My name is Marisela Flores Corona, and this is my story. I was diagnosed at eight weeks pregnant, January of 2020, with Stage 2 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Triple Negative. We had just announced our pregnancy on New Years Day, and just like that! Seven days later, everything seemed to crash down when I got my diagnosis. I remember feeling numb and in disbelief that I had cancer again, and this time while pregnant. I have been in remission from Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia for eight years now. The first few years after remission, I feared having a reoccurrence, but I never thought I would have to deal with another type of cancer years later. I worried about my two-year-old son the most.
I asked myself, would I make it through this time? Can I get treatment during my pregnancy? So many thoughts ran through my head. Right away, I started looking up information on Pregnancy Associated Breast Cancer and found support groups on social media. I found out that many women were able to get treatment during their pregnancy. I even found Hope for Two and submitted my information right away. Weeks later, I connected to a support woman who was diagnosed with the same type of cancer. I asked her a lot of questions, and her answers were a lot of help. She helped me get an idea of how my journey would go and what to expect. When I had my first appointment with my Oncologist, it did not go so well. After explaining to me the details of my biopsy and what my treatment would consist of, he recommended an abortion to start treatment right away. Because I did some research of my own, I told him I could not make that decision just yet, not until we can find out if I can get treatment while pregnant as many women have. So he decided to refer me for a second opinion, to see a Medical Oncologist at a higher level of care facility (Stanford Healthcare in California).
I was devastated when my husband and I discussed this recommendation. We had been planning to have a second child for a while and to abort; it was not a decision we wanted to make. We prayed that we would not have to wait so long to get answers. We wanted to know if we could keep our pregnancy and get the treatment I needed right away. Luckily, three weeks later, I got the call for my consultation. Our drive to my appointment was 4 hours, but well worth it. The Oncologist I saw was very thorough, compassionate, and very knowledgeable with my diagnosis and situation. She explained everything and answered all of my questions. She told us with confidence that I CAN get treatment while pregnant and that our baby would be completely healthy. After this appointment, I met with my Oncologist again, and he agreed to treat me locally and would be in close contact with my Oncologist at Stanford. When I met my OB/GYN, he disagreed with my Oncologist’s recommendation to abort. He was glad I got a second opinion, and he was determined to care for me the best he could. I left his office with an appointment with Maternal Fetal, who also said I could get treated during my pregnancy. After this, both my husband and I had nothing but HOPE. We were both excited that everything would be okay and that we would be able to meet our bundle of joy.
I started chemo in April of 2020, at 22 weeks pregnant. I had my port placed two days before under general anesthesia, and I was glad that was a success. I remember feeling excited to start this journey and to fight. I know many women might not relate and may not have felt the same way as I did when I started chemo, but I felt excited and confident that my little one and I could get through this. I was monitored very closely during my chemo treatment by Maternal-Fetal, and during one of these visits, I found out we were having a boy. Because the COVID-19 pandemic caused our State of California to go into lockdown, my husband was no longer allowed to join me during my visits. For me, this part was challenging because I wanted him to be with me during my visits. Even though he could not, his support was always there. I completed chemo on May 20th. I was happy that I finished and that our boy did well during my treatment. It was a relief knowing that he would no longer have to go through anything risky, except for one more thing. After I completed chemo, my surgeon ordered a follow-up Mammogram, along with a Breast MRI, before planning my surgery date. To our surprise, my tumor had shrunk almost to nothing with treatment. It felt like a blessing; I was glad I had a positive response to chemo. I was scheduled for a Lumpectomy with Axillary Lymph Node Dissection on July 20th, right at 36 weeks. I was nervous about undergoing surgery and anesthesia again. My Maternal-Fetal doctor and surgeon explained the risks of Premature Labor because I was having surgery late in my pregnancy. My husband and I prayed for surgery to go well and prepped ourselves for the possible early arrival of our son. Luckily, surgery was fast, and it went great. I stayed overnight so the nurses can monitor my baby, any contractions, and my pain. Recovery at home went smooth. I took it easy as possible and had plenty of help from my husband and mother.
