I Carried Cancer With My Pregnancy For Weeks
Here’s a shout out to gynecological cancer month, you know the ones that all women fear like uterine, cervix, and ovarian cancer; but there are others that women aren’t made fully aware of, like vulvar or placental cancer, these aren’t as publicized and they should be.
What is placenta cancer? Is that what you read? Yes, you read that right. Cancer of the placenta. The special organ that forms during pregnancy, the organ that is used to feed and nourish the baby in a healthy and normal pregnancy can have scary complications believe it or not. The technical name is choriocarcinoma, a type of gestational trophoblastic disease or GTD. I am a survivor of this rare type of gynecological pregnancy disease. Placental cancer is a fast-growing, aggressive cancer that had metastasized to my right lung and claimed what was to be my surviving twin baby.
I had an even rarer GTD case called complete twin molar pregnancy with one surviving and healthy, full-term twin. As my family and I were blatantly and descriptively told; I had two eggs regularly fertilized, of those two eggs, one was my surviving twin. The other egg happened to be missing DNA/chromosomes, therefore, stopping at the formation of the placenta, unable to support any fetus. These abnormal cells eventually turned into cancer called choriocarcinoma. This is a fast-growing and aggressive cancer that spreads from the uterus, liver, lungs, and then the brain. Despite this, the good news is, the cancer is easily treated IF caught in time and IF treated correctly the first time around. I remember being told that this was the ‘good kind of cancer to have. Was that meant to be of some comfort to me?
Four months after I gave birth to my surviving twin I took a quick trip to the hospital for a dilation & curettage (D&C). What I thought would be a simple procedure turned into a traumatic 12-hour visit. I refused to leave in fear that I would go home and bleed to death, especially after a massive hemorrhage, and being told by several different medical professionals that I was pregnant or miscarrying. The day prior to this, I was at my regular OBGYN’s office, and an ultrasound that was taken started to show a grape-like image on the right side of my uterus. At the hospital, this grape-like image was not found even after two ultrasound attempts; however, the labor and delivery doctor said that my cervix was as thick as it would be if I was at the 6-month pregnancy mark. Keep in mind I had just given birth to a baby girl 4 months prior. I remember the doctor appearing to be quite disturbed during the ultrasound, and I was certain something was terribly wrong. I remained persistent in pointing out the little grape-like image that we had noticed the day prior.
This was the beginning of being officially diagnosed with choriocarcinoma. Within the next few weeks, I was quickly and unexpectedly admitted to the hospital and forced to quit breastfeeding due to my body’s response to this illness. I endured various tests, PICC-line insertion, and my 1st chemotherapy treatment, all with one single hospital visit within a 48 hour period. From this point forward, this process became a weekly, 6 ½ month weekly chemotherapy sessions, with cocktail cycles, shots, steroids, hospital stays, and having to deal with neutropenic, transfusions, infections, PTSD, and a long 5-year follow-up.
I found out later on that my cancer had fully gestated around 19-25 weeks into my pregnancy. I had no idea that I had been carrying cancer with my pregnancy and for that length of time! This was the most bizarre thing I’ve ever heard yet, I had been actually living with it. The clues were finally adding up; the itching that came back negative for a yeast infection, the regular contractions during that time frame, the extra bleeding at birth that led to my postpartum anemia, the bleeding that lasted for 8 weeks and turned to intermittent spotting for the remaining two months which ended as a small hemorrhage and clot. It was then that I called my ob-gyn, showing up to his office within the hour only to be sent to the hospital for the D&C surgery I mentioned previously
Even though this has been quite the journey, I passed my 6-year cancer-free anniversary. I have found my new normal for the most part and have dealt with the aftermath of chemotherapy and all the effects that come with it. Despite my struggles, I choose to live life to the max each day. I continue as a strong awareness advocate for this rare pregnancy disease and its cancers that affect women and their family’s all over the world. My healthy twin? Oh, she is doing great, too! Be your own advocate and educate yourself where you can. By doing this, it can help save your life.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash.