Having a Baby After Cancer
Eight women share their inspiring journeys to motherhood
Dina Melendez, 38, an at-home mom and part-time dog groomer from Buckingham, PA, is married to Michael Melendez, 42, a state horse racing official, and mother of Nicole, 12, and Matthew, 4.
It was a Friday night in October. I was getting in the shower when I ran my hand across my breast. I felt a pea-sized lump. Right away my heart sank. I had a very bad feeling about it. I was 28 years old and my daughter, Nicole, had just turned 2. Monday morning I went in for an exam even thought I'd just been there a month prior and they'd found nothing. The doctor said, "You're too young for breast cancer. If the lump doesn't dissipate in a month, get a mammogram." Well, I didn't wait. Right away, I got a mammogram, a sonogram, and a biopsy. And it turned out to be malignant.
I couldn't believe this was happening to me at age 28. Young women weren't supposed to get breast cancer! And we had so many stresses in our life, so many new things, so many great things: We were raising a toddler, we were deciding on when to have our second child, we were trying to buy a townhouse, I was just beginning my dog grooming career. And now this.
I didn't discuss fertility right away with my doctors. I was so overwhelmed by the fact I had cancer that fertility wasn't in the forefront of my mind. I just felt I needed to save my life for my husband and my daughter. Then after a year of treatment and chemotherapy it suddenly occurred to me I might never be able to get pregnant again!
Today there is a wealth of information for young women going through breast cancer. Many women have had pregnancies after cancer, and women's issues are discussed more openly. Ten years ago, I didn't know where to start. The Web wasn't the resource it is today, and support groups for young women didn't exist. When I did go to a breast cancer support group, everybody was over forty! There was nobody I could relate to. Until I met women through the Young Survival Coalition (a nationwide support group for young breast cancer survivors), I didn't really believe other young women had breast cancer.
My daughter really kept me going during treatment: wondering why mommy was so sick, rubbing my head when I lost my hair. I just had to look at that little face, so full of innocent support, and it gave me strength. I promised myself that if I was able to get pregnant again, I wouldn't miss a thing while that child was growing.
My oncologist said I needed a waiting period of two years before I tried to become pregnant; the breast surgeon and ob-gyn said five. I don't like to be told I can't do something, but I had a close relationship with my surgeon, so I trusted his opinion. Still, because I didn't have good info, I spent the next five years worrying that the child I brought into the world would be affected by my chemo.
Almost immediately after the five years were up we started trying -- the doctors said there was only a certain window of time for it to work. We got pregnant within the second month of trying!
First, we found out the baby was a boy; then we found out through the ultrasound that he looked healthy. It was so overwhelming for my husband and me. Just to see the baby inside me and to know we had done this again -- it felt like the cancer situation had been put behind us. Even so, I still had to see my breast surgeon once a month for an exam, as well as my ob-gyn.
The moment when Matthew was delivered was incredible. At the time, I felt that I had beaten the odds. Not only had I survived for five years, but I had produced another child and a healthy one. I was even able to breastfeed for a short time. Of course, since I'd had a mastectomy with reconstruction, I was a B-cup on one side and a D on the other after Matthew was born. It made for a very interesting bra situation!