During the first trimester of my pregnancy, I had a lingering cough that would not go away. I thought it was allergies, so I procrastinated about going to the doctor. After all, I was a 33-year-old fitness instructor in top health.
But after I coughed so hard I fractured a rib, I saw several doctors and underwent both an X-ray and a CT scan. That’s how I learned of the 16-centimeter mass sitting on top of my left lung.
My doctor immediately reached out to MD Anderson in Sugar Land, which is only 10 minutes from my house. Within three hours, I was there, discussing my tumor with Dr. Janet Tu and scheduling a biopsy to determine whether I had cancer.
Dr. Tu explained that if the tumor was benign, it would be more complicated to remove surgically since it was so close to my heart and lungs. If it turned out to be lymphoma, however, we could melt away the tumor with chemotherapy.
Tailoring B-cell lymphoma treatment for my pregnancy
Before my first appointment, I worried about whether my doctors would know how to treat me without harming my baby. But I could tell immediately that my team knew what they was doing. My doctors helped me find an OB/GYN who specialized in pregnant cancer patients and told me they knew that they were not treating one patient, but two, so my baby would always be considered in treatment decisions. That’s why my treatment deviated from the standard protocol for B-cell lymphoma. I'd undergo six rounds of the chemo cocktail R-CHOP. After the fourth round, I’d deliver my baby at 35-36 weeks and then complete the last two chemotherapy cycles.
Lymphoma treatment during pregnancy
Most patients can get their R-CHOP administered over six hours and then leave the hospital, but because I was pregnant, my care team wanted me to be monitored. I received my first four rounds of chemotherapy as an inpatient. As a precaution, my care team administered the chemotherapy very slowly the first time. I spent a total of three days in the hospital. Fortunately, it got easier and faster each time.
My MD Anderson team worked closely with my obstetrician to ensure that both baby and I were doing OK. Before every chemo treatment, my obstetrician performed an ultrasound and a checkup. Dr. Tu monitored my bloodwork weekly, and I even met with a cardiologist to make sure my heart was strong enough to handle labor.
Motherhood after B-cell lymphoma
After four chemo cycles, I was induced at 36 weeks and 2 days. My son, Joel, was born on March 6, 2018. I was so relieved when the pediatricians confirmed he was healthy.
Six days later, I had my first PET scan. It didn’t shown any signs of cancer. Hearing that news felt like a dream.
As a precaution, I completed my last two rounds of chemo and underwent 17 radiation therapy treatments. Today, I still show no evidence of disease, and I couldn’t feel more blessed.
At the time of my diagnosis, I felt like I was the only person who’d ever faced cancer during pregnancy. I now know that isn’t true. It does happen. And if it happens to you, know that there’s hope for a happy ending. My baby and I survived cancer, thanks to our amazing medical team, and you can, too.