Today we’d like to introduce our newest LBBC blogger, Stephanie Hulse, who was diagnosed with Stage 3 Triple-Negative breast cancer at 17 weeks pregnant. Here she shares her story about navigating her diagnosis and treatment while pregnant with her 4th child…
Our family was almost complete. My husband and I agreed early on that we wanted to have a lot of children and we simply adored the 3 that we had, so you can imagine how excited we were when we found out that baby number 4 was on the way! Our children were young at the ages of 6, 4 and 1 so we waited until the second trimester to tell them about the new baby and we waited a few weeks more to tell our families. Everyone was SO excited. It’s because of the new baby that I was seen by my midwife; I knew a I had a lump in my left breast but since I was breastfeeding I thought it was a blocked duct. The lump had been there for quite some time and cancer had never crossed my mind. They urged me to try to massage it to unblock the duct, so I did, and it grew. This immediately raised a red flag for my midwife who urged me to have a biopsy. I went, and at 17 weeks pregnant, the verdict was in: Breast Cancer.
On January 22, 2013 my world stopped as I spoke to my midwife over the phone. “It looks like your biopsy will need some follow-up” she told me, “you’ll want to write this down.” It’s amazing how my hand kept writing the words she was telling me, but my mind had stopped paying attention to what she was saying. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. “Carcinoma, that sounds like cancer” I thought to myself, while continuing to write. That’s when it began to sink in. The lump that I had was cancerous? How could that be? I’m 30! I have no family history of cancer! And on top of everything else, I’m pregnant. As I’m writing down information about Triple-Negative breast cancer, I can feel the baby kicking inside me. So many things ran through my mind all at once, not only about my fate, but her fate as well. My husband walked through the door and he instinctively knew the news was bad; between sobs, I was able to choke together the words “it’s cancer”.
The next week was filled with doctor appointments. I met with the breast specialist, high-risk OBGYN, oncology team, and the head of anesthesia. This was my new reality; these were the people who were going to see me through. Just a week after my diagnosis, I was on the operating table for a single mastectomy of my left breast, sentinel node biopsy and port placement. Stage 3a grade 3 IDC TNBC (triple-negative breast cancer) 5.1cm, no node involvement. The baby, too young to be considered viable, wasn’t monitored during my surgery. It was so heartwarming to hear her heartbeat on the doppler when I was in recovery. We had made it.
Five weeks after my surgery, I started chemotherapy. Some types of chemotherapy are considered safe to do while pregnant if the baby is past the first trimester. At 23 weeks pregnant I did my first round of Adriamycin and Cytoxan. So many things flood through your mind as you are willfully injecting poison into your body while you are pregnant. At this point I had met other mothers online who had chemo while pregnant, and their babies were perfect; this gave me so much hope. I completely trusted my medical team to take the best possible care of me, and my little one.
After 4 rounds of chemo, I got some time off to recuperate before I had my daughter. One of the possible side effects from the chemo was low birth weight (about a 10% chance). After a quick, yet amazing delivery, she was here! Natalie was born at the end of June, 6lbs 1 oz. at full term, my smallest baby. Though she was small, she was perfect. You’d never know what she had been through! Nothing brought me more joy than snuggling with her in the hospital, tucked into my tanktop on my mastectomy side (there was plenty of room) close to my heart. Pure bliss.
When she was 6 weeks old, I started my next round of chemo. I did 12 weeks of Taxol, which was so exhausting. Every week, going through the cycle of sleeplessness (steroids), chemo, sleepiness (Benedryl), feeling awful, chemobrain, then a few days to recoup before you do it all over again wasn’t easy. It completely wore me out but with a house full of kids, including a newborn, I kept going. It’s times like this that you truly have to rely on others which isn’t an easy thing to do. I also drew strength from online support groups and a facebook page that I had created to document my journey; knowing that there were people who cared saw me through the low times.
Because of the size of my tumor I also did radiation. Laying perfectly still on the table while the machine passed over me delivering high doses of radiation into my body was a true exercise of will. Driving up to the hospital every weekday for 33 treatments was hard. The thought of going and doing something else, like clothes shopping, seemed like a much better idea; but every day I’d head up there to assault any cancer cells that may have been left in my body. I wanted it gone. I was almost unfazed by my radiation burns until the very end, but by then, the end was in sight. Just a few more treatments and I’ll reach the finish line.
A year and a couple days after being told that I had cancer, I was ringing the bell at radiation signaling the end of my treatment. I brought my husband and all of the kids with me and let them ring the bell too. It was an accomplishment for them as well! I made it through the worst year of my life. WE made it through.
Stephanie is enjoying life as a military wife and a stay-at-home-mother to her 4 children. She also loves sharing her journey on Facebook through her page ‘A Lump And A Bump’ and hopes to bring knowledge and inspiration to the women (and men) who follow her page.