Before 2011, a typical six-month time span didn’t involve many life-altering situations or events for me. But that all changed when I hit what I now call my six-month hiatus.
The first part was bliss. I spent it celebrating the joys of a new husband, whom I married on June 18, 2011. We moved in together, blended our families and shared the news that we were pregnant. We relished and soaked up the unrelenting highs.
But on Dec. 7, 2011, 29.5 weeks into my pregnancy, we were blindsided by my stage III inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) diagnosis. Even though my due date was close, my oncologist recommended that I start chemotherapy. I was scared, but my husband and I decided we had to trust the experts.
Inflammatory breast cancer treatment during pregnancy
A month after starting chemo, I gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Ironically, he had more hair than I did. I was relieved and more determined than ever to tackle my cancer head on. So in spite of my motherly desire to soak up time with my youngest son, I ramped up my treatment.
As if chemo weren’t hard enough, the radioactive scans I needed prevented me from holding my baby for 24-hour timespans. I also wasn’t able to breastfeed my son, which broke my heart. I was consumed with emotion and fear: Would my sons grow up without me? How would my new husband cope with becoming a single dad? What about all the medical bills? I tried to remind myself that for the time being, my focus had to be on surviving.
Thankfully, my body responded well to the chemo cocktail I received. I also quickly healed from a mastectomy and flap reconstruction, and finished my course of treatment with 33 rounds of aggressive radiation therapy. In September 2012, I was declared cancer-free.
A few months later, I felt a lump in the breast where I’d had inflammatory breast cancer. Fearing this might be a recurrence, I scheduled an appointment at MD Anderson, where I met my wonderful oncologist, Mariana Chavez Mac Gregor, M.D. From the first time I met her, she made me feel very comfortable and reassured me with her great bedside manner. Thankfully, that lump turned out to be nothing to worry about, but I’m happy to have my team at MD Anderson monitoring me and helping me cope with cancer’s side effects and life as a cancer survivor.
Life after inflammatory breast cancer
I’m blessed beyond measure to have amazing support of my husband, friends and family. My husband and sons are the reasons I fought so hard, and I’m happy to say that I’ve had no evidence of disease for nearly four years.
I don't remember many of my son’s milestones from his first months because I was so focused on fighting cancer. I often find myself going through pictures and videos in hopes of catching the smallest glimpse of that period of his life. I wasn’t able to be fully present then, but I am now.