Becoming a Mama - Part 4
As soon as the second trimester began, I was hoping the much hyped "honeymoon phase" of pregnancy would begin. All my friends told me the morning sickness (read: all-day/all-the-time sickness!!!) would go away and that I would feel great! That didn't happen. I continued to feel yucky all the way through week 21. It was all obviously worth it, so I'm not going to complain. Lesson learned: everyone's pregnancy is completely different. To all of you expectant mothers reading this... just know that you should never compare your pregnancy to someone else's. My doctor told me not to be discouraged if my symptoms persisted through 20 weeks and I'm so glad she helped me mentally prepare for that scenario because it's exactly what happened!
I wish I could say that everything got easier but it didn't. Slowly but surely, I started working on designing the nursery (read more about that process here and here!) and we spent the winter holidays with our family as we anticipated all that the new year would bring. Though these were certainly joyful times, Jarrod and I spent them under a dark cloud of worry. As if there wasn't enough on my plate in terms of health issues, I was also growing more and more concerned by the day that I might have a very rare and deadly form of cancer called inflammatory breast cancer. My doctor referred me to a specialist/surgeon at the breast clinic and I would see her in early January.
As Jarrod and I both learned the hard way... if you run a Google search for "inflammatory breast cancer", the results will likely have you in tears within ten minutes. The stories are tragic and unlike other forms of breast cancer, which many women now survive, this particular disease has a median survival rate of less than 5 years. It is extremely aggressive and because the cancer grows and spreads so quickly, by the time it is diagnosed, it has often already spread to lymph nodes or surrounding areas and is already a stage III or stage IV cancer. It is also extremely difficult to diagnose and the treatment options were not likely to be a realistic course of action for me since I was only barely over halfway through my pregnancy at that point.
I tried my hardest to keep a positive outlook, and so did Jarrod, but we were both terrified. I searched and searched for survivor stories and new research that indicated there was significant progress in treatment options. Jarrod and I both searched for other explanations or conditions that are often mistaken for IBC that might be less serious. The search results were dire and it was impossible for me to ignore the possibility that my daughter might be born while I was fighting a deadly disease that could take me from her within a few years. I felt devastated and once again, completely overwhelmed. This isn't something I shared with many people, even most of my own family, as I didn't want to scare or alarm anyone else.
The day before my appointment at the breast clinic, Jarrod and I went to my OB's office for a routine pre-natal check-up. That morning as I was getting out of bed to shower and get ready, I had a few dizzy spells. It felt like the room was spinning a bit and I felt lightheaded. Since I was on my way to the doctor's office, we knew that we needed to talk to her about this.
I checked in and the nurse called us back for the standard pre-natal appointment run-down we were completely familiar with by this point. Step one: stop at the scale in the hallway to be weighed (ugh!!). Step two: pee in a cup. Step three: have blood pressure taken. We hit a big snag with step three this time and my blood pressure was extremely high. The nurse got my doctor and she was also concerned about it. She asked how I was feeling and I told her about my dizziness that morning. As she had me lay on my back to check the baby's heartbeat with the doppler, I got dizzy again. She sent us straight to the hospital to be admitted for monitoring in the labor and delivery wing. As Jarrod and I drove to the hospital - at only 24 weeks - it hit me like a ton of bricks that if they determined I had pre-eclampsia (the main concern with dizziness and high blood pressure) then I would not be leaving the hospital. I shoved my ever-present worries about breast cancer to the back of my mind and concentrated on the issue at hand.
One. Thing. At. A. Time. That was all I could handle.
We spent several hours in the labor and delivery floor's triage unit. I had to lay still hooked up to fetal monitors and a blood pressure cuff that took a reading every 15 minutes. Thank the Lord... after a few hours of perfectly healthy BP readings, a healthy heart rate for baby girl, and healthy blood work lab results, the doctors discharged me and let us go home. From then on through the rest of my pregnancy, I was considered to have gestational hypertension. It would mean yet even more monitoring, and more risk. But for the time being, I was okay and the baby was doing great. We were so grateful. One potential health crisis averted. On to the next one.
The following day, I went to the breast clinic.
For those of you reading who might be worried that I'm about to share the news that I have inflammatory breast cancer... please don't worry. I am beyond grateful to share that I do NOT have it and am perfectly healthy. I am going to write the story of the seven weeks I worried about it, the doctor's visits/tests, etc. Months ago when this was all happening, Jarrod encouraged me to write about it and I wasn't quite ready to do so, but now I am. I hope these blog posts will be a light for somebody. A light in the dark tunnel of internet search results full of terrifying stories. I've been down that tunnel and know how little hope I found. IBC is so rare that it is estimated to account for only 1-5% of all breast cancers. Most people have never heard of it and because it is so rare, many doctors have never even seen it. I read blog posts written by women who were undergoing treatment and then sobbed uncontrollably when I came to the end of their blog and realized the posts had stopped because they had died. The internet is full of doom and gloom and it's so tough to avoid placing yourself in a hypothetical story of tragedy when all that you read tells you to prepare for the worst. Several years ago, I lost my dad to an extremely rare cancer. The statistics mean so little to me. That "1-5%" statistic I mentioned previously is shared frequently to let people know how unlikely it is that a person will have IBC. But if you're the 1-5% then there's nothing "unlikely" about it. Having recently lost my father to thymus cancer (a cancer so rare that it occurs at a rate of about 1.5 cases for every million people per year in the U.S, according to the American Cancer Society), and having recently been told that our child would be born with Trisomy 21... Jarrod and I knew there was no sense in thinking we were immune to the small odds. If you stumbled onto this post because you too are worried that you might have inflammatory breast cancer... I know that you are desperately searching for hope. Friends, don't let the worry get the best of you. I'm going to share some hope with you.
To be continued next week.
Continue reading Part 5