Fighting for Two
by Roxanne Martinez
Imagine learning you are pregnant, then being diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer days later. That was the predicament I found myself in last November. Days after receiving the devastating diagnosis and with a whirlwind of emotions, I scheduled my first obstetrician appointment and my initial meetings with my surgeon and oncologist – all on the same day.
My obstetrician appointment was scheduled earlier in the day. It was then that I first heard my baby’s heartbeat. The staff seemed reluctant to offer an ultrasound, but I jumped at the opportunity to see that there really was a little life growing inside of me. Although my baby looked like nothing more than a small speck on the screen at the time, I wanted nothing more in life than to meet her.
Not knowing enough about my diagnosis, my obstetrician advised that I wait until after I met with my oncologist and established a treatment plan to determine the best course of action for the pregnancy. But it was too late; I had already made up my mind. I would be fighting this battle for two.
Subsequent meetings with my surgeon and oncologist disheartened me at first. Neither was highly experienced with treating a pregnant woman with breast cancer. However, both reassured me that there was extensive research that proved promising for pregnant women battling breast cancer. While my physicians consulted with other experts and collaborated on the best treatment plan, I looked to the Internet to do my own research – research that would completely consume me for countless days and even more sleepless nights.
On the day that I was supposed to receive my final chemo treatment, I instead gave birth to my daughter.
Online, I found Hope for Two, an organization dedicated to providing support to women diagnosed with cancer while pregnant. Through this resource, I was able to connect with a doctor who was researching cancer during pregnancy. Her knowledge, along with my physician’s assurance, gave me the confidence I needed to proceed with treatment.
Because I was diagnosed with stage II, triple negative breast cancer early in my pregnancy, my physician recommended that I have a mastectomy first and wait until my second trimester, when the baby’s organs were fully developed, to begin chemotherapy. Even though I experienced some dreadful effects from chemo, I was told that my baby would probably only experience mild side effects, such as a low birth weight and possibly baldness.
The physical side effects of treatment were only part of the battle. Coping with breast cancer while pregnant was a totally different beast. There was absolutely nothing any doctor could tell me that would completely alleviate all my fears. I wouldn’t be at ease until I could physically see and hold my baby in my arms.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. In my case, it took a nationwide network of supporters, nicknamed “Team Roxy,” to help get me through one of the toughest fights of my life. My closest family and friends helped me hold tight to my faith, raised funds for my medical expenses, and kept my spirits uplifted. But it was fellow survivors that gave me hope. Through social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, I was able to connect with a few other women who had recently battled the same diagnosis while pregnant. They now had healthy babies and had photos to prove it.
A few days after my fifth round of chemo, too early to deliver, I began having sharp pains and was admitted to the hospital. Every time the nurse tried to fasten the monitor on my swollen belly, my baby moved and kicked. “You have a feisty little one in there,” the nurse told me. It was then I knew I was not fighting alone. We were in this battle together.
I would have two more rounds of chemo before I was back at the hospital with even sharper, more intense pains that turned out to be contractions. On the day that I was supposed to receive my final chemo treatment, I instead gave birth to my daughter. Born six weeks premature, but perfectly healthy, my tiny miracle had arrived and I finally had serenity. Thus, her name would be Serenity Milagros – Milagros meaning miracles in Spanish.
Unlike me, who was completely bald, Serenity was born with a full head of hair. Something about that reassured me that I had done my job as her mother in protecting her from harm. Five days after delivery, Serenity and I were able to go home. Within the first few months, she grew and flourished, while I recovered from a long and grueling battle. I still look at Serenity with amazement in the fact that I brought forth new life while fighting for my own.
On the toughest days of treatment, the life growing inside of me was all the motivation I needed to remain strong. Thus, I knew I wanted to be a part of an organization that would help other women in my shoes. So I signed up for the Hope for Two national registry and agreed to donate my placenta to advance research on how chemo affects unborn babies. I am also a support person for other women battling cancer while pregnant.
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Roxanne Martinez is a breast cancer survivor living in Fort Worth, TX. She is enjoying her role as a new mom and is dedicated to helping other women battle breast cancer. Visit Roxy at team-roxy.com.
Learn more about pregnancy and cancer at pregnantwithcancer.org. Hope for Two… The Pregnant with Cancer Network is a national non-profit organization for women diagnosed with cancer during pregnancy.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2012.