Friday, September 26, 2014

Breast Cancer Kills... My Message of Awareness and Prevention

Displaying breast_cancer_kills_button-p145747359077793061bah7y_400.jpgAt the benefit concert I met the mother of a young woman who died from my type of cancer just after giving birth to her son.  She was 28 years old and pregnant when she was diagnosed with cancer.  So similar to me.  But the timing of her cancer was different than mine.  They found it at the beginning of the first trimester.  They couldn't do chemo until she was twelve weeks along.  In that time, the cancer spread to her liver.  She was able to deliver her son but she passed away shortly after that.
Just a few short weeks can make such a difference with this type of cancer during pregnancy.  It makes me grateful for the timing of my diagnosis and treatment.  If things had been just a little bit different, my story could end similar to hers.  I am grateful to the Lord for prompting me and my caregivers to take quick action.

Dr. Borges said one of the dangers of cancer in young women is that the OBGYN or family doctors dismiss the lumps or symptoms they find due to the amount of changes the breast tissue goes through during child bearing years, just like I thought at first.  I thought my lump was probably due to weaning from nursing and then becoming pregnant again.  A lot of health professionals dismiss it for the same reasons.  Because it is so rare for young women to develop breast cancer, they don’t encourage them to get further testing.  Women don’t get annual mammograms until 45.  For all these reasons, breast cancer is often missed in its early and more treatable stages in young women. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention:

Breast Cancer Statistics

Not counting some kinds of skin cancer, breast cancer in the United States is—
  • The most common cancer in women, no matter your race or ethnicity.
  • The most common cause of death from cancer among Hispanic women.
  • The second most common cause of death from cancer among white, black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native women.
    For more information, visit Cancer Among Women.
    In 2011 (the most recent year numbers are available)—
  • 220,097 women and 2,078 men in the United States were diagnosed with breast cancer.*†
  • 40,931 women and 443 men in the United States died from breast cancer.*†

I am so grateful my midwife didn’t mess around with it but got me in quickly for an ultrasound.  I remember the sonographer telling me, “It’s probably nothing to be concerned about, but I would like the breast specialist to take a look at it just to be sure.”  I’m grateful she didn’t dismiss it either.  The breast specialist looked at the ultrasound and decided right then to do a biopsy, “Just to be safe,” even though he said that, “the probability of it being anything serious in a woman your age and in your health is so rare.”  Any one of these people could have dismissed me.  I am so grateful that they did not.  I hope that a greater awareness and preventive measures are taken by the medical community and young women themselves.  It is rare.  But it is deadly.  Especially for young women who are or can become pregnant with the hormone positive breast cancer.

I am deeply grateful that my cancer was caught when it was and everything has worked out as well as it has.  My strength is returning after the last treatment and the baby is growing and doing well.  I love feeling her kicks and movements inside of me.  My heart goes out to that mother who lost her daughter.  I didn’t have any words for her.  It had to be painful to see me and relive memories of her daughter.  Times like that make me realize again what a fine line we walk between life and death.


This is a very valuable article from about breast cancer in young women and during pregnancy:

Pregnancy and Breast Cancer

Having breast cancer during pregnancy is very rare. But more and more women are choosing to have children later in life, and the risk of breast cancer goes up as women get older. Because of this, doctors expect there will be more cases of breast cancer during pregnancy in the future.
Breast cancer is found in about 1 in every 3,000 pregnant women. And breast cancer is the most common type of cancer found during pregnancy, while breastfeeding, or within the first year of delivery. You may hear this called gestational breast cancer or pregnancy-associated breast cancer (PABC). The special concerns of breast cancer during pregnancy are reviewed here.

Breast cancer risk

What is cancer?

The body is made up of trillions of living cells. Normal body cells grow, divide into new cells, and die in an orderly way. In babies and children, normal cells divide more quickly until the person becomes an adult. After that, cells in most parts of the body divide only to replace worn-out or dying cells and to repair injuries.
Cancer starts when cells in a part of the body start to grow out of control. Instead of dying, they outlive normal cells and keep making new, abnormal cells. Cancer cells keep growing out of control, and invade (grow into) other tissues – something normal cells can’t do.
Hormones like estrogen help normal breast cells grow and divide, but these same hormones can also promote the growth of breast cancer cells.

