Fighting Cancer While Pregnant: My Battle and Victory
My husband was the one who discovered the lump in my breast.
I didn’t think much of it. I was 28 years old, full of life and a new mother. At the time, I was still breastfeeding my two-year old daughter, so I assumed the lump was just a clogged milk duct. I went to the doctor to get it checked out and to my surprise, I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. How could this be, I thought. I, young and healthy, could have never imagined this would be my reality. My whole world was turned upside down. I was terrified and assumed I was going to die. What about my husband? My baby? I didn’t know anything about cancer except that going bald and becoming weak was the experience of some with the disease. I was scared of treatment and even more fearful that it would not work. I prayed, I cried and reached out for any support I could find. Thankfully, I was able to find a support group[i] [ii] that helped young women like myself with resources to pay for treatment and living expenses.
Many women who survived the life-threatening disease reached out to me and provided me with both emotional and spiritual support. I was so thrilled to have this kind of help, help I didn’t even know existed. These powerful women gave me the courage and the strength to fight for my life. I was 6 years into my marriage and had just had a baby; I was starting my life and was determined not to let cancer end it. I had resolved that cancer was not going to take away my joy and my love for life and it was not going to cripple me into believing that my life was over. In fact, it only empowered me to fight for my family and myself. So, fight I did. I knew that God was with me and I was going to fight until the bitter end.
I had my port placed, a device placed through the skin to connect to the vein so chemotherapy can be successfully infused. When the first round of chemo was injected I felt dizzy, tired and weak. I was given fluids and nausea medication beforehand and it made the process a lot easier. In fact, I didn’t really feel the more serious effects of the chemo until later that evening as I rested at home. I became very fatigued and nauseous as I tried to eat and drink. Yet, despite knowing the side effects that would eventually surface after treatment, I sat through each chemo session relaxed and calm, having prayed and mediated before each appointment. Eventually, I started to lose my hair and began to lose weight. I was able to manage my physical changes with wigs, scarves, and makeup. And though I treated myself as normally as possible and focused on fighting this horrible disease in order to reclaim my life, it was hard.
Particularly difficult were the ways in which the disease and chemotherapy affected my ability to mother my child. I was always tired and relied on the help of family to care for my daughter. My daughter is autistic, and though I tried my best to explain that mommy wasn’t feeling well, I’m not sure she understood. She’d often try to play or jump on me as I tried to rest and my husband would have to console her after she became upset that I could not play with her. Additionally, my mother suffers from dementia and would forget that I was undergoing chemotherapy. She’d often become frustrated with me and accuse me of being a bad mother because of the tantrums my daughter would throw as a result of my inability to play and engage with her in the ways I used to. As a result, despite my body telling me I needed rest, I would sometimes try to ‘push through’ and act ‘normal’ in order to maintain peace.
After completing chemotherapy I was scheduled to have a double mastectomy. As I prepared for surgery, I was told that the operation would need to be canceled because lab tests revealed that I was pregnant! I couldn’t believe it! My family and I were in shock. I had already accepted the possibility that there would be little to no chance of getting pregnant again because of the chemotherapy. Yet here I was, a 28-year-old pregnant cancer fighter. I waited for the 2nd trimester to have the mastectomy with breast reconstruction. And despite my fears, the baby did great! He was kicking and had a great heartbeat after the surgery. I was so thankful. Recovery was hard and painful. I was down for two to three weeks and was unable to pick up my daughter as a result of an incision into my armpit to remove lymph nodes. But I was blessed to know that my doctors didn’t find any cancer cells in my pathology report and came to the conclusion that I had made a complete response to treatment. I am so happy that I decided to fight! I gave myself the opportunity to live in spite of my initial diagnoses. I am preparing to give birth to my little miracle, while continuing to be the best mom, wife, and woman I can. Cancer didn’t break me down. Just the opposite. It reminded me of all the things worth fighting for; my family, my husband, my children, myself. It reminded me to never give up on myself.
Despite the bumps in the road, the unanticipated twists and turns, and the seemingly never-ending depths of the valley, you must always fight. Always.
Candy Williams is a devoted wife, mother and educator. She loves to inspire people and see them at their best.
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