Breast cancer during pregnancy is very rare, occurring in only one in every 3,000 pregnant women. That’s why when 27-year-old Jenny Davis felt a lump in her breast while nursing her 7-month-old son she wasn’t too concerned. Jenny was just five weeks pregnant when she discovered the lump but figured it was a plugged milk duct. However, when doctors felt the mass they were worried and wanted to perform a biopsy. Since Jenny was so early in her pregnancy, they had to wait before she could have the routine procedure. Jenny said, “During that time, just a couple of months, the tumor doubled in size”.
Dr. Jonathan Bender, Davis’s oncologist and the Medical Director at Piedmont Fayette Cancer Center, said, “She was 27 and diagnosed with one of the most aggressive types of breast cancer that we see, which is ‘triple negative’. We always have to make a decision on whether to delay therapy or treat right away.”
While ideally Jenny wouldn’t start chemotherapy until after she had her baby, Dr. Bender felt they had to start treatment as soon as possible. She needed four rounds of chemo during her second and third trimester and then two more after the baby was born.
But Jenny was worried about her baby. She said, “Trying to save my life, and trying not to harm her life was very hard.”
Thankfully, modern medicine has allowed cancer patients during the second and third trimester of pregnancy to receive some types of chemotherapy without harming the baby. This comes as a surprise to many, even to some doctors, who believe that women who have cancer during pregnancy cannot receive any treatment.
Dr. Bender explained, “The studies have shown that as long as you wait until the second or third trimester, until most of the baby’s organ are already formed, that the potential birth defect risks is a lot lower.”
Jenny started her chemotherapy and received a combination of three different types every three weeks. She said that during her infusions she was comforted by the life moving inside her.
It wasn’t until later in her pregnancy that she found out that her unborn daughter was diagnosed in utero with a cleft lip and palate. But these birth defects were not related to the cancer or the chemo. Jenny’s daughter, Brantley, was born on her 28th birthday and had to spend the first two weeks of her life in the neonatal ICU.
After Jenny brought her daughter home she needed two more rounds of chemo before she was done her cancer treatment. Since her mother passed away when she was 11 from ovarian cancer, Jenny decided to have testing done for the BRCA 1 gene, which is a human gene that produces tumor suppressor proteins. According to the National Cancer Institute, this gene can increase a woman’s risk of cancer by 50%.
Jenny tested positive for the gene and decided to have risk reducing surgery. The surgery, called prophylactic surgery, involves removing as much as the “at-risk” tissue as possible.
Jenny chose to have both breasts, her uterus, and ovaries surgically-removed.
She had the surgery because she wanted to live out her dream, which is to watch her children grow up and to take care of them. Now, her daughter is five years old and doing really well. Jenny is cancer free: five years, four months and counting!