Cervical cancer survivor: How a trachelectomy saved my unborn child
My son Gavin recently turned 13. My husband and I call him our miracle baby, but I don’t think he fully understands why. When he was little, we just told him I was sick while I was pregnant with him. The truth is a bit more complicated.
I was diagnosed with stage IB1 cervical cancer at age 32, after a routine Pap test. At the time, I was nine weeks pregnant. But thanks to MD Anderson, my son is alive and well — and so am I.
A cervical cancer diagnosis during pregnancy
I’d always been faithful about getting my regular Pap tests. But when I conceived in the fall of 2003, my new obstetrician insisted I get another one, since he hadn’t seen me before. To everyone’s surprise, the results were abnormal.
The obstetrician referred me to MD Anderson, where Michael Bevers, M.D., performed a biopsy. It showed I had adenocarcinoma — a type of cervical cancer — so we scheduled a more comprehensive test called a cone biopsy to determine whether it was aggressive or slow-growing.
I awoke from the anesthesia to another shock. Dr. Bevers hadn’t performed the second biopsy. He said the cancer had grown so much since the first one that it was now visible to naked eye. I had the aggressive kind of cancer. The standard treatment at that time was a hysterectomy.
New cervical cancer treatment: a risk worth taking
To say I was devastated is an understatement. I’d had no symptoms of cervical cancer.
My husband started researching alternatives the minute we got home. He learned about a surgical procedure called a trachelectomy, in which the cervix is removed, but the uterus is left intact. The procedure was still very new, and only a few doctors in the United States had performed it. We contacted some of those doctors, but none were willing to perform the surgery without first terminating the pregnancy.
That was unacceptable, so my husband and I asked Dr. Bevers if he would perform a trachelectomy. Dr. Bevers was not able to do the procedure, but he referred us to MD Anderson’sPedro Ramirez, M.D., who had studied it.
Dr. Ramirez said he could attempt the procedure if the cancer had not spread, but he warned us that I might miscarry. He was also concerned about the potential for blood loss, which would lead to an immediate hysterectomy. Dr. Ramirez couldn’t provide us with a guarantee or even any kind of odds. But he was willing to try. I wanted our baby to live, so I said, “Let’s do it.”
Building a family despite cervical cancer
As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. I had the trachelectomy on Jan. 26, 2004, as I was starting my second trimester. When I awoke, there was Dr. Ramirez, smiling. He said the baby had survived, and we’d gotten all of the cancer out. I don’t think I slept that night, I was so excited. That was one of the best days of my life.
Because my uterus had been stitched closed to protect Gavin, I was bedridden for rest of my pregnancy. I could only get up to shower, take bathroom breaks or go to a doctor’s appointment. That took some getting used to. Luckily, I was able to work from home.
Our goal was to make it to 34 weeks gestation. I made it to 37. After my water broke, our son was delivered by C-section on June 5, 2004. He weighed 6 pounds, 5 ounces and was totally healthy.
MD Anderson saved two lives
Six weeks later, I had the hysterectomy. I was never upset or depressed that I couldn’t have any more biological children. I just wanted to save Gavin, so I’d made my peace with it.
I haven’t shown any evidence of the cancer since 2004, and I only come to MD Anderson now for my annual checkups. Still, every time I see Dr. Ramirez, it makes me so happy. He took our small hope of saving Gavin’s life and turned it into reality. I will always be grateful that he was willing to embrace the challenge.
I’d always heard that MD Anderson was the best at treating cancer, but now I know it firsthand. Doctors there tailor treatment to you individually and give you more than just “textbook” options.
Today, I don’t think of my experience at MD Anderson as Dr. Ramirez treating me; I think of it as saving my son’s life. Because in reality, MD Anderson saved two lives that day: mine and my son’s. And I have no regrets.