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My cancer journey: Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis during pregnancy

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Erika Vandiver for blog.jpgBy Erika Vandiver

I was 20 weeks pregnant with my second child when my doctor told me, "You have breast cancer." I was only 28 years old -- 20 years younger than my mother when she received her breast cancer diagnosis.

The local medical team that performed my biopsy and lumpectomy had limited treatment options. My choices were bleak: terminate my pregnancy so I could try to live myself, or risk dying from cancer by allowing my child to live.

Coming to MD Anderson for breast cancer treatment while pregnant
Although this was my second child, it was my sixth pregnancy.  Four previous pregnancies had ended in miscarriages. I was determined to find an alternative for my breast cancer treatment.

I was shocked and dismayed by the options my local doctors gave, so I turned to the Internet to take on the research myself.  My mother had been to MD Anderson for her breast cancer treatment just three years before. She asked my doctor to send a referral request to the cancer center. Less than 10 days after my diagnosis and six days after an ultrasound confirmed that we were having a girl, I had my first appointment with Jennifer Keatting Litton, M.D.

We were a perfect match. Her specialties include young women with breast cancer (check), BRCA1 mutations (check), and, most importantly, breast cancer treatment of pregnant women (check).

Undergoing chemotherapy while pregnant
When I returned home, I was still frightened, but at least I had a plan. More importantly, I had hope.

I began my chemotherapy while pregnant. I gave birth to Rachel Eleonore on Thanksgiving Day, which also was her father's birthday and her exact due date.

After, I had to continue my chemotherapy treatments  followed by several surgeries, including a modified radical mastectomy, immediate expander implant reconstruction, implant exchange surgery, and later this month DIEP reconstruction surgery. As a precaution, my ovaries and uterus were removed since BRCA1 increases the risk of ovarian cancer by 40-60%.

There have been many bumps in the road. I was certainly a spectacle when I was bald and pregnant, but I have never regretted the decision to keep my precious baby girl, who will be two years old in November 2014. Her survival was not a surprise, but a blessing.

1 Comment

Cancer takes so much from us, so it is so nice to see happy news. Life gives hope.

Terry Arnold

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