Real Life

Real life: I'm a mum-of-seven and I was diagnosed with terminal cancer while I was pregnant

We'd waited our whole lives for this moment, then disaster struck.

By Laura Masia

Alisha Salih, 30, from Mount Annan, NSW, shares her inspiring story;

I laughed into my coffee as my friend Nicole made a joke over brunch.
Before tucking into my delicious-looking scrambled eggs, I heard my phone ping with a notification.
It was a friend request on Facebook from a guy called Metin.
He's cute, I thought, flicking through his profile pictures, but who is he?
Although we shared mutual friends, he was a stranger, so I quickly declined his request and returned to my food.
As a single mum of three kids, Jacob, eight, Kiara, six, and Leon, five, I had my hands full – romance was the last thing on my mind.
"Received any Facebook friend requests lately?" asked Nicole.
"How'd you know?!" I asked.
She chuckled.
Me with Nicole (right) I'm so glad she set us up. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
Turned out Metin was a single dad to three girls and a friend of hers.
"He's a male version of you," she said.
With her encouragement, I started chatting to him.
After all, Nicole was my bestie and wouldn't think of setting me up with some loser.
Part of me kept thinking about what a spunk Metin was.
When we met in person the following week, sparks flew between us.
"My girls are my world," he said, boasting about Dilara, six, Sienna, five, and Mileyna, four.
"My kids are my number-one priority, too," I nodded.
Me with Jacob, Leon and Kiara - my kids mean everything to me. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
We started dating, but kept it a secret from the kids until we were sure it was serious.
It only took three months for me to know Metin was the one, so we brought all our children together to an indoor playground.
"This is Mummy's friend," I told my little ones.
They were polite to him, but more excited about having new kids to play with.
Within minutes, they were all running around giggling together.
"When are we gonna see our new friends again?" Leon asked as we drove home.
I couldn't ignore the spring in my step – I hadn't felt this happy in years.
A few weeks later, the kids went to stay with their dad as I was about to head off on a month-long holiday overseas with friends.
I hadn't known Metin when I'd bought my ticket, but I'd miss him terribly.
"You deserve this break, babe," he said.
I had a blast, but when I got home, I received an unexpected letter.
My heart leapt at the word: eviction.
After five years in our rental apartment, the real estate was booting us out because the owner wanted to sell.
The date on the notice sent a shiver down my spine.
Metin with Mileyna, Dilara and Sienna. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
It had been sent just after I'd flown out – I had only two weeks to find a new home!
Metin wasn't half as worried as me.
"It's a sign," he said, grinning. "Let's move in together."
"I'm not sure…" I said.
We'd only been dating for a few months – living under the one roof seemed a bit rushed.
"C'mon, it's destiny!" Metin insisted.
He soon put my mind at ease and we found our dream home straightaway.
Life together was bliss – all our kids got along so well.
Metin and I. We were meant to be together. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
One day, after almost a year of living together, I noticed a lump on my left breast, and went to the doc right away to get it checked.
Thankfully, a scan showed it was just a cyst.But it soon turned into an open wound on my nipple that kept getting painfully stuck to my bra.
Worried the doc had missed something, I went back for a second opinion.
Again, she said it was a cyst that had become infected, so she gave me antibiotics.
I got on with life, hoping that would be the end of it.
A little while later, Metin and I decided to try for a baby.
After eight months, we'd had no luck so we had fertility testing.
Metin was crushed to learn that his hormone levels weren't quite right – he'd need treatment until they balanced out.
"The baby can wait," I told him.
An ultrasound showed the baby's heartbeat wasn't strong, so I had to take extra precautions.
I had to take it easy and stopped preparing for my body-building immediately.
But as the pregnancy hormones raced through my body, the cyst in my breast started growing again.
"I'll write you a script for antibiotics," the doc said.
But with my baby's fragile state, I couldn't risk it.
We were so thrilled to learn that we were expecting a baby. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
I started training for a body-building competition when, two months into prep, I started bleeding.
Medical tests revealed surprising news.
"Congratulations," the doc said. "You're pregnant!"
They were the words Metin and I had both desperately wanted to hear, but I was terrified.
"Then why am I spotting?" I asked.
The doc scheduled an emergency ultrasound for the next day.
When Metin arrived home from work, I couldn't keep the news from him.
"I'm pregnant!" I blurted.
"No way," he said in complete disbelief.
Once he realised I wasn't pulling his leg, he broke down in tears: our dream was coming true.
The next day, Metin came with me to hospital.
I tried to wait it out but as the weeks crept on, the growth kept getting larger.
I'd mention it to my docs during each check-up, but they were convinced it was just a cyst. I disagreed.
"I want to see a specialist," I demanded.
They relented and I had a biopsy.
Two days later, Metin came with me for the results.
I dived into my body building prep. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
He was a nervous wreck, but I'd heard "just a cyst" so many times, I expected that's what I'd be told again.
The doc didn't waste any time. "Alisha, you have breast cancer," he said softly.
I blinked in shock. It was stage three and I'd need a mastectomy immediately.
