Living through the unimaginable
Kathryn E. Vinson, MS, CCRC
A while back, I talked with you about my journey with thyroid cancer in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, and I touched briefly upon the fact that I was pregnant when I was diagnosed. In that article we talked mainly about thyroid cancer. Today, I want to talk to you about a very sensitive issue – pregnancy and cancer. Before we get into this – I want to be perfectly clear – this is not an abortion debate. This is a from the heart talk from a momma that has felt that fear, to others that may be feeling that fear.
The year 2008 started off wonderfully for my family. I had just found out I was expecting our second child. We were over the moon with joy. Then one morning, I miscarried. Having had thyroid issues from a young age, I knew that miscarriages can be a way that our body says, “Hey, something’s not right. Get your thyroid checked.” So, after a couple weeks, I made an appointment with my endocrinologist and discussed this with him. All of my bloodwork was fine, but we scheduled an ultrasound of my thyroid to be on the safe side. Fast-forward another couple of weeks. I get a call from my doctor’s office telling me that they had scheduled my biopsy. Wait – timeout – what biopsy? Oh, some paperwork must have been missed, but there were some suspicious nodules. Then I got to drop the bombshell that I might be pregnant. Let’s just say they moved up that biopsy very quickly.
On March 7th I went through the biopsy. By that time, I knew that there was a little life budding inside me. We took all proper precautions to care for the baby. For those of you who haven’t experienced a biopsy in your throat area – it’s an ultrasound probe pressing against your trachea, while they docs take tissue samples via needle. Although you’ve been numbed, your instincts tell you to run, while your brain says, “be still”.
That weekend, my parents had tickets for all of us to go to the Houston Rodeo. I remember sitting in our seats seeing an ad for the MD Anderson Cancer Center. My eyes just kept focusing on the word cancer. My sweet mom, who knows my brain, kept telling me to be positive and stop looking at that ad. Those few days seemed interminable. Then on the 11th, I got a call from my doctor’s nurse telling me that my results were in, but I had to come in to discuss it. I will never forget saying “Dang it Terry, you and I both know what that means.” She was so sweet and said, “I know, but I can’t say it over the phone.”
I will never forget, sitting in that office, with my two-year-old son on my lap, my husband at my side, hearing the doctor say, “the nodules were malignant.” For all of us that have fought cancer, it’s a moment that is frozen in your mind. I looked and him and said, “Well, let me throw a wrench in there – I’m pregnant.” My doctor was so shocked, he just shook his head and said over and over, “This is bad, this isn’t good.” Based upon that, I’m pretty sure I was his first pregnant cancer patient.
Then calling my mom and saying the words “Mommy, I have cancer.”
I was immediately referred to a high-risk obstetrician, as well as a very quick visit with my regular OB. When those doctors all visited and came to the consensus that I could carry my baby to term, with no adverse risk to my health, it was like the weight of a million Earths had been lifted from my shoulders. At 15 weeks along, I had a complete thyroidectomy, using an anesthesia that was safe for the baby. Where my treatment differed from that of a “typical” thyroid cancer patient, is that I waited until after delivery to have the radioactive iodine therapy, as that treatment would have destroyed my baby’s tiny thyroid as well as my remaining thyroid tissue. I’m not going to lie to you my friends – walking around, knowing I had cancer in my body, and not attacking it – was hell.
I think my baby, now a healthy, rambunctious 9-year-old boy, had some of the best prenatal care ever. Every four weeks we had an ultrasound to track his growth and make sure that he was okay with everything happening to my body. If there is one upside to when I was diagnosed, it is that amazing photographic trail of his development from 8 weeks to birth. What a miracle life is. I think its safe to say that at 8 pounds, 13 ounces – his growth was not affected.
Many ladies, however, aren’t as “lucky” as I was, and are forced to make a decision between their lives and the life of their unborn child. My heart and prayers go out to every woman and her family that has been put in that position. Cancer.net tells us that the most common cancer diagnosed in pregnant women is breast cancer. As our breasts change during pregnancy, it makes the detection of these cancers that much more difficult. The other most common cancers diagnosed during pregnancy are: Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphomas, thyroid cancers, cervical cancer, melanoma, and gestational trophoblastic tumors.
Nowadays, ladies are given more options than they were even ten years ago. Surgery to remove tumors is typically safe, given the location of the tumor and that correct anesthesia is used, and even some chemotherapeutic agents have not shown harm to unborn babies.
Here at Cancer Horizons, we want you to know, that if you are pregnant and have cancer – you are not alone. Send a private message to Cancer Horizons on Facebook or via our contact us page; I would be honored to talk to you. If you have dealt with cancer and pregnancy, and are willing to share your story, please do so at Share Your Story. Of course, we also understand if you can’t speak about this time.
From one momma to all the other mommas out there – much love, many prayers, and wishes for strength and cures.