Rachel Bailey, 28, was 21 weeks pregnant in January this year when she noticed she was bleeding.
Ms Bailey, who lives in Southwark and runs a dog walking business, immediately headed to nearby St Thomas’ Hospital for an emergency check-up.
While it was a relief to find her baby was healthy, one scan showed the entrepreneur had a previously undetected grapefruit-sized tumour on one of her kidneys.
An MRI and biopsy showed the six-centimetre tumour was malignant and needed removing to save the expectant mother’s life. Due to the pregnancy scan, it had been caught in the early stages and was operable.
Ms Bailey, who gave birth naturally to healthy 4lb 4oz baby daughter Phoenix in March, said: “I’m very lucky I was pregnant, otherwise I wouldn’t have known about the tumour.
“I have always wanted a family and I waited so long to get pregnant. Phoenix has been a blessing.”
As the growing tumour had been found in its early stages, surgeons at Guys and St Thomas’ were able to perform robotic keyhole surgery to remove both the tumour and part of Ms Bailey’s kidney in order to stop the cancer’s spread just two weeks after Phoenix was born.
By the time they operated, the tumour had already grown to nine centimetres.
Medical experts have warned they are expecting substantial increases in the number of avoidable cancer deaths as a result of diagnostic delays due to the pandemic.
NHS England figures showed A&E attendances were down from 2.2 million in May 2019 to 1.3 million in May this year — a drop of 42 per cent. And while hospitals around the country have reported rises in attendance rates for both A&E and routine check-ups since lockdown restrictions eased, attendance figures are significantly lower than the same period last year.
As everything happened at the height of the coronavirus outbreak, the new mother had to self-isolate before returning to hospital for the operation. Within 25 hours, she was back home and able to breastfeed her newborn surrounded by family.
She urged others not to miss out on the chance to get vital medical attention as a result of the pandemic, saying: “My scans and investigations found my tumour early, which meant I could have surgery and I have recovered quickly.
“Although coronavirus is still around, hospitals are safe and open. If you have any symptoms you’re concerned about, please get them checked out.”
Mr Ben Challacombe, the consultant urological surgeon at Guys’ and St Thomas’ who operated on Rachel, said: “Rachel’s situation is rare. I have done over 1,000 robot kidney operations and only had one other similar case.
“If Rachel hadn’t been pregnant, her tumour may not have been spotted until later when the outcome could have been different. It may be that her baby saved her life.”
The NHS team will “keep a close eye” on Ms Bailey over the coming years, but said they are confident they removed the tumour and she is not set to have radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
Mr Challacombe added: “It was a very complicated operation as the tumour had grown much bigger than you would have expected in that time. It was one of the biggest partial removals I have done without removing the whole kidney.
“We knew she wanted to be with her baby so we did everything we could to get her home as soon as possible. It’s been a very positive outcome for Rachel and she and Phoenix are doing really well.”
The procedure was a collaboration with Guy’s and St Thomas’ and HCA’s London Bridge Hospital, which runs private healthcare on the top four floors of the Cancer Centre.
During lockdown, the centre was kept as a Covid-free site, to treat around 800 NHS cancer patients in a safe environment.
Janene Madden, CEO of London Bridge Hospital, said: “Uniting across healthcare has never been more important. And the collaboration between Guy’s and St Thomas’ and London Bridge Hospital has meant time-critical cancer treatment for patients like Rachel has continued safely during this extremely challenging time.”
Guy’s and St Thomas’ has three da Vinci robotic surgery systems and carries out around 800 robotic operations a year – more than any other NHS trust in the UK.