of it,’ Kat says. ‘I went onto the [online] message boards for people with similar cancers but couldn’t find another young mum like me.’
She eventually broke the news to her boys as they were cuddled up on the sofa watching a Transformers film and told them she had something bad in her leg that doctors needed to take away but they weren’t to worry because the Transformers — who are robots — would make her a new leg: ‘They got very excited.’
But nothing could take away the dread. ‘Even in hospital it seemed unreal,’ she says.
In fact, it wasn’t until eight days after the operation, as Kat recovered in the Intensive Care Unit, that she could bear to look down at the empty place under the sheets where her leg should have been.
Still, she refused to waste time on self-pity. ‘My baby was safe and I was told that all the cancer was gone,’ she says. ‘My priority was getting home to my boys, so I pushed hard to get out of a wheelchair and get walking again.’
Incredibly, less than a month after the amputation, Kat walked through her front door on crutches. ‘I was a little wobbly and I had to collapse onto the sofa for cuddles,’ she says. ‘But the boys were so thrilled to see me, they didn’t seem fazed.’
Adapting to life with one leg must have been extraordinarily taxing, particularly as, perhaps due to the strain of her illness, her relationship with James had begun to fracture.
Although he plays a big part in the children’s lives (Hayden has always called him ‘Daddy’), he no longer lives with the family.
Kat doesn’t want to elaborate on the reasons for the split but says: ‘I miss him and life is much harder as a single mum. But I know the last few years have been horrendous for him, too, and I can’t blame him for needing some space.’
She dared to feel that her bad luck was finally behind her, particularly when she discovered she was expecting a little girl.
But then, in March, when she was 32 weeks pregnant, came the news that far from being eradicated, the cancer had returned with a vengeance.
‘I’d gone into hospital for an MRI scan for a completely unconnected issue when the oncologist rang,’ she says. ‘The scan had shown cancer cells in both my lungs.’
Kat needed to start chemotherapy as soon as possible. Although her baby was not due for another eight weeks, she agreed to have a Caesarean two days later — once the doctors had given the baby steroids to help speed up the development of her lungs. ‘They promised that my baby was in no danger,’ says Kat. ‘I just tried to focus on how lucky I was to meet my little girl early.’
Aida-May was born on March 12 weighing a healthy 4 lb 3 oz. Kat was allowed a cuddle before her little girl was whisked off to the Special Care Baby Unit.
‘I drank in every bit of her,’ says Kat. ‘She was tiny but so perfect.’
Less than two weeks after giving birth she found herself starting chemotherapy yet again.
‘The nurses allowed me my first cuddle in the Baby Unit on Mother’s Day,’ she smiles. ‘It was the best present ever.
‘When she came home in mid-April, we had the biggest party. She’s been through so much but she is a total joy. She is the cuddliest, smiliest baby you could wish for.’ Kat is acutely aware that because the cancer is so widespread, there is no prospect of a cure; the treatment — which ended this week — will simply buy her extra time with her family.
‘The oncologist has been frank,’ she says. ‘Because the cancer cells are so widespread it is inoperable. I haven’t asked how long I have left — I don’t want to know. And I haven’t told the boys. I don’t want them to worry.
‘So far scans have shown the cancer isn’t spreading, which is good. I don’t have time to waste in moaning. And in many ways I’m lucky. I have lost my hair, but I’m not suffering any other side-effects from the chemo. And I have the most wonderful children on earth.
‘I veer between being over-protective — they are still my babies — and trying to prepare them for life without me. Because I have one leg, they are inevitably doing more around the house. They get themselves ready for school and have started making their own breakfast. I just want every day to be happy and to leave them with memories of how much I loved them.
‘At some stage I need to plan who will care for them. My priority is that they stay together. When I am gone, they will need each other even more.
‘I worry that Aida is too little to remember me. But I hope the boys will talk about me and tell her how much I loved them and how I tried my hardest to always be there for them.’
- You can follow Kat’s story on her Instagram page: @xxmumzikatxx Or contribute on her crowdfunder page at crowdfunder.co.uk/kathleens-wish-an-dream
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