August 3rd was my scheduled induction, precisely at 38 weeks pregnant. It felt weird and different going into the hospital without having contractions or have had my water break. I did not know what to expect. I only hoped for labor and delivery to go fast and smooth like my first pregnancy. I took medication at 2:30 pm. When 5:00 pm came along, I had only dilated to 2 cm and had minimal contractions. At 7:30 pm, my OB decided to break my water so I could start active labor. After 90 minutes, I was in intense pain. I did not ask for any medication for pain with my first pregnancy, so I had planned to try to do the same with this pregnancy. But the pain was too much. I decided to go ahead and ask for something to help with the pain. Unfortunately, by that time, I had already dilated to 7 cm and was in active labor, so I could not get anything for the pain. My OB rushed in, and I prepped for delivery. Two hours later, we welcomed our baby boy Dante Ezra Corona. He was born at 10:13 pm and as healthy as can be. His birth lifted a massive weight off my shoulders. I was thrilled that our son was born and that he would no longer have to fight with mommy. This was the moment we had hoped for and why I fought so hard. Our little miracle fought alongside me; to me, he is a warrior. Words cannot fully describe the feeling of having to fight cancer while pregnant and reaching the point when you get to meet that blessing you miraculously carried for nine months.
Our Dante Ezra is currently ten months now, and every day is a blessing. It has been amazing watching him grow, as well as my three-year-old son. Every day when I see Dante, I remember why I remain strong and why I continue to fight. Both my boys give me the strength I need every day as I continue with treatment. I am currently halfway through my radiation treatment, and I am looking forward to the day I am officially done. My boys are still young, and they need their momma to be strong and finish this battle. I believe I can and will for my boys.
When a miracle comes in the form of an unborn child.
We can never dictate who dies and lives from a deadly disease, car accident, rape, or any other misfortune that may take place in our lives… But we can dictate how we survive from such challenges, and in the end, that’s what makes us greater….I decided to survive and be a victor and not a victim.
My name is Regorapetse Serote, and this is my story. It was August of 2017 when I first heard the news that I was diagnosed with a rare disease, stage 3, Inflammatory Breast Cancer. To my advantage, I was told in the comfort of my home by my cousin, who had helped me get the tests and results quickly. As I sat there with her and my aunt, I cannot articulate the thoughts that were going through my mind but remember being in a daze, thinking about everything I had heard about breast cancer and how deadly the disease can be. I remember thinking of chemo and suffering and not continuing to fend for myself in the future. But at that moment, it was my aunt and my cousin’s strength that helped me get through the day. Their faith continued to carry me through what I believed at the time was going to be a road of hospital visits and feelings of weakness and despair. It allowed me to see that it is not the end but just the beginning of a new normal. They reminded me that God is our source, and through my relationship with God, I would be able to get through it all.
I learned so many lessons in this time of my life; let’s look into lesson number one; support. Since chemo didn’t get me down physically, it definitely broke me down emotionally, which is when nothing else matters. Still, people, no amount of money could ever equate to the amount of support I received from family and friends and, in particular, my partner at the time. I say in particular my partner because… SIGH… Let’s sidetrack a bit and biblically look at the meaning of the word love; Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy; it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others; it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hope, always perseveres. You see, I received the biblical meaning of love from one man that chose to stand by me and everything I was going through; he taught me another level of loyalty and commitment, and even though my challenges, in his eye, I was still the same person he wanted to be with. I have so many highlighted moments where my friends also stood by me through it all, but there was one time, in particular, I was blown over by the lengths they went through to make sure I was good. They surprised me with an all-expenses-paid weekend getaway, creating lasting memories.
Let’s fast forward to 2020; oh, what a year it’s been. By the end of 2019, my breast got worse, to the point where it became an open wound, and the pain was so excruciating. To top it off, in March of 2020, I found out I was three months pregnant and that the breast cancer had spread to my lung, and now I was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. When my oncologist told me that it had spread, there were so many different emotions going through my head, and still to this day, I can’t articulate exactly how I was feeling. To make matters worse, I had to entertain the idea of aborting my unborn baby cause the doctors were unsure how the chemotherapy would react to my body. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t live with the fact that I had aborted a child, my child; so, I chose to trust and believe in God and that He would safely guard her and me. On the 11th of September, I gave birth to a healthy baby girl by C-section because the doctors found out I also had heart failure caused by the chemotherapy I took in 2017, and giving birth normally would cause way too much strain on my heart with the potential of it stopping completely. Anashe is my miracle baby, and I believe she is also healing me because when I look at her, she gives me hope that you can make it through any challenge. You have to decide that you will get through the challenges and believe that you will and you will. Today my daughter is 4 months with a lifetime ahead of her, and I believe I will be with her every step of the way.
