My experience of being pregnant with cancer is that being pro-life is not a death sentence for a pregnant woman with cancer or her unborn child. Many cite “life of the mother” as a reason for abortion. Many of the times “life of the mother” is cited, abortion is not in the woman’s best interest. Research has shown that pregnant women with cancer who keep their baby have a better survival rate than their counterparts who abort. Regardless, abortion is definitely not ever in the baby’s best interest.
When I refused to have an abortion while I battled cancer with chemotherapy, I struggled through fear, depression and acute distress for more than 20 weeks. Thanks to constant intercession, my baby, Rachel, was born healthy with no side affects from the powerful chemicals which had killed the tumor. God answered our prayers with a miracle, a perfect baby.
Rachel and I were about to be released from the hospital. I was binding my breasts since my milk had come in but it couldn’t be used due to the chemicals which were still in my system. Suddenly, my heart stopped and my stomach fell to the floor; I felt a knot in the same area as the original tumor.
I’d done this crazy thing – receiving chemotherapy while pregnant – and now it hadn’t even done its job. I was scared to death but I was also angry, angry with my body for continuing to produce tumors in the face of strong chemotherapy and prayers.
I told my husband, Andrew, first. Of course, having someone else feel it, recognize it, and say something out loud varified my suscipcions. Andrew tried to downplay the lump, saying it had to be innocuous but recommended I show my mom. By her expression I could tell she was trying to hide her anxiety and comfort me. The only thing was, I wasn’t buying it. My heart was in my throat.
After showing one of the nurses, a friend from high school, she called another nurse in. They conferred, and recommended I make an appointment right away with my oncologist. There’s nothing like showing your traitorous breasts to an old high school friend.
Of course my mom beat the Catholic prayer drums and started to surround me with prayers. She flooded FaceBook and clogged the phone lines putting in requests for Masses to be offered in my name and for people to offer their prayers and sacrifices for my health. The Passionist Monastery put my name on their bulletin board of prayers in response to one of my mom’s requests. Every nun in that monastery offered their daily prayers for and sacrifices for me. Although, I was too upset to really appreciate it till afterwards.
Since my doctor was away with his family until the following week, his partner examined me. He grimly ordered an ultrasound but wouldn’t commit to saying it was another tumor or not. So much for calming my fears.
Later, as I lay there with the technician pressing painfully on the sensitive knot, Andrew held my hand trying to comfort and calm me. We anxiously watched the screen for tell-tale signs that this was just a fluid-filled cyst or some other benign nodule. The technician didn’t give anything away, but once I noticed measurements appearing on the screen, I knew there was something there. When I looked at the technician’s notes, I noticed the knot was 1.7 cm at its widest and had some vascular activity. This indicates a growing mass or tumor, whether malignant or benign was the question at hand.
A PET Scan
We had to wait for my oncologist to return for the results. However, unlike his partner, my doctor couldn’t palpitate the knot. I could have started chemo without finding anything else out about the knot because this next round of chemo was meant to catch any remaining cancer anyway. Since he noted how anxious I was about the knot, he suggested a PET scan, even though he was unable to find the knot in question.
Those machines aren’t designed with comfort or anxiety in mind. They’re hard and loud and it takes a long time. Considering I was less than a week postpartum, the technician was concerned for my health and my newborn’s health once I was finished with the test because I’d be slightly radio-active for about 12 hours or so. My main concern was figuring out if I was going to live to see my newborn become a toddler.
Once again it was a waiting game. We had to wait for the radiologist to read the PET scan, then we had to wait for the results to be sent to my oncologist and then we had to wait for him to schedule an appointment. Finally, the call came through that my doctor had the results and could see me to go over them with me.
Now You See It; Now You Don’t
In his no-nonsense manner, my doctor told us there was nothing on the PET scan. Dumbstruck, Andrew and I just looked at the doctor and then one another. I unconsciously felt where the knot had been, but even after searching for it, I couldn’t find it either. My doctor looked and felt for it again too, but he couldn’t find it either. The radiologist that read my scan was dumbfounded about the lack of the 1.7 cm mass reported by the ultrasound. Several times he mentioned the size and location reported by the ultrasound and then repeated that if it was present, it would have shown up on the PET scan.
A Modern Miracle
Once I told mom of the results and my doctor’s inability to find the knot, she explained that this was a miracle, plain and simple. There is no other explanation. While 1.7 cm is not huge by any means, it is readily detectable by a PET scan and also highly unlikely to spontaneously disintegrate, especially once it has a blood supply. My mother’s hard work of soliciting prayers from all around the globe on my behalf resulted in a healing miracle.
Erika is very vocal about the details of her story. Statistics tell us that 1 in 3000 – 3500 women diagnosed with breast cancer will be pregnant. She believes the more she spreads the word that women and their baby can live through the cancer, the more lives will be saved.