Tears pricked my eyes as Metin took over discussing my diagnosis and treatment options with the doc.
My mind could only think of one thing: I was 30 weeks' pregnant.
How could this be happening?
I took a deep breath and sat down in front of our kids.
There was never a dull moment with Jacob, 11, Dilara, nine, Kiara, nine, Leon, eight, Sienna, eight, and Mileyna, seven, but this time life had thrown us something serious.
"Mummy has breast cancer," I said, trying to keep calm, "but I'm going to be fine."
Their eyes grew wide with worry.
"What about the baby?" Jacob asked.
Metin, rubbed my tummy lovingly.
"Bub will be here in no time," he said.
With that, all six kids smothered me in a huge hug.
My baby shower two weeks after the mastectomy. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
One week later, I was prepped for surgery.
Docs had wanted me to start chemo right away, but I refused, too scared that it might harm my baby.
"You sure?" Metin asked me.
I knew it was a gamble, but I couldn't risk anything happening to the baby we'd been trying to have for years.
Instead, I agreed to have a mastectomy at 33-and-a-half weeks.
Then, once I'd recovered, docs would perform a caesarean at 36 weeks.
I'd have chemo after that.
"You'll be okay, little one," I whispered to my tummy as I was wheeled into the operating theatre.
When I woke up, Metin was by my side.
"It went well," he soothed. "And the baby's fine."
Two weeks later, we welcomed baby Isaac into our lives.
When I held him for the first time, everything felt right; I could forget about cancer and enjoy being a mum.
But this was only a brief reprieve. The chemo knocked me for six, leaving me exhausted and nauseous.
But with six kids and a newborn to look after, I just had to get on with it.
We went to get the results of my mastectomy and follow-up tests.
It revealed that I had a nine-centimetre tumour in my breast and seven cancerous lymph nodes, which had been removed, but
the cancer had also spread to my liver.
It was now stage-four and terminal.
Isaac's birth brought me so much joy. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
"You could have anywhere between 12 months to six years left," the doctor said gently.
It was hard to go on with a death sentence looming over me, but someone had to care for the kids while Metin went to work – without his income, we'd have nothing.
One day, Metin pulled out a notepad.
"Hun, what are some things you'd love to do?" he asked.
"You mean for dinner?" I asked in a daze.
"No, for yourself!" he laughed. "Have a think – we can make a list."
I decided on things like going on a family holiday, slow-dancing at sunset after a romantic dinner, going horse riding and visiting the Royal Easter Show with the kids.
"Are you sure?" Metin asked after reading my list. "Everything involves me and the kids. I want this to be for you!"
"You guys are my life," I replied. "I just want us to have happy memories."
Shortly after, my birthday rolled around.
Each year, my best friend, Nicole, and I always hired a make-up artist named Kristy to doll us up before we headed out to party.
But because of the chemo, I wasn't feeling well enough to hit the town this year.
We were thrilled to visit the Royal Easter Show thanks to Chanel Nine's Today Show. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
As the kids were with their other parents, Metin and I decided to go out for dinner.
Kristy came over to do my make-up and was brought to tears as I told her my story.
On the way to dinner, Metin asked me to put on a blindfold. I agreed, but wondered what he was up to.
He led me into a room, then let go of my hand, saying: "You can take off the blindfold now."
As I did, Metin got down on one knee, ring in hand.
"Will you marry me?" he asked.
"Yes!" I exclaimed, then kissed him.
Suddenly, I heard applause and realised we were surrounded by our family and friends, who were all wearing colourful wigs.
Metin had organised the whole thing!
A few days later, Kristy heard about my engagement and messaged me.
I'd love to do your wedding make-up free of charge, she wrote.
I've made a Facebook post encouraging people in the industry to lend a hand for your big day. Can I give them your number?
I only saw Kristy once a year and was touched by her generosity.
Within three hours, I had over 400 comments from people who wanted to help us out. It truly warmed my heart.
Little Isaac has completed our family. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
Six months later, we held the ceremony in our yard, arriving in style with a motorcade of fancy cars, motorbikes and a drum line.
Walking down the aisle, I held back tears of joy as I looked at Metin and our kids.
When we walked into the reception hall, our mouths hit the floor.
The room was covered in white flowers, candles and white floor tiles with our names written in delicate gold calligraphy.
Our wedding was a big, beautiful family affair. (Image exclusive to Take 5)
Before dinner, Metin got up to speak.
"Alisha, you are my soulmate and the love of my life," he choked. "No matter what God has in store, I'll be by your side."
My heart swelled with love. Despite everything, I felt like the luckiest woman in the world.
Now, I'm taking things one day at a time.
No-one knows how long I have left, but I want to live life to the fullest.
We're slowly working our way through my bucket list.
We've been lucky enough to do most things, including taking a family holiday to Fiji.
My main hope is that Metin and I can prepare our kids for life, and create as many happy memories as possible.
I'm sharing my story to urge women to trust their gut when something feels wrong.
If doctors had run the right tests, I wouldn't be in this position.
I don't know how long I have left, but the love Metin and I share will last forever.
If you'd like to follow Alisha's journey, you can find her on alishas_breastcancer_journey

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