How my story begins: I was a happy mom of two boys, a happy wife to my husband of five years. I was in the process of going back to work as a paraprofessional after being a stay at home mom/mobile makeup artist. I enjoyed my small hometown, the beach, parks, and time with my family. I was team mom, a volunteer at the school. But I had not been getting my yearly screenings or tests. In fact, it had been seven years. I was also excited about the news that we were expecting another baby.
I was excited and eager to go to the obstetrician to make sure everything was going great. About a week before my appointment, I started having some bleeding and could feel that something was out of place. My mind went straight to what I thought would be the worst case – that I was miscarrying. I called my obstetrician and got in early and he reassured me that the baby was great! I just seemed to have a polyp on my cervix and it was large and causing the bleeding. He then said it was as simple as removing it in office and I’d be on my way.
But I was not on my way. It bled excessively upon removal and I had to be admitted and get stitches, all at my very first obstetrical appointment. It was very traumatic and scary but I was glad to be released the next day and home to relax. Things were well other than the usual morning sickness and such. My son sprained his leg and needed crutches, so I called to cancel my obstetrical follow-up appointment. I was told I really could not miss it and the doctor really needed me to come in. I instantly felt anxious. Nonetheless, I called my husband and he met me there so he could sit with my two boys during the visit. I was told the nurses would stay with my boys in the waiting room and my husband should come in with me. I declined (I’m super overprotective) and once again they said it would be best. So I obliged.
My doctor tells me that they sent the “polyp” off to be biopsied and it came back as highly invasive squamous carcinoma. He was showing me the lab results and pictures on paper and pointing them all out on the chart in the room. I just sat there sobbing a bit before asking for clarification that he is in fact telling me I have cervical cancer. “Yes, yes you do. I will be referring you to an obstetrical oncologist right away.” He also told me I needed to come to terms with the idea that termination may have to be considered. I quickly gathered myself (the best I could) and put on the brave mom face for my boys and left the office. I decided before he even finished his sentence in that office I could not terminate. I believe that if God brings you to it, He will see you through it. I then was referred to the obstetrical oncologist, who after reviewing my results and exam, said it was caught in the early stage of 1A-1B.
How I felt after diagnosis: I felt isolated, although I did most of the isolating. I kind of retreated to my bed and wasn’t social at all. Because of my diagnosis, I wasn’t able to be excited about being pregnant. Instead, I was constantly worried. I didn’t feel able to share our pregnancy with anyone except very close family and a select few friends. I also felt fear. I let all the possibilities run wild in my mind and I thought about the worst case scenario, and about my kids and husband. I found research online and come to find out it’s incredibly rare to have this type of cancer while pregnant. So there isn’t a whole lot of research and treatment plans to choose from, which made me doubtful.
Telling my family and friends: I was with my husband when told my results, and I waited for it to process for a few days before then telling my mom, sister, brother, and my husband’s parents. I hadn’t told others about the pregnancy either, so I didn’t share my cancer diagnosis socially. I finally told extended family and friends and social media when I became five to six months pregnant and started to show. I told them all in one big blog post to Facebook. I know that’s a big bomb… I also requested limited contact. I didn’t want all the questions and sympathy calls, etc. I struggled with “help” and receiving “support.” I still have not shared my cancer diagnosis with my boys, whom are only seven and nine. They are young and, in my opinion, don’t need the worry and burden of it.
Elizabeth with her husband and children
My treatment: I was scheduled for a LEEP/cone biopsy* to remove the remaining cancer from my cervix as soon as I entered my second trimester. I was able to stay awake during the procedure, which they normally do not allow (I didn’t want to be put under while pregnant, although I wouldn’t recommend it now, LOL). I was shown my baby before and after the surgery to ensure he was still just as great as before. And he was! After, I was then told there wasn’t anything further I could do like scans, surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation, until after the baby was born and that due to hormones it could spread if they missed any and be prepared for treatments after. At 37 weeks and what seemed like million complications later, my son Oliver was born in January of 2016. He was a healthy weight and length and the only issue was he was born with not enough brown fat so he stayed in the neonatal intensive care unit for a bit. But we did it! We both made it to that first goal I set for us!
