Pregnant Haggerston woman wrote comic about cancer treatment

Matilda and James in Haggerston Park

Matilda and James in Haggerston Park - Credit: Archant

A woman turned the terrifying gamble of having cancer treatment while pregnant into a graphic memoir recording how life went on around her in a Hackney hospital.

Matilda Tristram, 32, is appearing at the Broadway Bookshop in Broadway Market next Wednesday (November 12) to talk about Probably Nothing, her comic novel recording the highs and lows of being an expectant mum undergoing chemotherapy.

The book has been praised for the light-hearted and sometimes hilarious approach to the serious subject.

Matilda, who lived in Hackney Road, Haggerston, at the time and was treated at Homerton Hospital, said: “People often ask why I decided to write about it. Suddenly life was so terrifying and different.

“I was meeting all these strange and interesting people in hospital, I didn’t have to try very hard; there was so much to write about.”

Matilda had been having symptoms of bowel cancer for more than a year that went unrecognised due to her young age.

She said: “I had been having stomach pain and gradually it got worse. By the time I was already well into my pregnancy, I was sick every time I ate.

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“The tumour had completely blocked my bowels.”

At four months pregnant, an MRI scan showed Matilda’s cancer had spread. Doctors recommended urgent treatment to prevent it returning.

She said: “I had three options. I could have abortion and get chemo afterwards or carry my pregnancy to full term but delaying the treatment would put my health at risk. They couldn’t really say if having my baby during chemo would cause problems or how high a risk it was.

“After researching online it was encouraging that a large number of women who had chemo were okay, and their babies were okay, so we decided it was a risk we wanted to take.”

During the six-month chemo course Matilda had plenty of time to observe life around the hospital in Homerton Row.

She said: “I recorded how absurd and funny the rest of life seemed in contrast to what we were going through. I loved writing about people in east London, the trendy projects, funny conversations and how seriously people took things.

“It definitely helped to distract from what was going on and I could turn my emotions off.

“It was nice writing about the jokes me and [husband] Tom managed to share with each other. We did have some really nice times and it is helpful and healing to see how well we managed.”

Halfway through her treatment Matilda, who now lives in South London, gave birth to a healthy son, James, and got the all clear after her course of chemo.

She is being monitored for the next five years to make sure the cancer doesn’t return.

Signed copies of Probably Nothing will be on sale at the event, which starts at 7pm. Tickets cost £3. To book, visit