Cancer and Pregnancy

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These days, with the effectiveness of home pregnancy tests, most of us have a pretty good idea whether we are pregnant a week or more before the doctor confirms the news for us. Still, there’s nothing more exciting we can hear from the doc’s mouth than, “You’re going to have a baby.”

On the flip side of that, there’s nothing that can strike fear and apprehension in our hearts like hearing that same doctor say, “You have cancer.” Can you imagine the roller coaster of emotions a woman goes through when she hears both from her doctor within a short time span?

A Rare Combination

Fortunately, it doesn’t happen very often. Fewer than one in 1,000 pregnant women are diagnosed with cancer. Of those who are diagnosed, the majority of cases involve breast cancer.

Pregnancy and cancer can be a dangerous mix. Many doctors recommend abortions to women who are diagnosed with cancer. In part, this is out of concern for the mother’s health and well being. Many cancer treatments can be dangerous to developing babies (particularly during the first trimester), placing mothers in the difficult position of choosing whether to delay potentially life saving treatments out of concern for the baby.

Treatments are Safer for Baby Later in Pregnancy

In the second and third trimester of pregnancy, the placenta provides a significant level of shielding from chemotherapy. In most cases, women who decide to carry their babies to term while fighting cancer wait until the second trimester before beginning cancer treatments.

Of course, chemotherapy leaves anyone undergoing it drained. This can be especially hard on expectant mothers, who must also deal with the fatigue that is common to normal pregnancies.

Georgia Woman Wrote the Book

Amy Hanley, of the Athens, Georgia area, is one of those rare women who discovered she had cancer while she was pregnant. In Mrs. Hanley’s case, she actually contracted cancer while pregnant with one baby (whom she lost), but only learned of the condition while pregnant with yet another child.

Hanley gave birth to a healthy baby boy. As of the time of this writing, she still faces her battle with cancer, with radiation treatments ahead. Still, she claims that the experience, while difficult, has caused her to learn “to live without fear.”

In the midst of her struggles with cancer and pregnancy, Hanley wrote Surrender: Pregnant with Cancer. Additionally, she and her family make care packages for people who are undergoing chemotherapy, as a means of softening the loneliness which often accompanies the treatment.

Do you know anyone who has faced a dreaded disease and pregnancy at the same time? How did they handle it?


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