In August 2015, Marcela Rodriguez was 19 weeks pregnant with her third child when she noticed a lump on her breast.
“I honestly didn’t think much of it at first,” Marcela said. “But I decided to mention it to my OB/Gyn the next time I was at the clinic.”
Rodriguez’s mention of the lump led to an early detection of breast cancer. She was 27 weeks pregnant at the time of diagnosis. “Honestly, I was in shock,” Rodriguez said. “There are days that it can be difficult just being pregnant. Adding cancer to the mix created unbelievable amounts of stress.
Rodriguez called a family meeting to let everyone know what she was going through. “They thought I was going to be announcing twins or something exciting,” said Rodriguez. “There were so many questions about how this could affect the baby, and I had to make sure I was considering my own health as well.”
“These situations are always tough and usually occur in younger women,” said Dr. Berens. “I wanted to give Marcela as much positive support as I could, not only as a physician but also as a friend. The goal is to treat her as quickly as we can while having the least possible effect on the pregnancy.”
Rodriguez credits Dr. Berens as being a key person who helped her through the whole process and suggested that she visit Anneliese Gonzalez, M.D., UTHealth oncologist affiliated with Memorial Hermann Cancer Center-Texas Medical Center.
Rodriguez wasn’t sure if she could even get chemotherapy while pregnant. According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is found in about one in every 3,000 pregnant women. Treatment recommendations depend on things such as the size of the tumor, where the tumor is located and how far along the pregnancy is.
Chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy and radiation can all potentially harm the fetus if given during pregnancy, although studies have shown that certain chemotherapy drugs used during the second and third trimesters don’t raise the risk of birth defects, stillbirths, or heart problems but may increase the risk of early delivery. Chemotherapy is not safe early on in the pregnancy because the baby’s internal organs develop during the first trimester.
“We want to make sure that we don’t under treat the patient in these situations,” said Dr. Gonzalez. “We try to do the surgery first because it’s not risky for the pregnancy. It’s better if we can do the chemotherapy treatments later because we want to give the baby the least exposure to medications as possible.”
Rodriguez had a single mastectomy on Oct. 28, 2015, and her first chemotherapy session on Nov.30, 2015, when she was 35 weeks pregnant. On Dec. 17, 2015, Marcela delivered a healthy baby girl, Marlowe, weighing 7 pounds, 12 ounces.
“Holding Marlowe in my arms and seeing how healthy she was – it was the biggest weight lifted,” Rodriguez said. “Having cancer and being pregnant at the same time made me overanalyze every move the baby made during pregnancy.”
Rodriguez said that a common question she got from friends was if the baby would be born with no hair because of the chemotherapy. Not to worry, Marlowe was born with a full head of hair.
Since having Marlowe, Rodriguez has finished her treatments and her cancer is in remission. Marlowe is a perfectly healthy nine-month-old. Rodriguez calls Marlowe her “miracle baby.”
To learn more about breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, visit here.