How your menstrual cycles affect your breast cancer risk

Women who have had more menstrual cycles because they started their periods earlier (before age 12) and/or went through menopause later (after age 55) have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer. The increase in risk may be due to a longer lifetime exposure to the hormones estrogen and progesterone.

How pregnancy affects breast cancer risk later in life

Pregnancy causes many hormone changes in the body. For one thing, pregnancy stops monthly menstrual cycles and shifts the hormone balance toward progesterone rather than estrogen. This is why women who become pregnant while they are young and have many pregnancies may have a slightly lower risk of breast cancer later on. They are exposed to less estrogen. Women who have had no children or who had their first pregnancy after age 30, on the other hand, have a slightly higher breast cancer risk.

How breastfeeding affects breast cancer risk

Some studies suggest that breastfeeding may slightly lower breast cancer risk. This is more likely if a woman breastfeeds for 1½ to 2 years. But this has been a difficult area to study, especially in countries like the United States, where breastfeeding for this long is uncommon.
One way to explain this possible effect may be that breastfeeding reduces a woman’s total number of lifetime menstrual cycles. This is much like starting menstrual periods at a later age or going through early menopause.

Finding breast cancer during pregnancy

When a pregnant woman develops breast cancer, it’s often diagnosed at a later stage than it would be if the woman were not pregnant. It’s also more likely to have spread to the lymph nodes. This is partly because hormone changes during pregnancy make a woman’s breasts larger, more tender, and lumpy. This can make it harder for the woman or her doctor to notice a lump until it gets quite large.
Another reason it may be hard to find breast cancers early during pregnancy is that pregnancy makes breast tissue denser. Dense breast tissue can hide an early cancer on a mammogram. Also, the early changes caused by cancer can be easily mistaken for the normal changes that happen with pregnancy. Delayed diagnosis remains one of the biggest problems with breast cancer in pregnancy.
If you find a lump or notice any changes in your breasts, take it seriously. If your doctor doesn’t want to check it out with tests such as a mammogram, ask about other kinds of imaging tests or get a second opinion. Any suspicious breast changes should be biopsied before assuming they are a normal response to pregnancy.
Mammograms can find most breast cancers that start when a woman is pregnant, and it’s thought to be fairly safe to have a mammogram during pregnancy. The amount of radiation needed for a mammogram is small. And the radiation is focused on the breasts, so that most of it does not reach other parts of the body. For extra protection, a lead shield is placed over the lower part of the belly to stop radiation from reaching the womb. Still, scientists can’t be certain about the effects of even a very small dose of radiation on an unborn baby.
Even during pregnancy, early detection is an important part of breast health. Talk to your doctor or nurse about breast exams and the best time for your next mammogram. As always, if you find a lump or change in your breasts, tell your doctor or nurse right away.

You can find the full article here:

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The baby is doing well...

The baby is doing well.  We heard his heartbeat strong and fast at the midwives.  Hearing that sound, Ben and I shared a look that I will never forget.  It was the best news I’ve had since this whole thing began.
Knowing how the chemo has effected me this past week, I keep wondering how much is getting to him and how it is effecting him.  But his heartbeat is strong.  His is doing alright.  And I am so grateful.

This past week has been a haze of bouts of extreme fatigue, nausea and headaches.  When I’m “under” the effects of the chemo it feels as though someone sedated me.  It’s hard to come out of that fog or feel really “present.”  I’ve slept several hours every day.  I am so grateful for the many wonderful people who helped with the children.  I miss being myself around them.  But, it’s supposed to get better from here.  Until two weeks from now, when they do it again.  But it makes me treasure the moments I do feel good and recognize what a gift each day is.

