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.
Tuesday, April 2nd, is the fourth annual “Hope 42 Day”!!! Help us celebrate by supporting Hope for Two’s network connecting women who are currently pregnant with cancer with other women who have experienced a similar cancer diagnosis. Since 1997, we have provided information, hope, and support to more than 2,000 women from all 50 U.S. States and the District of Columbia as well as over 51 different countries.
Hope for Two operates through donations and the work of our volunteer support women. Your “Hope 42 Day” donation funds our website and provides care packages for each Hope for Two patient. But, most importantly, your donation guarantees that we reach and support even more women who are diagnosed with cancer while pregnant.
Our goal this year is to raise $42,000. In the spirit of “Hope 42 Day,” consider making a donation of $4.20, $42, $420, or even $4,200! Any donation is welcome and greatly appreciated.
Please help make this year’s “Hope 42 Day” the most successful to date!!! Click here to support Hope for Two: https://www.facebook.com/donate/514751592263100/. Your donation today will help us continue providing women diagnosed with cancer while pregnant with information, support and hope.
By: Patty Murray, Chairwoman and Co-founder of Hope for Two…The Pregnant with Cancer Network
I learned this valuable lesson 21 years ago, just after finishing six months of intensive chemotherapy treatments, while at my radiation Oncologist’s office being fitted for my foam radiation cradle. It all began when I asked, what I perceived to be, a very straightforward question, “Where are we going to radiate, doctor?” With a puzzled look on his face, he paused, backed up and blurted, “That is a very good question. I really don’t know.” My husband and I were stunned.
It was my understanding, up to this time, that the medical community had treatment protocols for every ailment and disease. When they were confronted with a particular malady, they would apply the protocol and a certain percentage of success would be achieved. What I slowly learned during my eleven months of treatments is that there isn’t a consensus of opinion among health professionals as to how to treat any particular medical condition.
The reason I had asked the question in the first place was that there were varying opinions as to whether my excised tumor in the axilla (arm pit area) and the affected lymph node was a secondary tumor and that the primary tumor was still in my breast, which couldn’t be found during pregnancy due to a number of factors. After delivering my son, I had a breast MRI and they were convinced that the primary would be found in my breast. However, it wasn’t found because either the chemotherapy eliminated it or the primary was in the axilla which was removed during my lumpectomy. So the question, “Where to radiate?” was a reasonable one. He pushed his rolling chair away from the examination table and said that he was going to a Radiation Oncology National Conference that weekend and would consult with his colleagues. Meanwhile, he directed us to, “Go onto OncoLink and do some research. When you give me a call next week we can collaborate and see what each of us came up with.” Inside my head I was screaming, “OncoLink, a website, I don’t even have a computer.” He advised us to go to the nearest Public Library. Thank God that the doctor’s back was to us, as my husband and I exchanged quite an impolite look.
After our initial anger, we realized that we had to become our own health quarterbacks; to take our health decision into our own hands, which took three full weeks. We decided to phone or visit every doctor and medical center that we ever came in contact with and ask their opinion. The opinions varied greatly- from full breast radiation to a double mastectomy. Finally, we asked my medical oncologist and agreed with his decision to continue with four more rounds of a different chemotherapy and follow it up with six weeks of full breast radiation.
What we learned from this was three-fold. One, that you must take an active role in guiding and managing your health care. This is your life and you are the best one to manage your care. Otherwise, many medical mishaps could occur.
The second lesson is that once you make a decision, never look back. When you research, ask questions, weigh all the options, and then make an informed decision, embrace it and know that it is right.
The third lesson is, instead of being angry that no one has become your quarterback, realize that it is in your best interest to happily don that jersey. Instead of being a passive bystander, you are now an active participant in your healing. This fosters both your physical and mental healing. I am not unique when I say that when I was diagnosed, I was thrown into a tailspin, sensing that I was out of control. I was like a ship without a rudder, without a captain, in a sea of chaos. Once you become the quarterback or captain of your ship, you begin to feel more in control. You are now a part of the team where you transform from the passive angry patient into an active director whose actions and attitudes effectuate positive outcomes.
These lessons and the word captain reminds me of the famous scene in the movie DEAD POETS SOCIETY, starring Robin Williams, where he was a non-conformist English teacher in a New England boarding high school. He quotes Walt Whitman’s poem about Abraham Lincoln which begins, “O Captain! My Captain!” He emphasizes that words and ideas can change your world. I believe, like he, that you can change your world when you become the captain of your own ship. Williams finishes with, “Listen, you hear it… Carpe… Hear it… Carpe Diem… Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
Until next time, seize your life, because it is so EXTRAORDINARY! ✿
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.