I was over 40 when I became pregnant with our second child. Unlike the first time, getting pregnant took more than two years. We were so excited.
About a year earlier, I had noticed a small, pea-sized lump on my left collar bone. Several physicians assured me that it was “just a swollen lymph node”. Still, I wondered. So, at 10 weeks pregnant I met with a surgeon. He looked at the lump and said it was nothing to worry about but that he would biopsy it during the second trimester. Six weeks later I had the biopsy and was told I’d hear the results in 48 hours.
Into The Darkness
A week went by without any news. By the eighth day, I was worried but that morning I felt the baby kick for the first time and was thrilled! A few hours later, the surgeon called me at work. I could tell from his long pause that the news wasn’t good. “Mrs. Moulder, I’m sorry to tell you that you have cancer.” Bewildered, I responded, “I can’t have cancer, I’m pregnant,” as if the miracle of life within could shield me from anything evil.
I remember feeling my heart stop. I could not breathe or speak. Finally I asked, “Is there anything I can do?” He told me that I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and that I needed to see an oncologist immediately to begin treatment and “make the decision about my pregnancy.”
I called my husband with the devastating news. After a long silence he said. “Honey, we’ll get through this.” I knew that we would not terminate my pregnancy; I promised that little life in me that I would always protect them from harm. How could this be happening? The joy of pregnancy and the terror of cancer just don’t seem to mix.
Finding Our Way
We prayed with our pastor and put the situation in God’s hands. At the same time, we put my nursing connections to work, contacting everyone we knew in the medical community for referrals and advice. One family friend, a physician, concurred with the surgeon’s advice. My OB had never handled this kind of situation and could offer no options other than abortion and treatment. Friends and colleagues kept reminding me that I already had one child and needed to live for him rather than “worry” about “the pregnancy”. I was so confused and kept praying for an answer.
Seeing The Light
Then, a friend called me with the cancer.gov website. I logged on and within five minutes a new door opened. I learned that I was not the first person to deal with this diagnosis. Although my situation was uncommon (1 in 5000), it was treatable and far from hopeless. Information and professionals were out there who could help! I soon discovered “Hope for Two…The Pregnant with Cancer Network” and I felt some relief.
My spirits were boosted again when another friend, a retired oncologist, called with some sound advice. “Don’t listen to what anyone is telling you right now. They don’t know this area of medicine. You can be treated – you just need to be in the right hands.” He recommended Dr. Portlock at Memorial Sloan Kettering, who specialized in lymphoma and pregnancy. Another door!
Dr. Portlock advised that, with proper monitoring, we could delay treatment until after the delivery and still expect an effective outcome. We were so relieved and proceeded with the pregnancy carefully but optimistically. Our miracle baby, Kathryn Faith, arrived April 27, 2004. In May, I began six months of chemotherapy and was given a clean bill of health upon completion.
Unfortunately, by my three month check up, the cancer was back. The roller coaster started again for our family. After multiple consultations, we opted for the most aggressive treatment available – an autologous stem cell transplant. It was tough but as one doctor put it, “this cancer is flexing its muscles and you have to flex back!” I began chemo in April 2005, entered Sloan at the beginning of June for the transplant and was discharged in July.
I am nine months post-transplant and feeling well. So far, my scans have been “clean” and we are living one day at a time. I still wonder “how did this all happen?” But I believe that there is balance in all things. Having cancer was difficult, but my daughter is a true miracle. And, now I can offer HOPE to other women and their babies.
It is imperative that women have access to resources such as PWC and cancer.gov before they get into a crisis mode. These organizations have been life lines to so many of us who were walking down dead end streets. The key is to get the information out to every OB, every nurse, every woman to ensure more happy endings!