It’s supposed to be the happiest time in a pregnant woman’s life, bringing a healthy newborn baby home as a mum for the first time. For Katie Potts, the elation was abruptly and painfully cut short. Fatima Halloum talks to Katie about an illness that affects an estimated 15,540 Australians a year.
Not many people would describe being pregnant as “really enjoyable”, but Werribee’s Katie Potts does.
“All my blood tests and observations and everything was all perfect the whole way through,” she said.
“I barely had morning sickness, I was energetic, I went to the Foo Fighters a week before [my son] was born, It was the smoothest pregnancy you could possibly ask for.”
On March 14, Katie brought her son Magnus into the world and instantly became enraptured with him.
“I was in that newborn bubble, he’s everything you could dream of, just everything you want when you give birth.” Katie said.
The bubble popped a week later, when Katie began feeling unwell.
“I thought it was potentially postnatal depression just because … I just had a baby and emotions are going everywhere and hormones and all that sort of stuff,” she said.
But as Katie grew weaker day by day she began to sense what she experienced couldn’t just be normal new parent exhaustion.
“I still kind of thought it was in my head and then three weeks after he was born, I came to stay with my parents and that’s when we went to the doctors,” she said.
Katie’s blood test results showed irregular liver function and she was rushed to hospital.
“They thought there was an infection, for three days they were looking for infection and then they sent me for a CT and that’s when the bad news came,” she said.
The bad news was a diagnosis that was both inoperable and incurable.
“I was in disbelief when they said ‘unfortunately we’ve found that you’ve got cancer’. In my head, I was kind of like ‘it’s only a little bit of cancer, like it would be operable and it’d be fine’, but then obviously, my world was turned upside down pretty quickly,” Katie said.
Katie’s stage four bowel cancer had spread to her liver and she would need to undergo 12 rounds of chemotherapy.
“I just had a baby and was ready to start the next stage of our life. It was pretty devastating,” she said.
“My initial thought was ’cry’ and then I was like, ‘alright, I’m gonna beat this’ because I have to. I’ve got this brand new baby who needs his mum and I’ve got so much life to live.”
Katie said she’s tried to keep positive and believes she can beat the odds.
“Obviously, there’s been some moments of tears but mostly just trying to stay positive because I think if your mind gives up, your body sort of follows,” she said.
“Life is just beginning really. I’ve got so much to live for, not just for Magnus but for everyone including myself.”
To give Katie and her family physical and financial respite, her friend Jess started a GoFundMe page to help raise money.
In the seven days the page has been online, Katie has received more than $35,000 in donations and support from loved ones and empathetic strangers.
“It’s so humbling, there’s been such an outpouring from my work, from my friends, from my family, people that I haven’t heard from since primary school, I’ve been lost for words really,” Katie said.
Jess has known Katie for more than 10 years and knows from when her own father was unwell how much of toll financial stress can have.
“I just thought if there’s anything that can make life easier for Katie and for Ben and especially for Magnus, that’s something I knew that a lot of people would want to do,” Jess said.
“So many people, I’m sure have said to her, ‘if there’s anything you need’ and I just wanted to give people an avenue to help and to do something.”
Jess said although the support has been overwhelming, it wasn’t surprising.
“I knew that there would be a lot of people that wanted to be there for her but I think it’s still quite overwhelming to see where it’s gotten so far,” Jess said.
Katie says she hopes people learn from her story and don’t hesitate to seek professional advice.
“I’m very diligent with my health and there were really no signs that I was unwell. That makes it really hard, because bowel screening in Australia is not until you’re 50,” Katie said.
“But I just think even if people have a little niggle, don’t question it, just go to the doctor.”
Katie encourages people to live their lives like tomorrow isn’t a given.
“Especially the last two years when we’ve been in lockdown, it’s been a hard fog to come out of but I think life is not guaranteed, and I just want people to get out there and take all those opportunities and look after themselves,” she said.