Monday, November 10, 2008

How Could Chemo Be Safe During Pregnancy?

I was once asked that question on this blog. It's funny though, the way the statement was made seemed almost accusing. Well I can assure you though I have gone through it, and have gathered much information on it and fully support a woman going through pregnancy while having cancer at the same time, I don't have all the medical knowledge to really tell you why it can be done, how it could possibly not kill the fetus. I don't know. I do know though after much research and study and because of the best Internet site out there for someone like me, www.pregnantwithcancer.org, that chemotherapy can in fact be given safely during pregnancy.

Most doctors and websites will say the same thing. It's safest when given in the 2nd and third trimesters after all the major organs have formed. This makes sense of course. Upon further study though the only defects I found from first trimester chemo were along the lines of cleft palate. Well that's not all that scary to me. I'd be willing to risk it. I did have to start chemo during the first trimester. 99% of any information you'll find on chemo during pregnancy will NOT be for first trimester. Not any doctor would suggest or recommend it unless there was absolutely no choice. Well I had no choice.

I found out I was pregnant towards the end of April 2007. I knew I had been feeling short breath and choked. I knew I had to sleep sitting up just so I could breathe. I felt constant pressure in my neck and had seen numerous doctors all of which blamed my thyroid yet at the same time told me it isn't big enough to be causing these symptoms. Regardless, I wasn't super thrilled about being pregnant. I cried. I had gone back to college. I was on my way to finally getting a job after raising 3 older girls. My youngest was in school. I was ready! I had finished 2 years of prerequisites for the nursing program. Then, I was pregnant. I think that the biggest fear though wasn't that I wouldn't be finishing school anytime soon. My fear was that I knew something was wrong. I had no strength. I felt tired walking up 2 stairs. I couldn't talk on the phone without panting. About 2 weeks later I found out I had cancer. I can't begin to explain the whirlwind of thoughts and not only thoughts but things I had to do. I really didn't have time to sit down and cry or feel sorry for myself. There was too much to do!

After seeing my regular oncologist who told me what he recommended he sent me to a specialist whom he thought should give me a second opinion. I guess it's regular procedure. I had to go to St. Louis for it. Her recommendation was simply that it would be too hard on me. I should have a therapeutic abortion. I asked what the risks were to me and she said none. They didn't know what effect the chemo would have on the baby for sure and based on that and how I would handle it emotionally she thought we should terminate. She thought if something went wrong and the baby had problems it would be too much for me. I knew without a doubt it would be impossible for me to survive if I terminated. I loved that baby already. I knew she had a right to beat this cancer as well. That specialist is the only one suggested terminating. From then on it was never mentioned again. I was treated always with the baby in mind. I got x-rays with a lead vest covering my tummy. I didn't have any other scans because of the risks to baby. Doc said it was OK since treatment for Hodgkin's is all the same at that point anyway. I had to start chemo immediately though because I wouldn't last another 3 weeks which would have put me at the second trimester. I could hardly breathe at all and truly didn't know how I would last another day much less 3 weeks. So we began chemo at 10 weeks into my pregnancy on May 22, 2007. I had 6 rounds or 12 treatments. I finished the last chemo on October 23rd 2007. The only thing that chemo ever did was cause some mild but continuous uterine contractions. I did have to be in the hospital for a few days on a magnesium drip. That worked and I was sent home. I delivered a healthy baby girl on November 17th, 2007. Now can I say all situations would be like this? No. I am no expert but I can say that babies are born to mothers who have had chemo with full heads of hair. Mothers are bald from chemo and baby has a full head of hair. Wouldn't you think that if the chemo crossed the placenta over to the baby that the baby's hair would be gone too? More and more they are seeing chemo can be safely given. There is no way to get a huge study together and find out for sure. There are many many different chemo regimens and one may not be as safe as the next. There is hope though. Do your research if you ever find yourself in this situation. Here is an article I was reading today. I will leave you with this. I found it to be very helpful.

With Child, With Cancer

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