Receiving the news that you have breast cancer is difficult and life-changing information. But, what happens if you're pregnant and receive this news?
Being diagnosed with breast cancer is the last thing you want to deal with, let alone when you have the happy news that you're pregnant. There is still such a stigma connected to breast cancer that it only happens later in life, and after menopause. But, as we've mentioned in previous blogs, breast cancer doesn't discriminate. It doesn't pay attention to age or sex. Women and men at all stages of life are vulnerable and susceptible to breast cancer, and that includes pregnant mothers. Being pregnant and expecting a child should always be a time of joy and happiness, but a diagnosis of breast cancer changes all of that. What does this mean for you and the baby? How will this change your treatments? What will the next nine months of pregnancy look like? This will be a delicate and complicated journey, one you need to plan very carefully with your obstetrician and your oncologist. You need to be very well informed about your choices and options, and to choose what path is best for you and your baby. These decisions and the treatments need to focus on not just getting rid of or treating your cancer. They also need to be chosen to keep your baby safe and healthy as well. This limits and changes what kind of treatment options are available to you and when exactly you can receive them throughout your three trimesters.
The positive news is that yes, as a pregnant woman, you treat your breast cancer. The tricky part is deciding what route you can safely go to protect your baby and still conquer your cancer. This all depends on a handful of factors. They include how healthy you are overall, how far along you are in your pregnancy if the cancer has started to spread and if it has where it has spread to, the size of your cancerous tumor, and where that tumor is located. For a pregnant woman, two of the safest options are surgery and chemotherapy, while radiation and other hormonal therapy treatments are recommended to be avoided until after you've delivered.
This treatment is safe for babies in the second or third trimester, but not in the first. In the first trimester, some of the most important development and growth occurs, and chemo can seriously interfere in that process. It also runs a higher risk of losing the baby if chemo is used during this time as well. Many of you might be skeptical that chemo is safe at any stage of pregnancy, but studies have shown that when using certain chemo drugs like cyclophosphamide and doxorubicin during the last two trimesters of pregnancy is safe. They don't have the risk of birth defects, health problems, or loss of the baby. The only risk studies have found is the risk of an early delivery. If you do decide or need to have surgery during this time, you will be deciding between a mastectomy or a lumpectomy, with follow up treatments of chemo recommended for the second trimester or later. If your diagnosis comes during your final trimester of pregnancy, chemo is usually recommended after the birth of your child. After week 35 of your pregnancy (out of a total of 40) chemo is no longer recommended. Chemo at this point can bring on early delivery, and it also lowers the mother's blood cell count. This lowered cell count can lead to dangerous issues during birth including infection and serious bleeding. Deciding to delay chemo until after the birth allows the mother's blood cell count to return to a healthy level, so the birth can be as safe as possible.
This is one of the safest routes for a pregnant woman to take while battling a cancer diagnosis. It is the safest to do at any trimester, and you don't have to delay it unless your obstetrician recommends otherwise. Mastectomies are generally the most preferred surgery for a pregnant woman. You can have a lumpectomy, removing just the breast tissue that contains cancer, but it does come with a few risks. A lumpectomy generally requires radiation to follow up that surgery, and radiation is not safe for the baby. But, putting off radiation for the mother, if it is needed, is very dangerous and could increase the risk in cancer returning. The only time a lumpectomy is usually recommended with radiation is if the cancer is found during the third trimester. If the surgery is performed close to the due date of the baby or very shortly after, very small wait time or no wait time at all is placed on the recommended radiation treatments. The removal of a lymph node, or possibly a few, are also needed during surgery. There are two different types of lymph node surgeries, one, in particular, being safer than the other. The removal of lymph nodes under your arm called an auxiliary lymph node dissection, which removes multiple lymph nodes, is the first choice. The second is called a sentinel lymph node biopsy. This uses a small amount of blue dye and radioactive tracers that pick out the nodes that could contain cancer. The blue dye and radioactive tracers come with heavy concerns since radiation is very bad for the baby. This treatment, although it may help with removing fewer lymph nodes, is not recommended during pregnancy. It is recommended to happen after pregnancy or late in your trimesters and without the use of the dye.
TREATMENTS AND THINGS TO AVOID
During your pregnancy, there are some treatments and situations you will need to keep you and your baby safe. Keep these in mind as you move forward. Also listed are a few difficult situations that you might have to face, too.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
During this time, you already have a lot on your plate and a lot on your mind. We wanted to leave you with some closing thoughts to remember as you begin this process.
We know and understand the difficulties you are facing during this time. It is unique, scary, and full of unknowns. We want to help you celebrate the joy of your pregnancy, all while helping you conquer your cancer. If you have any concerns or worries, please don't hesitate to reach out to us. We are here to answer your questions, guide you through this process, and discuss any concerns you might have. Know you are never alone, and there is always hope.
