Having a Baby After Cancer
Eight women share their inspiring journeys to motherhood
Stefanie Spielman, 38, is a stay-at-home mom who volunteers for the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research, which she started with her husband, Chris, 39, a former pro football player. They have four children: Madison, 11; Noah, 9; Macy, 4; and Audrey Grace, 3.
About seven years ago, when Chris was playing for the Buffalo Bills, I miscarried our third child. At the same time, I found a lump in my breast, so while I was being examined after the miscarriage, I said, "Would you mind looking at this?" The mammogram showed DCIS, ductal carcinoma in situ, a non-invasive early stage cancer. It was hard to believe because I ate organic food, I stayed in shape -- I had to, I was married to a jock! -- and I had no family history of breast cancer. Because of the size of the lump I needed a mastectomy.
When I was diagnosed, Chris quit football for a year and stayed home, took care of the kids, and learned how to cook and do laundry. He was my nurse and Mr. Mom. I had to have chemotherapy, but after that I thought our life would roll forward. We weren't going to let cancer stop us from having the life we wanted.
When I became pregnant again, I wasn't considered high risk. It was almost strange how normal it was. I loved being normal! It was empowering. But during the pregnancy I developed a cough. Seven weeks after having our third child, Macy, I learned the cancer had returned to my lungs. It was an aggressive form, so I was put on six months of chemo plus a new "wonder drug," Herceptin, which is an antibody therapy to prevent tumor growth. A month after dropping chemo, I had my period, the next month I didn't. I thought my system was going wacky. A couple of months later, I felt a strangeness in my abdomen. I thought I had ovarian cancer, but instead I was already four months pregnant.
No one had ever been pregnant on Herceptin as far as we know, and in my stage of disease, it was not the time for me to be having another baby. But we got a scan done and we prayed a lot. We really believed it was God's plan for us to have our fourth child. I stayed on the medicine. It was a decision that was very difficult, but I had three kids at home who needed me. I was scared to death, but I just really believed it was out of my hands and so much bigger than me, and I trusted in that, truly.
Audrey Grace came two months early, but she is perfect in every way. I had to take steroids to develop her lungs and she was only four pounds. I usually have these big babies -- the third weighed nine pounds. When she came out we knew she was going to be small, but she looked so normal. That was a good sign for us. I was happy on so many levels. Happy that she was healthy, happy that it was over, and happy we had had the faith to go through with it all. And happy to have a complete family.
Last year there was a little growth in the same spot in my lungs, so I went through eight months of chemo again. I've been off since May and life is good now. I couldn't wait to have the summer with my kids -- I wanted to enjoy every day in the sun.
My father died of cancer when I was 20 and my sister was 15, so I know what it's like growing up without a parent because of a disease. There is a fear there for me every day -- it's a huge reality. But I also know this can give my kids the ability to face adversity head on, the will to survive, and a trust in God and the plan he has for you. As a kid, I saw my dad, a physician, fight a good fight and love his family. When I was diagnosed, I wanted to turn this bad situation into good, and make it not so scary for my kids.
I can't believe this is my life, because it's shocking. I have an angel child and a miracle baby. I call Macy, who's 4, my angel child because without her being in my stomach and pushing on my lungs, I would never have known that my cancer had returned. And Audrey Grace, who just turned 3, is my miracle.
I'm looking forward to staying healthy so I can just watch my kids grow. Right now I live in very short intervals. I feel like I can't look five years down the road, but I can look three months down the road.