Conquering Breast Cancer During Pregnancy

Diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 12 weeks pregnant, Lisa Bender successfully completed treatment and delivered her baby, Alice, now 2.

Health Monitor Staff
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Breast Cancer, Treatment, Pregnancy, Chemo
Photo by Eliesa Johnson

Sweeter cries may have never been heard! For Lisa and Ryan Bender, the fear and horror of a breast cancer diagnosis early in Lisa’s pregnancy vanished—if only for a few minutes—on the birth of their firstborn, Alice Virginia, on March 13, 2011. For those precious moments in the delivery room, Lisa and Ryan were like any parents, marveling at the perfection of their baby girl.

It was the culmination of nearly nine months of anxiety, which started when Lisa went to her family doctor for her first prenatal exam. After pointing out a suspicious lump, she was scheduled for a breast ultrasound. Days later, a biopsy. Driving home from work that day, she got the call with results from her doctor. And, though she’d suspected bad news, she screamed. Then she steeled herself.

“From the start, my goal was to carry my baby to term,” says Lisa. So when three weeks later, she awoke from a lumpectomy for her Stage II, triple-positive cancer, she couldn’t help but smile at the first sound she heard: her child’s heartbeat on an ultrasound device. “It was very reassuring!”

“Support saw me through”
During her second trimester, Lisa had four chemo infusions. “The first was probably the worst day of my life,” she recalls. “I was terrified about putting those chemicals into my body.” Yet doctors assured her that the drugs they were using would be safe at this point. As ultrasound after ultrasound showed her baby was growing just fine, her fears eased.

“It was an emotional time. My friends and family were tremendously supportive,” says Lisa. She also found the Young Survival Coalition online and became involved with Hope for Two, an organization that helps pregnant women with breast cancer. “They pair you with a woman who went through treatment during pregnancy. My support person had a healthy toddler!”

“I barely think about breast cancer now”
After nursing Alice for three weeks, Lisa resumed breast cancer treatment—more chemo followed by radiation followed by remission. These days, she’s running for city council and pregnant with baby No. 2. “I barely ever think about cancer now. I feel good. And I am planning for my future without worrying about cancer.” 

Good news about breast cancer, pregnancy and motherhood
“In premenopausal women, about 10% of breast cancer is diagnosed during or within two years of pregnancy, so this situation is not uncommon” says Steven E. Come, MD, medical director, Breast Cancer Program, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. That means doctors know a lot about managing breast cancer in pregnancy. “Often, the pregnancy can be carried with safety for the fetus while the mother is undergoing some forms of therapy.”  Dr. Come adds: “Current chemo regimens do not generally result in infertility, especially in younger women.”

November 2013