After the birth, I was told I needed to have a hysterectomy to prevent recurrence and to be sure we removed all the remaining polyps and cancer cells. In April 2016, I had the surgery, which turned out to be good for me. They found different levels of CIN** in my uterus after the biopsy. At my eight week follow-up with my obstetrician (he performed the surgery), I was told that I was cancer-free and just needed to follow up every six months.
*LEEP: Short for loop electrosurgical excision procedure; removes abnormal tissue by cutting it away using a thin wire loop that carries an electrical current.Cone biopsy: An extensive form of a cervical biopsy; removes abnormal tissue that is high in the cervical canal. It is called a cone biopsy because a cone-shaped wedge of tissue is removed from the cervix and examined under a microscope.
**CIN: Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia, also known as cervical dysplasia and cervical interstitial neoplasia, is the potentially premalignant transformation and abnormal growth (dysplasia) of squamous cells on the surface of the cervix.
How I felt after treatment: I felt relieved that the cancer was gone, I knew I didn’t want more kids after my third, but the option not being there whether I wanted it or not still wore on me a bit. I felt like I had been not feeling well for so long. I really thought that this would be my light at the end of the tunnel so I could go back to my happy, normal life. But cancer took more than my cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes. It took the ability to live without an underlying fear of it returning.
What was most difficult for me: The most difficult part for me was the thought of anyone losing anyone. I didn’t want to lose my baby, or my boys to lose their mom, or my husband to lose his wife. I also struggled with the physical impact it had on me. I felt like I lost a year with my boys that I will never get back. I wasn’t able to attend all their games and take them fun places all summer like usual. The guilt that they, too, were suffering from my disease was horrible. Also, my husband and intimacy issues stuck around because of all the physical recovery.
I also feel it took a toll on everyone that is close to me – my mom, sister and brother, too. We lost our dad to cancer very fast after diagnosis and we are still grieving his loss, so it was hard to tell them. I definitely tried to keep it to myself a lot more to keep from burdening others.
What I did to help myself: I turned that frown upside down! I just had to think of it in a more positive way. I am alive, I have all my boys and we are all for the most part pretty healthy. Cancer gave me a new outlook – it allowed me to see how precious each day really is. I turned to faith and trusted in God’s plan for me. I looked at what I could do instead of dwelling on what I couldn’t and I set small goals for myself.
My life after cancer: My life after cancer… it feels good to write that! …My life after cancer, my life after cancer, my life after cancer is good. No – it’s great! I have a few other health issues I am currently dealing with, but I am here and I am a changed person. My outlook has completely shifted in a better direction. I am glad to be looking into the future and what it holds for me and my family.
Where I am today: I am in a good place. I can talk about it now. I don’t get emotional about it as much as I used to because I have accepted its role in my life. I am a proud mother of three boys and happy wife of five years. I am an advocate and I am a Cervivor!
What I want other women to know: I want you to know how important it is to go for your yearly exam and screenings, and to ask for HPV testing. I want you to educate yourself on your own body. Listen to your body – don’t ignore symptoms. There is no shame in taking care of yourself. Also, help prevent your children from having to encounter HPV and cancer by getting your daughters and sons vaccinated. Ask questions.
Elizabeth found Hope for Two after being diagnosed with cervical cancer in pregnancy and delivering her son Oliver. She has recently become a certified volunteer support woman for our network in order to offer hope and support to others facing a similar experience.
I contacted Hope for Two back in November of 2015 about finding a support person to talk to through my cancer journey. At that time I was given an amazing support person that shared her story and advice with me which gave me confidence moving forward in treatment during my pregnancy. Now I want to share my story in hopes to inspire and comfort others that are going through the same thing.
My cancer story actually began one year prior to being diagnosed when I found a lump. I was told it was a cyst and they would monitor it periodically for one year. At the first follow up it did not grow. At the second follow up it was 4mm bigger. The doctor told me that it was most likely still a cyst, but I could have it biopsied if I wanted. I chose to have it biopsied because I thought I may be pregnant and I wanted to make sure it was not cancer. But in November of 2015 I received a phone call that I could never imagine. I was told I had breast cancer. At that time my husband and I were trying to have another baby (we currently have an older son). So I requested a blood pregnancy test to make sure I was not pregnant in order to schedule an MRI. The result: I was four weeks pregnant with our second baby.
