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Expecting a Baby, not a Cancer Diagnosis

Sarah was 32 years old and 14 weeks along in her third pregnancy—this time a baby boy. “Everything was normal—baby was doing great,“ Sarah says. “Then one day I found a lump in my breast. I didn’t know what to think, because lumps and bumps and body changes happen with pregnancy. My obstetrician told me to use a hot compress for a week, thinking it could just be a clogged milk duct. A week passed and nothing changed.“

Sarah had a mammogram and ultrasound-guided biopsy. The tests confirmed the lump was breast cancer. “It just happened all so fast from there,“ Sarah says.

Referred to Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) in Salt Lake City, Sarah traveled from her home in Nevada, leaving her one- and three-year-old behind. “That’s when I met my medical family here. They just welcomed me. They were so kind and warm. Coming in, being pregnant and diagnosed with breast cancer, it was terrifying.“

Her medical family at HCI included an obstetrician from the University of Utah who specializes in high-risk pregnancy. Limited to certain treatments in order to keep the baby safe, the team decided to shrink the tumor with chemotherapy.

Sarah standing on the salt flats while pregnant

Sarah and her unborn baby went through a total of 14 rounds of chemotherapy together. At 35 weeks pregnant, Sarah’s care team decided to pause the chemo treatments to let her recover and prepare for delivery. “I was induced at 39 weeks and gave birth to a 9 pound, 9 ounce bouncing baby boy,“ she says. “I have never cried so much in my life, except in that moment when I finally had that baby in my arms!“

After recovering from the birth of her son, Sarah finished two rounds of chemo. She then underwent a lumpectomy and was schedule for 19 rounds of radiation, which meant treatments five days a week for four weeks straight. She and her family picked up and moved from Nevada to Salt Lake City for a month.

Patients with small children can have a difficult time finding affordable short-term lodging. Sarah’s social worker helped them secure assistance through Airbnb’s Open Homes Medical Stay program. “It provided us a place to stay for a month and I didn’t have to pay a dime. It was such a blessing.“

Since finishing radiation, Sarah continues traveling to HCI every three weeks for chemo until Spring 2020. Later that year she will undergo her first scans post-treatment.

Sarah holding her baby

It’s important to Sarah to share her story and be there for other mothers going through a cancer diagnosis. Looking back through her experience, she says, “I have little people at home who need me. I have a husband at home who needs me. Kids still need their snacks and their routines. They depend on you and you’re tired. You’re trying to be brave and strong for them. It’s hard.“

Her advice? “Look at the bigger picture. Hang on. You’re not alone. I’m here to tell other moms out there that I get it. It’s hard, it’s terrible, but life goes on. We have to figure it out and get through it, day by day.“

HCI Physician-in-Chief and breast cancer oncologist John Ward, PhD, says, “Cases like Sarah’s are not unheard of. Sometimes a delayed diagnosis is possible as changes in a woman’s body are occurring, which can be mistaken as normal and not evidence of cancer. Currently, ultrasound and mammography are the safest methods of imaging during pregnancy, and chemotherapy can begin within the second trimester.“

Learn more about breast cancer treatment during pregnancy from the American Cancer Society.

Cancer touches all of us.