Having a Baby After Cancer
Eight women share their inspiring journeys to motherhood
Leslie Cornell lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, with her husband, Stan Cornell, Jr., a counselor for the developmentally disabled, and her son, Hayden, 1 1/2. She plans to return to school in the spring to resume her studies in music.
I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in January of 2002, at the age of 29. I had papillary carcinoma, which had spread to my lymph nodes, muscle, and soft tissue in my neck. In March of 2002 I had my thyroidectomy. Two weeks later my doctors performed a radical neck dissection to remove the lymph chain and a lot of soft tissue and muscle in my neck.
My husband and I had only been married for two years when all this happened. We'd tried to have a baby six months into our marriage, but I'd miscarried at six weeks. We continued to try and try, with no luck. My obgyn considered us infertile because we'd tried everything, and there wasn't any explanation as to why we couldn't conceive.
In March of 2003 I was due for my first yearly radioactive I-131 scan, which tests for thyroid cancer. The scan requires you to get off thyroid hormones beforehand, allowing your TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) levels to rise. The doctor then administers a radioactive iodine pill that travels through your body, and if anything lights ups, that indicates the thyroid cancer has returned. I had been off my thyroid medication for six weeks, and I wasn't feeling well.
I happened to see my obgyn before I had the scan. She said she wanted to make sure all my blood levels were okay. She did not tell me she was running a pregnancy test. It's almost impossible to conceive a baby with high TSH levels, and besides, we thought we were infertile, so pregnancy didn't even seem a reality. But my obgyn called me the next day to tell me that I was approximately five days pregnant!
We were in total shock -- and scared too. What was going to happen? This was to be my first scan after being sick, but now I couldn't have it because the radiation would damage my baby. Would the fact that I'd been off my thyroid hormones when we got pregnant mean the baby was going to be okay? What would happen if the cancer was back -- would the baby survive?
We'd wanted a baby so bad, I decided to take the chance: I told my doctor I was going to put off my scan till after the baby was born. I had other doctors telling me that my baby was going to be slow ¿ because my thyroid levels were so high when we conceived, and that the baby would probably have a low birth weight as well. One doctor even suggested I terminate the pregnancy. It was all so frustrating -- but I did not listen to those doctors. I took care of myself the best I could. I saw a perinatologist (maternal-fetal doctor specializing in high-risk pregnancies), who was very positive and who guided me through the process with care.
Nine months later, I delivered a very healthy 9 pound 3 ounce baby boy! He was perfect in every way. He made me believe in miracles. He is our miracle.
I had my thyroid scan last June 2004. I am still in remission. And I couldn't be happier.