Having a Baby After Cancer
Eight women share their inspiring journeys to motherhood
Jill Hymer, 34, a marketing consultant, lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband, Larry, 36, vice-president of a software development firm, and her children, Kennedy, 4, and Zach, 2.
While I was pregnant with my first child, Kennedy, I had all these weird things going on with my left breast. It got a little larger than my right; then it got very hard and hot. The skin on the outside was like an orange peel and they had to give me antibiotics. It didn't even dawn on me that it could be breast cancer. I just thought it was normal pregnancy stuff. I was so young-I really had no fears.
I had my daughter on June 18, 2001. Afterward, while I was still in the hospital, I was trying to breastfeed but it wasn't working on the left breast. My doctor had to aspirate (drain fluid from) what they thought was a cyst on that breast. They aspirated three times, but every time it filled back up. I wasn't really focused on the cyst, but my doctor said, "Let's go ahead and do an ultrasound." They didn't see anything on the first ultrasound, but when they did a second, they saw a solid mass. The diagnosis came on July 6, the day after I turned 30. It was inflammatory breast cancer -- which is often misdiagnosed because there is no lump.
My husband and I wanted more children -- originally we had wanted to have three or four. But the doctors said that since I was close to 30, I might go into menopause after treatment. I had less than two weeks to decide what to do -- that's not a very large window to think about my options or do much research on freezing my eggs or anything. So we just went ahead with treatment and hoped it wouldn't push me into menopause.
I really think having my daughter helped me get through this. I was lucky -- the treatment didn't make me that sick -- but also, I didn't let myself waste time lying around feeling bad. I focused on Kennedy and being a good mom, and I tried to make my cancer treatment secondary.
I had chemotherapy before surgery to shrink my tumor, and radiation after. I was put on Xeloda (a chemotherapy pill), which I was scheduled to take from April through September of 2002. Then in August 2002, my husband and I found out I had gotten pregnant (a happy accident!), and the doctors gave me the okay to stop treatment early.
The main thing we had to figure out was whether the fetus had been harmed by the drugs -- but, of course, there was no information. I called the maker of the drug and they had no record of anyone becoming pregnant on Xeloda. All we could get were studies on mice that showed them being born with webbed feet and cleft palates. All throughout the pregnancy we were worried something could be wrong with the baby, but we were constantly consulting with my oncologist, surgeon, and ob-gyn. Since I was seeing so many doctors during the pregnancy, I was sure that if something was wrong, someone would catch it.
Although my pregnancy was high risk, amazingly enough, it turned out to be very normal. One morning, a couple of weeks before Zachary was due, I went to the doctor and it turned out I was already dilated five centimeters. I had some contractions, checked in to the hospital, had an epidural, and just one hour later, at 3 P.M., Zachary popped out! It was a quick and painless delivery.
We were very excited. It was such a relief just to see him and to make sure everything was there and that he was fine. Of course, we were also worried about me, since my cancer first came out during my pregnancy with Kennedy, but there was no research that getting pregnant could cause cancer or a recurrence. Frankly, though, I don't think there's enough research out there.
It's been four years this week since I was diagnosed and I'm feeling fine. I'm just a tired mother of two toddlers! I don't know if I would have been a different mom if I hadn't had cancer. I just know that I want to spend as much time with them as I can, taking them to parks, the library, and on trips. We're going to Niagara Falls for the first time since the kids were born. I think they'll love it.