June 02, 2016
Facing chemotherapy with a newborn
BY Melissa DeLeon
My acute myeloid leukemia (AML) diagnosis was devastating -- not just because I feared for my life, but also because I was seven months pregnant at the time. It felt like the world was ending, like my life was shattered in a matter of seconds.
I didn’t want to start chemotherapy during my pregnancy, but it was much too early to be induced and I needed to start treatment right away. Fortunately, the night before I was scheduled to start chemo, I went into labor.
My son’s early arrival
I gave birth at a hospital down the street from MD Anderson. As soon as he was born, my son, Luis, was rushed to the NICU. I was left behind with a hemorrhage that the doctors couldn’t control.
When I did get to see Luis, I had to use a mask and gloves to protect my compromised immune system. As much as I hated not being able to touch my baby, I was so grateful he was born before I started chemotherapy.
It was hard leaving Luis to start chemo at MD Anderson, but I had to focus on my own fight so I could be there for him later.
Receiving chemotherapy treatment with a newborn in the NICU and a two-year-old son at home was very difficult. It was hard to miss out on Luis’ first months and many of his newborn milestones. And it was hard explaining to my toddler why mommy had to be away a couple days each week and why I had to shave my head. But books from the MD Anderson library helped us both during the process.
Advice for new moms coping with cancer
I know it can be very difficult to keep going when you’re facing cancer treatment while caring for young children. Postpartum depression, chemo-brain and just plain exhaustion can all work against you. Like me, you could be caring for more than one child, or for one who is too young to understand what’s going on.
Here’s my advice to make it through this hard time:
- Let your children be your daily inspiration. My boys gave me the motivation I needed to keep going. I never even thought about giving up because I knew it wasn’t an option.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I’m extremely grateful for the support I had from friends and family, including my parents who moved in with us for a while to help out. I have been blessed with a wonderful family that was always there for me, and I’m not sure how I would have raised my sons and beaten cancer without their help.
- Maintain a sense of normalcy. Try your best to live a normal life and keep up your regular routine. It won’t be easy, and there will be days when you just want to stay in bed in a dark room. But you have to push yourself to the fullest extent. Even with the support of your family and friends, you are the one who has to fight every day.
- Never give up. I am now an eight-year survivor, and I promise you this: the effort is worth it. My sons and I are living proof.
I promise you this: the effort is worth it. My sons and I are living proof.