I immediately contacted a local well known breast cancer center and was set up with a surgeon to discuss options. I was beyond happy to hear that although abortion was an option, she was confident that I could be treated while being pregnant. After making sure my life was not at risk, I chose to be treated during pregnancy. I received a lumpectomy in January 2016 which showed my breast cancer to be stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma. The pathology from my lumpectomy also showed it to be triple negative. But the good news-my lymph node biopsy was clear. After surgery I received 8 rounds of chemotherapy which finished at the end of May. I then delivered a beautiful baby boy at 39 weeks in July of 2016. Alexander Heath was 6 pounds 14 ounces and perfectly healthy. He is now smiling, and growing like a weed!
Since I was only 33 at the time, soon after my diagnosis I was genetically tested, and was found to be positive for the BRCA1 gene. This was also very shocking as I have very little family history of breast or ovarian cancer. Because of this gene I plan to have a double mastectomy and a hysterectomy in the near future in hopes to prevent any cancer from returning. Although I wish I didn’t have to go through this during pregnancy, we’re so thankful to have Alex. If I wasn’t pregnant at the time, I may have never had the second child we’ve been wanting because of the possible fertility side effects of chemotherapy.
On June 3, 2015, I received the devastating call that my breast biopsy was malignant, including lymph nodes, making it at least stage 3. I was 34 years old, and 26 weeks pregnant. I had originally thought the swelling was due to pregnancy and put off mentioning it to my doctor for months, but as it had rapidly grown in the preceding few weeks, I knew deep down it was something more.
It was my 30th year! Some people dread their 30th birthday, looking at it as the end to their young and carefree years of their 20’s. While that can be true, I chose to look at it as a new chapter and an exciting time. My husband and I had decided that after I turned the big 3-0 in May 2014 we would begin trying to have a baby. And sure enough, in July, we were blessed to find out that we were expecting.
Ironically, the months leading up to my cancer diagnosis were some of the healthiest months of my life. I had begun a strict routine of challenging exercises, eating clean and even dabbled in running, a sport I chose to avoid prior. And upon finding out that we were pregnant, I followed all the “rules.” I used the right nail polish, avoided really hot showers, didn’t eat blue cheese or sunny side up eggs or lunchmeat….I was a rule following fool when it came to all of these things!
One very important rule you read in the books is to get your teeth cleaned during the second trimester. During this cleaning, my dentist checked a spot on the bottom part of my tongue that he had made a note to follow up on the next time I was in. It was still there so he recommended that I go for a biopsy and assured me the entire time it was just precautionary and he was sure it was nothing.
While waiting to hear about the biopsy results, my husband and I went about our daily lives. Then the week that I fondly refer to as “high and low” arrived. On Sunday we moved into a new house, on Monday at 18 weeks pregnant we found out we were having a BOY (yay!) and on Thursday morning, my oral surgeon called to inform me that the biopsy came back as CANCER. My world stopped. As I am sure that everyone who ever hears that they have “The Big C” does. I even had to call a co-worker into my office during the call to witness the news. Cancer? At 30? While pregnant? But I followed all the rules, mapped out our plans, did things the “right” way, CANCER?
The oral surgeon explained that it was Squamous Cell Carcinoma and she had already made an appointment with an ENT/Surgical Oncologist that afternoon. After the initial shock, I called my husband and my mom and we were off to see the surgeon. The Surgical Oncologist, Dr. Kim, was amazing. He was so kind and sympathetic. He explained that we should have an MRI done to see how large the tumor was. From there, he would recommend that we remove the tumor and the lymph nodes on that side. We scheduled the surgery for two weeks later. We consulted with a high risk obstetrician/gynecologist to go over the risks involved with surgery. While it’s extremely scary to undergo surgery while pregnant, they still recommended the same course of action due to this type of cancer being typically aggressive in younger people. Having no risk factors, non-smoker, social drinker and the tumor testing negatively for HPV, studies show that tongue cancer can be quite aggressive.
On November 18, at 20 weeks pregnant, I went in for the surgery. I felt so lucky to be so close to Pittsburgh, a city that has an amazing medical reputation. Dr. Kim was kind enough to perform the surgery at Magee Women’s Hospital where I would be delivering so that it was easier to monitor the baby. I was only in surgery for about four hours and the baby did just fine! Dr. Kim removed about one quarter of my tongue and about thirty lymph nodes. After surgery, I was able to eat and drink fairly well so I was able to go home after only two days.