Monday, July 14, 2014
(Also known as “red death”)
Day five since chemo.  It hits me in waves.  Sometimes I feel pretty good, then “wham!” it hits me and its like someone sedated me.  I feel drugged.  Exhausted.  Unable to keep my eyes open.  I’ve slept four to six hours every day since receiving treatment.  That’s in addition to sleeping eight to nine at night.  I couldn’t do this without the amazing amount of help I’ve received from good friends as well as Ben.
The nurse administering the chemo told us that the heart has a limit to the amount of adriamycin it can handle across a lifetime, this he told us as he’s pushing the red liquid into my IV.
“How much can it withstand?” Ben asked.
“Nine doses.”
“That’s right.  This is number one for you.”
If I had nine more after that one, I’d be dead.  End of story.  From heart failure.  I’m scheduled to receive four doses during pregnancy.  I’m not sure how many more after the baby is born.
“That’s why we did the echo cardiogram to monitor your heart,” the nurse explained.  “We want to be very certain of the effects it is having upon it.”
Chemo is an amazing science.  Given enough, it will eventually kill you.  Give just the right amount, and it will target the cancer, killing it and all the other rapidly dividing cells in the body first.
But I’ve just received one of nine doses of the drug that is powerful enough to stop my heart once the limit is reached.
So what did I do today?  I ran.  I needed to feel my heart pounding, healthy and strong despite the slight pull of the drugs I can feel on it.  Three months ago I ran a half marathon.  I never worried about the strength of my heart then.  But now, look what I’ve done to it.
My friend picked the kids up.  They will be gone all day, so I decided to take an hour and run to the end of our drive and up a mountain trail through the forest to a nice overlook.  I had to stop and walk the hills more than I wanted to.  But the words of this poem played around in my head:
Have Me
I run because I need to know this heart is mine,
Kill the cancer.
You can’t have me.
But the drugs are there behind each breath,
Pounding in my temples,
Leaving a briny taste in my mouth,
That mixes with the salt of my sweat.
There is life around me,
Beauty, stillness and quiet,
A sacred grove,
Nature’s temple,
Sunlight hits my cheek,
Wind blows my hair,
Yes, I have one week of hair-life left,
Birds call, and crickets chirp,
The air is humid from the storm the night before,
The forest smells sweet,
Of pine and damp earth and leaves,
A bull snake bathes on the road,
He is rigid as a rod as I pass,
As if I am something to fear,
My heart pounds,
I feel the impact in my hips,
My ankles and knees,
These shoes have gone many miles with me,
But none like this.
The fog over my mind doesn’t lift,
But it doesn’t consume me,
Underneath it I feel a sense,
That despite it all,
I’m still me.
I reach the overlook,
A green valley bathed in morning light,
Stretches like a sea before me,
But suddenly, I can’t see it,
My eyes are swimming with tears,
I was thinking of Joseph,
My four year old son so full of joy,
Will I know him years from now?
Will I watch him grow?
Will he know who I am?
Have I done enough to show him truth in lies?
Will he cling to the Savior as I do now?
Will I see him struggle and succeed?
The blue and cream clouds above,
Remind me of the place,
I do not want to watch from.
I chastise myself for the unexpected thoughts,
Don’t think like that,
Stay focused on being well,
“90% of the battle is staying positive,”
“I’m not going to die.”
But what if He does call me home?
What if, after it all,
That is what happens?
Am I prepared?
I push the traitor tears from my face,
My hand rests on the slight bulge of my abdomen,
The life growing within.
Just then, in the distance,
An eagle cries.
The sound of freedom,
How can it not make a heart rise?
Liberation, beauty and choice,
All echo within the sound.
I want freedom.
But the prison is inside me.
One hand on my heart,
One hand on my stomach,
Inside there is death,
But inside, there is also life.
I run because I need to know this life is mine,
Even if it is just a moment,
Kill the cancer.
You can’t have me.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

How YOU can help:

My sweet sisters are helping raise money to cover our travel costs to ensure me and the baby receive the best care possible.  If you would like to donate visit:

Thank you all so much!