Having a Baby After Cancer
Eight women share their inspiring journeys to motherhood
Sue Lustig McPeek, 46, is a full-time mom who helps out her husband, Kenneth Grey McPeek, 43, in his business buying, selling, and managing racehorses. They live in Louisville, Kentucky, with their daughter, Jenna, who turns 5 on October 9.
I just knew something wasn't right: For quite some time, I'd had a slight thickening at the roof of my mouth where the hard palate meets the soft palate. I'd already been to several doctors and had a CAT scan, only to find nothing. Meanwhile, after several years of trying, I'd discovered I was pregnant. As you can imagine, cancer was the farthest thing from my mind! Still, something in me didn't feel comfortable about the thickening. I mentioned it to my hygienist while having my teeth cleaned. "Why don't you get it biopsied?" she said. It might just be a cyst." She set up an appointment for the following week, and a malignancy was found. Here I was, 40 years old, 26 weeks pregnant with my first child, and facing cancer.
Suddenly, my life was full of fears, complications, and decisions. I was one more unwilling member of the "cancer society," the ones who spend their lives in, and money on, doctors offices and hospitals. The pathologists weren't sure exactly what kind of malignancy they were seeing, so they wanted a more extensive biopsy to be done under general anesthesia. They then said I had a PNET tumor, a peripheral neuroectodermal tumor, in the perimaxillary region of my head. It's a very rare, aggressive form of cancer, normally found in people far younger than myself.
A plan was formed. I began to receive injections of a steroid that would increase the development of my daughter's lungs so we could induce labor early. I was also given two treatments of chemotherapy while we waited. The drug was Vincristine, which the doctors felt had a low enough toxicity to leave my child unharmed while affording me some protection. After my second amniocentesis showed Jenna's lungs to be ready, we prepared for her birth. It was done by c-section, and it was a beautiful experience, an island of joy in a sea of uncertainty and concern. She weighed 4 pounds, 11 ounces, and she has not missed a beat since joining us. She's healthy, happy, and my special gift from God.
Now the attention turned to my cancer. Two weeks after Jenna was born, surgery was performed to remove my tumor. The procedure, called a midfacial degloving, resulted in minimal physical aftereffects and was done by Dr. Jeffrey Bumpous, one of my many heroes in all of this. The pathology of the tumor showed that no live tissue was left in what had been removed, the best news possible. Apparently, the chemotherapy I had received was very effective. That, or all the prayer lists I was on, worked! I followed up with a heavy-duty regime of chemotherapy suggested by my doctors, to ensure that the cancer cells didn't travel and pop up somewhere else in my body. I was able to continue through only 4 of 11 treatments before I ended up very sick in the hospital, close to death from the toxins inside me. The treatment I was receiving was one usually reserved for children. Because children have faster metabolisms than adults, the chemo drugs move out of their bodies more quickly. I'd taken control of my treatment from the beginning, and I knew that it was right for me to end my chemotherapy at that point.
There are several things I did that helped me through the whole ordeal. My husband, who is an avid reader of self-help books, gave me Dale Carnegie's How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. That book helped me survive the fear that threatened to take over my life. I also used the Internet to educate myself about what was known about my type of cancer. Finally, I allowed an article to be written about me in our trade journal, the Daily Racing Form (DRF). My husband trained thoroughbred racehorses at the time, so it was easy to approach my friend, Marty McGee, a reporter for the DRF, to ask for his help in spreading the word of my upcoming battle. By sharing my story in this way, I didn't have to answer the constant question "When are you due?" with my tale of horror. I was unprepared for, but extremely appreciative of, the outpouring of support from those who read about me. My openness about my cancer has given me great gifts and continues to do so even now, four and a half years later.
I wouldn't have asked to have cancer, but having had it, I can say that I have grown from the challenge, and I am proud to be a member of the cancer community, brave souls who have a chance to learn the true value of life.