Feeling alone, lost, and disconnected from the rest of the world are common feelings while dealing with your breast cancer diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. Feeling like this while raising a family will make it even harder. There are so many resources out there available for those going through the treatments and for those affected by it. Take advantage of them all, they're out there for a reason!
Being a mother with breast cancer is still a surprising topic. Even after the three blogs we've dedicated to the subject, you'll still find people balking at the idea. One of the hardest things is the fact that breast cancer diagnosis usually hit a family when life is already in full swing, and you're already overwhelmed with everything as it is. The treatment will automatically demand your attention when all you want to do as a mother is giving that attention to your children. The battle with giving time and fighting for both survival and your children's livelihood becomes a very tactile one. An exhausting one. A frustrating one. The idea that you have to face the reality of death a lot sooner than you could ever have imagined becomes a daily thought. Even if you do win your battle, recurrence tends to take over the worries in the back of your mind. The battle and worry will never truly be over. Even though you are fighting to beat this disease constantly, your first thought will always be that of your children.
As you fight your diagnosis every day, there are resources out there specifically designed and created to help your children cope. Similar to the resources we mentioned in our last blog, you might need to do some research about what you need and what your community offers. Help is out there, you just need to look for it and welcome it in with open arms.
For the Kids
Summer Camp might sound like the last thing you and your family want to do together or decide to send your children off to during your cancer treatment. But think about it this way - giving them another tool to deal with everything, continue to educate them during the whole process, and introducing them to kids their age going through exactly what they are, can be very empowering. That's exactly what these camps were designed to do. There are many free, low cost, and inexpensive options for summer camps that specialize in helping and connecting children who have been impacted by cancer diagnoses. Again, you just have to do a little research to find what is a good fit for your family. Check out these options below.
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Outside of these amazing opportunities to give to your children and yourself, there are still more resources available. Remember that feeling of being alone and lost? I hope these past two blogs have discouraged that feeling. Remember too that these are just the tip of the iceberg. There are more out there than you might realize.
We have talked about what you can do for yourself to make this process as a mother just a little easier on you and your family. Sometimes you need a helping hand, and that's okay. You're fighting a hard enough battle as it is, take advantage of what's out there for you. Please note that there are resources out there like:
We are here to support and guide you, but it is your choice to make this difficult time hurt a little bit less. Step up to the challenge and be willing to say "yes" to these options and more. If you ask for it, the help will come. For even more resources and information, please follow the links below. We will see you next time. Until then, be brave, keep fighting, and know you are not alone.
Becoming a mother is an exciting and wonderful journey. But what happens when that journey is disrupted with the diagnosis of breast cancer? What then? What are the best ways to handle motherhood and your breast cancer battle at the same time?
Being a mother is such an exciting, difficult, challenging, and wonderful thing. We thank our mothers for the love and care they've given us, and we strive to be the best mothers we can be for our children. But when a diagnosis of breast cancer steps into your life as a mother, what then? Naturally, the first thought will be of your children. How will I care for them? How will life go on for us as a family through my diagnosis and care? What happens when I can't care for them? What happens if I don't win this battle? In this two-part blog, we will be discussing what to do and how to handle parenthood while going through both your diagnosis and treatment. In the second post, we will be discussing and sharing some of the best resources out there for you to help through this journey.
At first, there might not feel like there are a ton of resources out there for you. As we discussed in our November blog, it's is still rare to be a young woman with a young family and be diagnosed with cancer. But, it still happens more than most realize. As a mother in this situation, you will be dealing with the same amount of day to day struggles and responsibilities, but it will get even harder when that diagnosis comes. You will now be facing treatment, care, long hospital stays, surgeries, and not feeling like yourself or very good at all while still dealing with your normal load of life. It is almost like your life has been split into two, and you have to live through both of them at the same time.
It is going to be difficult. That fact won't be a mystery to you. Being apart is hard, but with love and devotion, you've made that an integral part of your life. With this same kind of love and devotion, you can fight this battle as a parent. Please know that you're not alone. You might feel like you are, you might feel disconnected from your family and loved ones but you're not. Once the diagnosis comes, your first duty as you approach the battle is to rally your troops. If not for you, then for your children. Show them that they too will not be alone. The family dynamic might change while you're fighting your diagnosis, but there will be a parade of love and care for them and you if you let it.
There are many important things to keep in mind when going through your diagnosis as a parent. You will need to find the best fit for you and your family, make informed and family-based decisions on what's best for all of you, and your decisions will not be the same as anyone else's. This is all okay. Here are some tips and ideas to keep in mind as you begin this journey, together.
You are still a parent when you receive your diagnosis, this is not your fault. Your children want to help you, love you, and support you on this journey. Let them in. Know when to say no, be strong enough to set boundaries and to let people in, and know when it's time to ask for help. You will not hang up your superhero mom cape when it's time to ask for help or when treatment has you beat. If anything, it makes your cape that much stronger. We will see you next time for part two of this blog. Until then be well, keep fighting, and go into 2020 with your head up.