We celebrated our first Thanksgiving in our new home a week later and I even ate some of the delicious feast! I was feeling so optimistic while waiting for the full pathology report. Finally, we heard from Dr. Kim. The good news was that the lymph nodes were all clear. Thank God! The not so good news was the pathologists saw that the cancer was growing in an aggressive manner. They saw that the tumor was growing in a “skipping” pattern; a clean margin, then a microscopic cancer cell, a clean margin, microscopic cell, etc. The MRI would not have shown these microscopic cells since they were so small. Dr. Kim’s recommendation was that we should remove half of my tongue, a surgery called a hemiglossectomy and that I should undergo chemo and radiation after delivering a month early.
My world was immediately sent into a tailspin. Half of my tongue? Chemo? Radiation? I thought we were out of the woods! This is when I decided I needed some extra support. I Googled “Cancer While Pregnant” and Hope for Two’s website came up. I was astonished that there was an organization like this one. I immediately completed the form requesting a support person and just a few days later I was connected with Kerri Brooks. I hate to say that I was “relieved” to read Kerri’s cancer journey, it makes me feel a bit insensitive. But I can tell you that her words and experience certainly made me feel less alone and comforted, especially after the news of a second surgery.
Lindsay with her husband Jonathan and their son Carson
Kerri’s honesty, optimism and sense of humor were some of the first things I valued in her. She didn’t hold back about what was going to happen. It wasn’t going to be pretty and it was going to be really hard. Your body is pushed to the brink during all of the radiation and the side effects are extremely tough and long lasting. After her surgery she described that her “tongue was the size of Texas” and this just made me giggle. She counseled me on the toll it takes on your family, especially your husband. But all the while she was a symbol of hope for me. She got through this (having her treatments while pregnant I might add…yea, she’s one tough cookie!) and so would I.
The surgery was scheduled for December 26. At the doctor’s recommendations, I would deliver around 35 weeks and begin six weeks of chemo and radiation the following week. This was all so scary and quite emotional. As a mother, you never want to put your child in any type of danger and you want to protect them from all harm. Knowing that I would be enduring a nine to ten hour surgery, have a tracheostomy, a feeding tube, be on pain medications for some time and now have to deliver early…I could not get the guilt out of my head of what danger I would be putting my unborn son in.
My husband was a little more level headed and matter of fact about this. He kept telling me that this was what we had to do to ensure that I was around to raise our son. My family and friends all agreed and were ready to support us when we needed it. So on Friday, December 26, I had my second surgery. They removed a muscle from my arm and used it for the half of my tongue that was removed. Modern medicine is amazing. Seriously. After the surgery, I was in the ICU for eight days. The baby did great through everything. I got to hear his heartbeat and movements two times each day through a Non-Stress Test. He was such a trooper!
I recovered quite well from surgery and before we knew it, it was time to be induced. Our son, Carson Richard Coulter, was born on February 16 at 7:21pm. He was 7lbs. 12oz. and 21 inches long. For being a month early, he was completely healthy. We went home as a family of three and spent a week together before I started my treatments and had to leave him almost every day for a short period of time.
The chemo and radiation were extremely hard. This is where Kerri was such an inspiration and lifesaver. Head and neck radiation causes numerous, not so fun, side effects. (Mouth sores, mucus (gross!), facial rash, nerve pain, losing the ability to eat, exhaustion…just to name a few!) And each time I started to experience something new she was there with a suggestion or solution to the problem. Being able to shoot her a quick text or email with a question or complaint (there were a lot of those!) was priceless. As most cancer survivors would probably agree, you really don’t understand it unless you’ve lived it. Having her there for me really helped me get through some of the hard times. And knowing that Hope for Two’s network and resources were there if I needed them brought a comfort that can’t be explained.
My husband and I were so lucky to have our mothers to help us with Carson through the nights and while he was at work. I was really wiped out from the radiation and even though the treatments were only six weeks, it took me about three months to fully recover and get back on my feet. I could have never got through it alone and I thanked my lucky stars for my husband, family and friends each and every day.
