My husband, Jon and I, had been married for five years at the time of my diagnosis, and we wanted to start a family. After about a year and a half of trying, I was pregnant! I gave Jon the news the day before Valentine’s Day – we were thrilled! I began making doctor appointments.
I noticed a lump in my right breast shortly after. It seemed to pop up out of nowhere. I noticed it one day in the shower and hoped it was nothing. With an uneasy stomach, I did a quick google search to try to allay my fears…lumpy, bumpy boobs are probably normal when you’re pregnant, right? Google did not help. I tried not to dwell on the articles that said cysts are common in the second and third trimesters, not the first. I mentioned it at our first doctor appointment, the 8-week appointment to see and listen to the heartbeat. My gynecologist did a breast exam and said “It’s probably just a cyst, they are common in pregnancy.” Luckily, that doctor no longer delivered babies, and I had to find a new OB. I started seeing a group of midwives. My pregnancy was progressing wonderfully, but my lump was growing. On May 5th at my 16-week check up, I mentioned it again. My midwife put in an order for an ultrasound. On May 7th, I went in for an ultrasound, looking forward to hearing that it was nothing. The tech preformed the ultrasound then left the room. A little while later, the doctor came in, and examined the lump again. Then she moved the wand to my underarm. The tech’s demeanor had changed. I was officially freaked out. The doctor said, “The mass is not a cyst or anything that can be drained. We should do a biopsy. Do you have time to stay today?” I waited in a nurse’s office and cried while they filled out the paperwork.
On Friday, May 8th, the doctor called with the biopsy results while I was sitting at my desk at work. She sounded cheery, so I was hoping for good news. She told me I had breast cancer. “Invasive ductal carcinoma.” I tried to ask any questions I could think of, we hung up, and I left the office in shock. I spoke to my husband on my drive home, and I remember telling him the news as I was in a fog. He came home and we sat in shock. We were in disbelief. This was certainly not the news we expected to hear! Breast cancer doesn’t even run in my family. And what are the chances of being diagnosed when you are pregnant? (The answer to that is 1 in 3,000.)
My husband was supposed to travel to Asia for business the following Monday, but instead we went to the oncologist. I cried the whole visit while Jon asked questions and took notes. After a whirlwind of appointments and second opinions, I had a port placed in my chest on May 28th, and my first chemo treatment on May 29th. We learned the Adriamycin/Cytoxan chemotherapy is safe during pregnancy – who knew! Our little one was 20 weeks along at this point, and I could finally feel him moving around pretty regularly. And here we were, pumping my body full of poison.
My hair fell out two weeks after my first treatment. I buzzed my head along with my husband, mom, and stepdad, and I was a little excited to do it (and nervous of course). I got a wig that looked way better than my real hair ever did. Pregnancy is a wonderful thing because it makes you feel strong and beautiful – even when you’re bald and weak and tired.
Our original plan of attack was 4 cycles of A/C, surgery, birth, Taxol, then radiation. After our first meeting with the surgeon, we planned on a mastectomy at the end of August. Because of the size of the tumor, a lumpectomy did not look possible. The tumor had grown to nearly 5cm by the time I started chemo. A few cycles in, the plan changed to surgery after the baby was born. Since I could not have a Nuelasta shot (to boost white blood cells) while I was pregnant, I had chemo once every three weeks instead of two. The timeline for surgery would be too close to my due date. After gathering more second opinions, we brought a suggestion to my oncologist. We wanted to have 6 total rounds of A/C chemo to bridge the gap between my last planned treatment and the birth of our baby to avoid any tumor growth. Two other doctors had suggested that plan, and we suggested it to my oncologist. We were told it was not something they would normally do, but she consulted with her colleagues and my other doctors and agreed. (We recently learned they are currently treating another pregnant woman who has been diagnosed with breast cancer with the same treatment plan!)
It’s a weird thing being pregnant for the first time and undergoing chemotherapy. I never read the packet of information about the chemo drugs. I figured it wouldn’t do any good to put ideas in my head about side effects. We all know they’re bad. Jon read them inside and out, and when I felt like something was off, he would tell me if it was a normal side effect or not. My body tolerated chemo very well – and I truly believe I have my baby to thank for that. Each cycle wore me down a little more than the one before. I was tired, but I wasn’t feeling sick. I had a little baby to focus on and make me feel strong; a little baby that we had waited so long to get here! Being pregnant made me feel like I had a super-power, and my little super baby helped get me through the months of chemo. Silver lining: Since I now had a high-risk pregnancy, we got sneak peaks of the baby all through my pregnancy!
My last A/C treatment was on September 18th, one month before my due date. We planned to induce on October 14th if baby hadn’t made an appearance yet to make sure there was enough recovery time before surgery on October 28th. Our little guy decided to come a little early and was born on October 9th. We named him Logan, after Wolverine – a superhero name for our super baby.
After the fourth cycle, we learned that the tumor had shrunk down to 1.8cm! A lumpectomy was possible – it came as such a relief! I was dreading recovery from a mastectomy so close to having a baby. And I was not mentally prepared to lose a breast. Surgery was scheduled on my 33rd birthday. One step closer to the end of this chapter – not a bad birthday present! Surgery went very well, and pathology revealed no cancer at the original site of the tumor, only some dead cells and scar tissue. There were intravascular cancer cells found in another area of the breast and a few dead cells found in the primary lymph node in my right arm. I was officially diagnosed with stage 2A breast cancer.
I started Taxol on December 7th. The plan is four total treatments, once every two weeks. I had asked if I could not get the Nuelasta shots in hopes that my white blood cells would recover as well as they had on A/C. I was not able to get treated on my second scheduled treatment because my counts were too low. So I’m currently two cycles into Taxol, with Nuelasta added, and two more to go. Taxol has been a little tougher – joint and muscle aches and pain, fatigue – but I’m still counting my lucky stars that I am not nauseas! After chemo, I’ll start localized radiation. A CT and bone scan is scheduled for February 1st, and we are hoping to be able to officially say “cancer free”!
Jon and I moved to Atlanta in 2010 for work, away from our families. Times like these make you wish you lived closer to your loved ones, but we have been so overwhelmed by the new family that we have found in our friends we have made here. I was devastated I would not be able to breastfeed my new baby, and that I would miss out on this amazing thing that our bodies can do for our babies. But, friends stepped in and donated breast milk to us! For each time I felt down in the dumps, there was always someone there to turn it around. A meal, flowers, a phone call, or a visit – this past year taught me how fortunate I really am.
This year has given me a hard lesson in perspective. I’m not stressing about the small stuff anymore. It has taught me how to treat others when they are going through tough times. It has taught me the I am blessed to have my husband, my family, and friends. It has taught me that my body is imperfect, scarred, and my boobs are lopsided, and that’s ok. It has taught me that it is important to stay positive. It has strengthened my marriage. It has strengthened friendships. I would have never guessed this is the journey that I would have, but I am looking forward to closing this chapter as a healthy, strong wife, mother, and friend.