September 13, 2022
New mom faces three cancer diagnoses
BY Sarah Zizinia
Christine Routledge was three months pregnant with her second child when routine bloodwork revealed something in her blood levels was off. Further testing showed her baby was perfectly healthy.
Christine’s doctor said she’d need diagnostic scans to confirm the issue in her own blood, but her pregnancy made such scans risky. She wasn’t experiencing any symptoms, so Christine decided to wait until the baby was born to undergo more testing.
In November 2018, Christine gave birth to a baby boy. She and her husband, Michael, were living in California but were planning to move to Texas at the time. Christine had a follow-up appointment with her local doctor. Then, the day they moved to Houston, her doctor called to say she likely had cancer.
“My doctor said, ‘Well, you’re in a good place because MD Anderson is there.’ I called within five minutes to request an appointment,” says Christine.
A lymphoma clinical trial and a breast cancer diagnosis
Additional testing at MD Anderson revealed Christine had stage IV follicular lymphoma. In early 2019, she met with Ranjit Nair, M.D., who recommended she join a clinical trial testing a combination of the monoclonal antibody treatment obinutuzumab and the oral chemotherapy drug lenalidomide.
Christine experienced nausea, fatigue and aches, and she managed a skin rash with medication. Because the treatment weakened her immune system, she caught colds and other viruses, which led to frequent sinusitis.
But the course of her treatment changed in November. Christine had pain in her chest, and her care team found she had pancreatitis. To make sure her pain wasn’t caused by other issues as well, she underwent additional scans and testing. She had just turned 40, so her care team decided she should also have a mammogram.
“My mammogram showed I had breast cancer, which meant I had to stop the clinical trial,” says Christine. “Thankfully, I had no active signs of lymphoma. But it was a lot to handle having to tackle another cancer diagnosis so soon.”
Breast cancer treatment and maintenance therapy
Christine met with her breast cancer care team at MD Anderson once she received a stage I invasive ductal carcinoma diagnosis. They discussed her treatment options and came up with a plan: Puneet Singh, M.D., would perform a lumpectomy, and after surgery, Christine would receive radiation treatment under the care of Karen Hoffman, M.D. Tumor testing showed that chemotherapy would not add additional benefit to her treatment.
“At first, it was difficult to see how different my body looked after surgery,” says Christine. “But now I am so proud of my scars. They remind me of all that I’ve been through.”
Since completing radiation therapy in April 2021, she has been free of breast cancer.
“I found that the radiation wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I felt a bit tired and my skin was a little irritated, but that was the worst of it. I was relieved,” recalls Christine.
She will continue to take tamoxifen for maintenance for the next 10 years and has breast cancer follow-up appointments every six months. Christine checks in with her lymphoma care team once a year.
A surprise basal cell carcinoma diagnosis
In August 2022, Christine received a third cancer diagnosis. A biopsy at MD Anderson of a suspicious spot on her leg revealed a type of skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma. Christine underwent successful Mohs surgery to have it removed a few weeks later.
“We never know what the future holds, but for now, I appreciate that I’m here and my family is here,” says Christine. “I felt unlucky with these diagnoses, but I also feel so lucky to have MD Anderson.”
Leaning on family and MD Anderson for support
When Christine was diagnosed with lymphoma, she had a 3-month-old and a 2-year-old at home. She felt grateful for the distraction that having small children brought her.
“Being a mom kept me busy and my mind off things. There were a lot of diapers to change and meals to prepare. It wasn’t easy, but my husband helped me get through it,” she says.
Christine is from England, and her family still lives there. During her lymphoma treatment, her family traveled from England to support her. But they couldn’t travel during her breast cancer treatment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My family found that hard. But thankfully, my husband was a brilliant caregiver and amazingly supportive,” says Christine.
Although she’s had a few difficult years, she is grateful for the support she receives at MD Anderson.
“I can’t thank my care teams enough. It takes both the hope and love from my family and MD Anderson to keep me going. I’ll never stop fighting,” she says. “I feel like we’re doing this together.”
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
I felt unlucky with these diagnoses, but I also feel so lucky to have MD Anderson.