When Kerri and I first connected, she told me that she had grown up about an hour away from where I lived. She had also mentioned that she would be coming to that area the next summer for a family reunion. What are the chances? We each hoped that we could make a meeting happen. She was living in Georgia and I was in Pennsylvania so the thought of us actually being able to meet face to face was exciting. So this past July we did get to meet! It was such wonderful moment being able to hug Kerri. She had been there for me through some of the toughest moments that the cancer and treatments brought and also the joyous moment of Carson’s arrival. There we finally were sharing, laughing and enjoying each other’s families and I can’t even express how thankful I was in that moment.
I had come across a quote by C.S. Lewis that describes mine and Kerri’s connection “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to the other, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.” If you must find yourself in such an overwhelming situation such as being diagnosed with cancer while pregnant, it is a blessing to know that there is always hope. Kerri helped me see that and I will always be thankful for our special bond.
Part Two, By Kerri Brooks
Kerri and her daughter Maddie Sue
I am so proud to be representing such a wonderful organization as a support person for Hope for Two. I can remember when I happened upon the site…pregnant with cancer, I can’t even remember what I had searched for in my moment of being scared…I mean pregnant with cancer, I never imagined those words to ever fit in the same sentence! To know there were others out there that had gone through or were going through it with me was the first comforting feeling I had had since my cancer diagnosis!
I am a 43 year old mother of one 16 year old stepchild: Carolyn, one highly dramatic 5yr old: Kaylee and one highly energetic 2yr old: Maddie. I was first diagnosed with tongue cancer in June of 2009…I remember thinking tongue cancer?!? You can get cancer in your tongue! I had my first surgery on July 2, 2009: removal of the tumor in my tongue and a radical neck dissection to remove thirty-three lymph nodes (and salivary glands…however I was not aware of that until radiation)! All was good, no nodes showed any signs of cancer. My doctor said the tongue was a result of smoking…great glad I was peer pressured into that lovely habit! I remember being so angry at myself, thinking it was something I could have prevented! One year goes by, I get married, I have my first little girl, two years go by…my husband and I start looking for a new home, planning our future…coming up on three years my tongue began to hurt again. August 2012, I leave my school’s open house early (I am a teacher) to go to my checkup…my tongue had been hurting for about a month, I was in total denial! I remember the doctor looking in my mouth and saying “it’s back, dammit”! I was not prepared for him to cuss! I missed the first two weeks of school to have another surgery to remove more of my tongue…this time I was released to go home after I proved I could eat a cracker…a cracker are you kidding me! It was then I learned that I had a different strand of tongue cancer, not caused by smoking but one that was striking women between the ages of 20 to 40, it just so happened I got both strands…well lucky me! But this time life did not go on, I was in a lot of pain, my tongue hurt all the time and the nagging pain in my ear was ever so present AND I found out I was pregnant! I went to the doctor in October and then at Thanksgiving, I could not even enjoy food, and my pregnancy was at risk because of my age. A week or two into December I had another checkup….I reported that I had ear, tongue, mouth, throat pain…his face spoke volumes, I wanted to puke I was so scared …he looked in, once again “it’s back, dammit”! What, it’s back BUT I’M PREGNANT. I could tell he did not know what to say to me…..hesitate hesitate…it will be fine, what is the name of your high risk doctor, I will work with her to figure all of this out. And he stated that I would more than likely need radiation after more surgery…BUT I’M PREGNANT! What is radiation like? He states, have you ever gotten a bad sunburn…me yes…well it’s like that but in your mouth and throat…what…what…where am I…BUT I’M PREGNANT! I was by myself that day, didn’t expect that it would be back, so I told my husband not to worry! Still don’t know how I drove an hour home that day…I remember feeling numb! I had surgery in January of 2013 to remove more tongue…geesh, you would think I wouldn’t have anymore left! Then came the follow up appointment…okay so it’s stage 2 right…the doctor states well, we are going to get to that..okay get to it…well, it was quite deep and very aggressive…and, and…what?…what?…tell me…doctor states it is STAGE4…silence, I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes…stage 4, stage 4, sta…BUT I’M PREGNANT!
