Navigating Cancer and Pregnancy
Toward the end of February, I was feeling pretty great. After a challenging first trimester I felt like myself again, my happy little bump and all. We shared the pregnancy news with our preschooler and then at around 20 weeks we decided to share the news more publicly (including here on the blog). We were about to head out for a second-child “babymoon” – our last trip as a family of three – to Disneyworld. The day before we left I needed to get a test done after some relatively mild symptoms had brought me from my OB to my PCP to a gastroenterologist. Every step of the way I was told, “it’s probably nothing, but let’s check it out just in case.” On the day of the test I expected we’d find exactly that. Nothing. In fact, I was more annoyed than anything for having to miss half of my workday for the test as I was busily preparing to leave for vacation. In fact, I almost considered postponing it figuring, what’s the rush? I feel good, I’m sure everything is fine.
That day I was told that what had caused my symptoms was in fact a large tumor in my colon. Emergency tests would be run but it was almost certainly cancer. The rest of the day was a complete blur as we were shuttled around the hospital from doctor to doctor, all trying to figure out the best course of action. It was decided that surgery was necessary and it needed to happen right away – I was only weeks away from being too far along in my pregnancy to safely operate and the hormones of pregnancy have been known to cause cancer to grow and spread more rapidly. The surgery would be the following Tuesday during what was supposed to be our family vacation. Perhaps it was the enormity of the news or how quickly everything happened but I wept the hardest when I realized we’d have to tell Liam that we were not going to Disney the next day. He’d been excited about the trip for months and I didn’t think I could handle his disappointment on top of everything else. For some reason, none of it seemed real until that moment.
The surgery was major and the recovery has been difficult, particularly because of the duality of my conditions. Almost everything that would help treat the cancer or help me heal is at odds with what’s best for the baby (and vice versa), meaning every tiny decision along the way involves consulting with a team of experts to figure out the best course of action.
But, despite everything we’ve been through, I’m incredibly lucky. The cancer was caught early and I’m now cancer free and on my way to a full recovery. The baby is doing wonderfully and has provided constant kicks which have been a much needed source of reassurance and hope throughout the process. I’m also incredibly lucky that the cancer was found at all. Colon cancer is extremely rare in healthy young people without a family history and often doesn’t manifest symptoms until the disease is advanced. I was told many times how it was most likely both the symptoms and vigilance that comes with pregnancy that caused the cancer to be detected early and for that, I will always think of this pregnancy and this baby as a miracle.
I’ve struggled with rather or not to write this post. Partly because it’s so personal and partly because everything happened so quickly that I’m still processing it all. I decided I needed to share for two reasons. First, and most pragmatically because this experience has been paradigm shifting for me. I’m not sure I could continue blogging here without sharing what caused that shift both in terms of this pregnancy and life in general.
Second, because I hope others will learn from the lesson I learned by accident. My symptoms were relatively minor. I felt totally fine (great even) otherwise and the symptoms would have been very easy to write off – both for me and my doctors. But ultimately I knew something wasn’t quite right. It’s a message I know we’ve all heard a thousand times but if you take anything from my story, please take this – you are the only expert on what’s normal for you. And you are your own best advocate. When something doesn’t feel quite right, get it checked out right away and if your doctor is less vigilant than mine were, insist on finding an answer. 99% of the time it may be nothing, but it’s worth it to ensure you aren’t in the 1% like I was.
From here, I’m going to try my best to go back to writing about normal pregnancy, parenting and family issues – the wonderfully mundane things of daily life that now feel like such a blessing. “Normal” truly is an under-appreciated blessing and I plan on making up for it from now onward.
- Bright Horizons Online Community: Managing Cancer & Raising a Preschooler
- E-family news: Talking with Children about the Serious Illness of a Family Member
- Read more posts about pregnancy and posts about illness from the Family Room bloggers