Lump bigger than her heart: Nova Scotia woman’s cancer diagnosis while pregnant is a devastating blow

Two-time cancer survivor Nicole Clark was first diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2012.

Barely 25 at the time, she and her husband Chance were expecting their first child.

Recalling her initial cancer journey in a recent phone interview, Clark said she initially attributed her extreme fatigue to her pregnancy. However, he began to question his health more when a sore throat developed into a lump on the side of his neck.

When she reported her concerns to her doctor, she was reassured that everything was fine. But, rather than improving, her health deteriorated to such an extent that she had difficulty breathing.

His insistence that something was wrong led to his diagnosis of cancer.

“I got a phone call asking if I could come in (to see the specialist) and bring someone with me,” says Clark, who lives in Amherst, Nova Scotia, with his family.


Nicole and Chance Clark with their daughter Madison and son Mavrick. After Nicole was diagnosed with cancer while pregnant with Madison and had a relapse two years later, the Nova Scotia woman was told it was unlikely she would be able to have another child. Mavrick, who was born in 2020, was a surprising gift for the family. – Contributed

Mass bigger than his heart

Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system.

Clark was told she had cancer for at least a year and there was a lump in her chest that had already grown larger than her heart. The aggressive cancer extended to the neck. It was urgent to deliver her baby so she could start chemotherapy.

Just days after delivering a healthy baby girl at the IWK Hospital in Halifax, chemotherapy began.

“We got to see a lot of people for Madison’s first six months because every weekend there was a family here taking care of her while we went to Halifax for my chemotherapy,” he said. she declared.

Although she will always appreciate having a caregiver to care for Madison, Clark admits there were financial constraints. Clark and her husband were off work due to his cancer.

“We had just bought our first house… we had a new baby and now we were both home. I was on maternity leave,” she said.

There were also mental health issues at the time, as they feared her cancer would return, she said.

‘Exactly the same’

Clark had been in remission for nearly two years. Then she found a lump in her throat the size of a pencil eraser.

“It was exactly the same (type of cancer) as before.”

Her relapse resulted in more intense chemotherapy than her initial treatment, followed by a stem cell transplant. Meanwhile, Madison, who was two at the time, stayed with Clark’s parents for about a month, including Christmas vacation.


“We always knew we wanted to have two kids, and I blamed cancer for taking that away from me.”
—Nicole Clark


After the stem cell transplant, the couple were told that Clark’s chances of having another baby were next to nil.

“We always knew we wanted to have two kids, and I blamed cancer for taking that away from me.”

To her surprise and delight, Clark did indeed conceive again and gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Mavrick was born on December 26, 2020. His big sister is now nine years old.

Clark, 35, has been in remission since December 2014.


After a stem cell transplant, Nicole and Chance Clark learned that their chances of having another baby were next to zero.  In 2020, however, Nicole gave birth to their son Mason, nine years after the birth of daughter Madison.  - Contributed
After a stem cell transplant, Nicole and Chance Clark learned that their chances of having another baby were next to zero. In 2020, however, Nicole gave birth to their son Mason, nine years after the birth of daughter Madison. – Contributed

Supporting other young adults with cancer

Clark connected with Young Adult Cancer Canada in 2015. More commonly known as YACC, the organization is a national network of hundreds of young adults affected by cancer. Clark has participated in various YACC programs and says connecting with other young people affected by cancer has helped her recover.

“YACC has been amazing. It took me a long time to find YACC…and I found another girl who had Hodgkin’s disease and brought it back and had a stem cell transplant which eight years after the transplant had also a little boy…finding this person through YACC has done wonders for me.”



Clark said that on a cancer journey you learn a lot about yourself as well as others. You find out who your friends are, she says, and you cling to the things that make you happy.

Plus, she says, people with cancer tend to expend their energy making sure everyone is comfortable with the diagnosis.

“But it’s not an easy road and it’s good to tell people that you’re not well today.”

Clark no longer thinks about cancer. If it comes back, she says, she’ll deal with it then.



World Cancer Day is February 4

Geoff Eaton of St. John’s is the founder and executive director of YACC. A two-time cancer survivor, Eaton is responsible for the strategic direction of the organization. He draws on his personal experiences to ensure that YACC’s vision remains centered on the well-being of young adults living with cancer in Canada.

A quote on the YACC website attributed to Eaton rings true for Clark and her second surprise pregnancy. It’s also undoubtedly relevant to many Cancer Warriors who have overcome the odds.

“Statistics are sometimes a true reflection of the past, but they are not necessarily at all predictive of the future.”

When contacted by email about World Cancer Day, Eaton was quick to notice that 22 young adults are diagnosed with cancer every day.


Geoff Eaton of St. John's is the founder and CEO of Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC), as well as a two-time cancer survivor.  - Contributed
Geoff Eaton of St. John’s is the founder and CEO of Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC), as well as a two-time cancer survivor. – Contributed

“They will face unique challenges due to their life stage and their recovery will take much longer than their treatment. On this World Cancer Day, I hope we can raise awareness of the profound impact cancer has on a person’s entire life and commit to better support those affected, during and beyond diagnosis and of cancer treatment,” he said.

Like Eaton, Clark works full time and lives life to the fullest surrounded by family and friends.

When asked what advice she would give to other young people affected by cancer, Clark said she would like to let them know that they are so much stronger than they think and that “they totally have it. understood”.



What is World Cancer Day?

The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) describes world cancer day on its website as a day to come together to honor and remember all those affected by cancer and a day to take action to change the future of the disease.

The website also notes that on this World Cancer Day, as the COVID-19 pandemic enters its third year, people facing cancer are still experiencing diagnostic and treatment delays and continue to struggle with feelings anxiety, loneliness and isolation.

The CCS has a link on its website where Canadians can send a pre-written email to elected officials to let them know that people with cancer and their loved ones need support during the pandemic.