Pregnancy after breast cancer; my story.
I was diagnosed with stage 2b triple negative breast cancer in April of 2019 when I was 35 years old. At the time my only child, my daughter Ayla, had just turned 6 months old. 3 years later, at age 38, I was blessed to be able to welcome my precious baby boy Skye into the world against the odds. This is my pregnancy after breast cancer story, my journey to him.
After my diagnosis.
Shortly after my diagnosis I had my first appointment with an oncologist. He reeled off the treatment I would be having and the potential side effects I could expect. As I was relatively young (in the world breast cancer at least) they were going to treat it aggressively. That included a contentious 6 month chemotherapy regimen.
As well as the obvious side effects such as total hair loss, nausea and fatigue, I was informed that there was a good chance the chemotherapy would make me infertile. A man of few words, he didn’t offer much more of an explanation. But through my own research later on I learned that chemotherapy attacks any cells that grow and multiply quickly. That’s why it attacks cancer cells, why it attacks your hair follicles and why it would also attack your ovaries and eggs. The same applies to sperm in men that undergo chemo. That meant that at my age there was a chance that it would throw me into an early menopause.
The oncologist offered the option of harvesting some of my eggs before the chemo process began, so that we could later do IVF if we wanted another baby. In France it would be totally free to do so. My husband and I were in a daze. Our heads were spinning from the tidal wave of information that was thrown at us during that seemingly never ending appointment. We had just had a difficult and harrowing pregnancy with my daughter. Her twin brother Archie passed away 2 weeks before they were born prematurely. We were still bruised and traumatised from it, not at all sure we ever wanted to risk another pregnancy again. There we were having to face the decision head on when we hadn’t expected to have to think about it for years.
Together, we decided to turn down the offer. In short, I was terrified. All I wanted desperately was to be there for my sweet baby girl, to see her grow up. To that view getting started with chemo as soon as possible seemed the best thing to do. Harvesting eggs would only delay the process. Both my husband and I were at peace with the fact that we might not be able to have another child. Frankly it was low on our list of priorities at the time.
The oncologist raised his eyebrows, but accepted our decision. He then went on to offer another option, an implant called Zoladex (lupron in the U.S.) They administer it into your stomach monthly for the duration of chemo. It is an ovarian suppressant, the idea being that it puts your ovaries to “sleep” temporarily in order to “hide” them from the actions of the chemo. It throws you into a (hopefully) temporary menopause, with all of the side effects to go with it; hot flushes, weight gain and vaginal dryness. But I went with it, albeit reluctantly.
Fast forward 2 years, to about 18 months after finishing chemotherapy, a year from wrapping up all treatment. Life had settled down a little bit, global pandemic aside! I started to dare to look towards my future again. The nagging feeling that our family wasn’t quite complete played heavily on my heart and mind. I broached the subject with my surgeon at one of my check in appointments. She referred me on to have a chat with an Oncofertility specialist. That is, a doctor that specialises in fertility after cancer.
The Oncofertility doctor laid out the main points relevant to my situation.
- As triple negative breast cancer is not fuelled by hormones, another pregnancy would not statistically increase my chances of having a recurrence.
- After having triple negative breast cancer, they recommend that you wait at least 2 years from finishing chemotherapy before trying to conceive. In some cases such as a more advanced stage or complications, they may recommend even longer than 2 years. This is because that is the time during which it is likely to recur if it is going to. Being so aggressive it tends to attack sooner rather than later.
- Once I was at the 2 year point they would do a full body PET scan to hopefully give me a clean bill of health to go forwards with the pregnancy.
- If after a few months of trying naturally didn’t get us anywhere, she would refer us on for further testing and fertility help.
She was very supportive, and I came away from that appointment feeling optimistic. I declined blood tests to check my blood hormone and egg reserve levels. I felt that at age 38 and after chemotherapy they were likely to not look great, and I didn’t want the added stress. We would start off trying the good old fashioned way and keep our expectations realistic.
6 months later.
I reached my 2 year post chemo point and celebrated quietly. With my stomach in my mouth I went for the PET scan. Every bone in my body wanted to run away. I was hugely triggered and very scared. Whatever the outcome that day it would be life changing. I could only hope it was for the better.
Mercifully, it was totally clear. Nervous and excited, we were given the go ahead to start trying!
3 weeks later I realised I was feeling “off.” I knew that it was possible I was pregnant of course, but never in a million years did I expect it to happen so quickly and easily. I took a pregnancy test to rule it out. When I saw 2 lines come up on that test my mind flooded. Happiness, disbelief, fear, excitement, pride. Where would this road take us?? Were my eggs damaged and it would inevitably end in a miscarriage? Would the cancer come back? Would me and the baby both make it through?
My pregnancy after breast cancer.
Both baby and I were kept a very close eye on during my pregnancy. The fear of recurrence came even more to the fore front given that I had first noticed my cancer a week after my daughter was born. It was a huge leap of faith, and all I could do was wait and see. Scans are not encouraged during pregnancy unless there is a very good reason. They don’t want to expose baby to any radiation unnecessarily. Instead I had a monthly breast check with my Obgyn, and checked in with my oncologist.
I made the conscious decision that whatever the outcome, I would not let the shadow of cancer ruin my pregnancy. It had already taken enough from me. This pregnancy and baby were nothing short of a miracle. My fresh start, maybe even my “happily ever after.” I guarded it fiercely.
Of course the fear crept in. The gun held constantly to my head pressed a little harder at times. But for the most part I found an inner peace that surprised even me. I applied my principles on dealing with the fear of recurrence (subscribe for a free guide) and enjoyed my beautiful pregnancy.
I am beyond grateful to say that 9 months later I welcomed into the world my amazing baby boy Skye. He was born on his exact due date, and perfectly healthy.
My journey to him was more healing than I could have imagined. There is not a day goes by that I’m not aware how lucky I am to have him. Many others are not so. But there was a lot to tackle along the way. A lot to unpack afterwards too. And I hope to discuss those things and more in my Pregnancy after breast cancer series.
- Does pregnancy increase the risk of recurrence in women that have had breast cancer?
- Fertility and trying to conceive after treatment for breast cancer.
- My tips on conceiving after breast cancer.
- The fear of recurrence in the post partum period.
- Making the difficult decision to have a baby after breast cancer.
- Breast feeding after breast cancer. What do we know?
How can I help?
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