Lindsay and Kerri with their babies
That is when I reached out to Dr.Elyce Cardonick through the Hope for Two site. She was fantastic, she told me everything to ask, to say, to know. She was unbelievable, I would call her and she would call me back within 20-30 minutes…the info/advice she gave me was phenomenal! There was no option of waiting until after the baby was born because of the stage. I knew it would be difficult and as a mother I did not want to put my baby at risk, but I also wanted to be around and watch both of my girls to grow up. I started radiation and chemo in February of 2013. I had seven rounds of chemo once a week and 35 rounds of radiation over a seven week period. I refused to give into the feeding tube because it would go down my nose and I was not having anything to do with that! The third week of radiation was the most difficult, but I remained tough and continued to eat…it was not until the last week that I started struggling with swallowing, eating and drinking. My last treatment was on March 29, 2013. That is when it all kicked my butt…I struggled with the pain and having to take the strong pain medication while I was pregnant. I was dehydrated, having to get fluids, not eating, blood pressure all over the place….my body said enough already! On April 11, I started to get really bad cramps and spotting…well now I know I was in labor. Maddie Sue was born on April 12 weighing in at 4 lbs. exactly. She was breathing on her own and looked like a little beautiful porcelain doll! Maddie had to spend a month in NICU due to the fact that she was struggling with feeding, she actually ended up with a feeding tube down her nose which I found somewhat ironic, and although it was the most difficult thing I had ever experienced I knew she was in the best place possible and it was allowing me time to heal and recover and let my then two year old know that I was okay! Maddie came home on May12 which was Mother’s Day. It all just seemed like a higher power was definitely with us, guiding us, providing us with strength! I am happy to report that Maddie, “my little tough cookie” is in fabulous health, she of course is smaller than other two year olds due to her preemieness…but that does not hold her back or stop her from keeping up and getting what she wants from her five year old sister! My last PET scan was clean as well as my most recent CT scan. It is only the constant aching fear I live with now!
Becoming a support person for Hope for Two was something I decided I would do as soon as I found the organization. They had not had anyone with my specific type of cancer and they did not think they would…that was in October of 2014. By December of 2014 they contacted me about a woman that was pregnant with TONGUE CANCER. For a minute I thought to myself…”see other people can get tongue cancer…ha”! Then I felt so heartbroken for this first time mother that was going through an ordeal of a lifetime, the same struggle that I had not even fully recovered from yet. I knew we were meant to be, the stars had aligned and I was going to reach out to her. You can imagine my surprise when she told me she was from Pennsylvania and that she grew up not far from where I lived when I was a child. We were so connected! The thing about being a support person is that you are helping someone going through the same struggles that you went through…BUT what they do not understand is that they are helping you in more ways than they could ever imagine. Being able to email and text with one another reminded me that I was not alone. It let me know that what I had struggled with was real because she was struggling with some of the same things. I was scared that talking about my cancer would bring it back…silly I know, but what Lindsay did for me was make me stronger and more confident and PROUD to be a survivor. But more importantly it gave me a friend that knew, she got it, she understood, she felt what I felt…we had ridden the same roller coaster with the same twists and turns and we were both tougher for it! I was so excited when my family chose Pennsylvania for our family reunion. Lindsay went through so much and she kept such a brave face through it all…I could not wait to give her a big hug! That meeting was an amazing event in my life, so much emotion and joy! Getting to meet her beautiful baby boy Carson and see the smile on her face was phenomenal. Meeting her husband and seeing the deeper love and bond that the big C brought into their lives helps me not be so scared. I feel so fortunate to have a friend in Lindsay and we will see each other again! Below is the poem that I wrote for her and attached the children’s book The Little Engine that Could…I figured she could read the poem to her son to explain to him what all his tough little mama went through to get him here safely:
The Little Mama That Could
The day she heard, she cried tears of joy:
a new little bundle a beautiful baby boy!
A time to be happy a time to be glad
but suddenly stricken with an obstacle that made her sad!
Tongue cancer, what’s that, why me, no way!
I have big plans; I don’t understand what you doctors say!
To help the little mama fight they came up with a plan,
and even though she was scared she said “I think I can!”
She was brave, she was fierce, she fought with all her might!
Soon she was kissing her baby boy and hugging him tight.
She continued to kick cancer in the butt,
chemo, radiation she felt sick in her gut.
But the love all around her and her beautiful son
gave her the strength to continue even though it was not fun!
Now she feels better, some days she never thought she would
and looking back on her fight she says “I knew I could!”