Breast changes are common during pregnancy. But when Florida mom Ivette Bailey felt a large lump in one of her breasts during her second trimester, she was concerned. Soon after, she was diagnosed with stage II lobular carcinoma breast cancer, and happy thoughts of baby names and nursery colors immediately came to a halt.
Pregnancy hormone changes can actually make the disease grow faster. So despite her growing belly, Bailey underwent both a mastectomy and chemotherapy almost immediately.
“It was aggressive,”41-year-old Bailey now tells Babble. “So the doctors didn’t want the cancer to spread to other areas of my body.”
Her story is heart-wrenching; but she’s far from alone. Every year over 250,000 American women are diagnosed with breast cancer. Though rare during pregnancy, it remains one of the most common cancers among pregnant women, occurring in one out of every 3,000.
“Medical research has been able to prove that in the second trimester or the third trimester, there are agents that can be given that fight cancer that are safe to the mother and, importantly, to the child as well,” says Dr. Robert Reynolds, medical director of the Breast Cancer Program at Florida Hospital in Orlando, where Bailey received treatment.
Bailey, who was already a mother to 7-year-old Isaac, can still recall the endless loop of questions that ran through her mind every day during that time: What’s going to happen to me? Will I be able to make it and deliver my baby with no problems? Am I going to be able to see my kids grow up?
“All of those things never [usually] cross your mind, especially when you’re pregnant,” she tells Babble. “You never think something like this can ever cross your path.”
Bailey was determined to find her inner strength and gather all the perseverance she could muster, but it wouldn’t come without a fight. There would be no pickles and ice cream or typical pregnancy indulgences; instead, she adhered to a strict diet of “cancer-fighting foods” to help her body restore essential vitamins and minerals.
“Because of the chemo, my body needed to work twice as hard to make enough nutrients for the baby,” she shares. In addition to her medical team, Bailey believes her faith and her support network of loved ones are what ultimately pulled her through this physical and emotional ordeal.
On February 22, about a month before her due date, Bailey delivered a healthy baby boy named Jude.
“When they put him on my chest, I felt so much relief to know that he was here,” she says. “I was so happy and overjoyed that God protected him and delivered him safely. Both of my deliveries were special, but this one was more. He was with me in the first portion of my fight.”
And now, just six months later, Bailey and her family are happy to have one more thing to celebrate: finally being cancer-free.
This year, on August 10, Bailey stood in the middle of the cancer ward at Florida Hospital and held up a sign that read, “Hip Hip Hooray. Chemo Ends Today.” Then she rang the “Cancer-Free Bell” — a tradition that marks the end of a patient’s chemo treatment. While she will continue with radiation, Bailey is understandably excited to now fill her schedule with the everyday mommy chaos that comes with having an infant, rather than chemo sessions.
As inspiring as Bailey’s story is on its own, it’s also a necessary reminder to us all to listen to our bodies, regularly perform self-breast exams, and maintain wellness visits. Bailey says she also hopes her story will inspire mothers everywhere to take a moment to recognize all of life’s blessings — the ones we all too often take for granted, due to the everyday stresses and demands of motherhood.
And she’s right. Here’s to feeling gratitude for every single blessing — and every single day — we’re given. (Now, let’s all go hug our kiddos!)