One of the most exciting things about being pregnant is dreaming about the person your baby will become. But can you imagine going through a pregnancy not knowing if you’ll live long enough to see your baby hit one-year-old, let alone what adulthood will bring?
It’s how Amy Vallarino spent her pregnancy. The 37-year-old received a routine mammogram in September, before becoming pregnant, and doctors cleared her to have a baby. She and her husband found out she was pregnant two months later. But by March, Amy was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.
As Jen Bondeson with The Washington Post reports, pregnancy can mimic the symptoms of of cancer:
…in December, the side of her right breast became hard. The next month, she began to feel short of breath and developed a strong cough. Her doctors and midwife thought her symptoms were side effects of the pregnancy, which can mask or mimic the symptoms of cancer… In March, a breast sonogram showed swelling; redness had developed on her right breast. A cancer surgeon knew the second he saw Amy that it was cancer.
After more tests, it became clear the cancerous cells had spread throughout Amy’s lungs, liver, spine and spleen. As you can imagine, the outlook is not good.
According to the National Cancer Institute, the five-year survival rate for all types of inflammatory breast cancer patients is between 25 percent and 50 percent, but each case is different. And, as Kate Tietje reports, more pregnant women are being diagnosed with cancer, about 1 in 1,000. But what used to be a difficult decision: end the pregnancy to begin chemo or wait what could be a dangerous amount of time to deliver has been made easier now that some chemotherapy is allowed. However, the risk to the baby is still there.
Since the diagnosis, Amy had three chemotherapy treatments, while pregnant. Doctors advised Amy to deliver the baby at 32 weeks so she could begin radiation therapy. But the cancer made a c-section a high-risk surgery. In fact, because of difficulty she was already having breathing, doctors advised Amy they might have to put her on a ventilator for the surgery. Coming off the ventilator would be difficult.
Nonetheless, surgery went well and Amy’s baby was born. Margarita Isabella Vallarino weighed 3 pounds, 10 ounces and was 17 inches long.
Now, as her daughter enjoys a healthy life, Amy prepares to undergo weeks of radiation in the fight for her life. Rather than focus on her fears, Amy tells The Washington Post she hopes her story will remind women to monitor their bodies and keep pushing doctors when things don’t seem right.