At 36, Jade Devis was enjoying the first few months of her pregnancy when she received the most devastating news – she had breast cancer. Her blissful world was immediately turned upside down.
Living in Rancho Cucamonga, California, Devis has been experiencing intense pain in her breasts ever since she found out she was pregnant. Family members and her doctor assured her that it was a normal occurrence during pregnancy.
Devis grew concerned, however, when she found a quarter-size oval bump above her left breast, which was only noticeable when she was lying down. It was quite hard, and was painful when she pressed on it.
Her doctor and a radiologist initially dismissed her complaint and recommended that she come back for a check-up. Devis insisted on a biopsy, and that decision most definitely saved both mother and child. “I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t ask for that biopsy. Had I followed the doctor’s recommendations, I would be dead. It was such an aggressive tumor.”
What was presumed to be a clogged milk duct turned out to be stage 2 triple negative breast cancer, a rare and aggressive form of the disease. Surgeons conducted a lumpectomy, successfully removing the large tumor and 10 of Devis’ lymph nodes.
Chemotherapy was the next step, and since doctors advised Devis that her health was the priority, they stated that termination was an option as the baby too young to save. Devis was defiant. “I wasn’t going to let anybody tell me his fate. I was going to do everything I could to save the baby. I wasn’t going to let a disease take the baby from me.”
The doctors then proceeded with chemotherapy to treat Devis’ breast cancer, an ordeal that may likely harm her unborn child. “I felt trapped. The only way out was to do the one thing that I thought I wasn’t supposed to do, which is put my baby in harm’s way.”
Her doctor, Dr. Gayathri Nagaraj, a medical oncologist at the Loma Linda University Cancer Center, noted that pregnant breast cancer patients are very rare. She said, “As a woman, you have this extra empathy for this patient in front of you because it’s difficult to go through chemo in the first place, and here she is having to go through her first pregnancy and chemotherapy. We wanted to give her every opportunity for cure that we would offer a non-pregnant patient.”
Dr. Nagaraj stated for patients with triple negative breast cancer, chemotherapy is highly recommended after surgery. For pregnant women, chemotherapy is not recommended since the fetus’ organs are still forming. She reassured Devis, however, that certain chemotherapy drugs are safe during the second and third trimester.
The regimen was administered when she was 25 weeks pregnant, using the most tried chemotherapy drugs for pregnant patients.
After three cycles of chemotherapy, the breast cancer patient gave birth to son Bradley – full-term, healthy and weighing 6 pounds, 11 ounces. “I felt like I’ve been holding my breath the entire time when he was trapped in my belly and I had to go to chemo,” Devis said. “I’m just happy he’s out of my belly. He’s safe now.”
The first-time mom has natural concerns about the effects of chemotherapy on Bradley, but so far, the boy is hitting the usual developmental milestones.
Devis continued chemotherapy after giving birth, but with a different formulation of drugs. That means that she has to handle all the physical and emotional strain of childbirth, breast cancer treatment, and single motherhood all at the same time.
On top of the fatigue and exhaustion of caring for a newborn, there is also actual physical bone pain as an after effect if breast cancer treatment, making it difficult for her to hold Bradley.
Happily, all the risk has been worth it – after giving birth, Devis had a full body scan which showed that she is now cancer-free! The scan will be done every six months to monitor her condition.
Devis’ story is certainly a ray of hope for expecting women diagnosed with breast cancer, knowing that treatment options are available that will ensure the safety of both the mother and child.
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