No woman expects to receive a breast cancer diagnosis while pregnant. Breast cancer during pregnancy may not be the norm, but it happens more often than you might think. It also presents unique challenges. Paired with changing hormones, breast cancer found during pregnancy may be more aggressive. A woman must balance her breast cancer treatment and her pregnancy. She faces emotions and decisions that no one would ever predict. That’s why we’re sharing Charro Arnold’s story today.
“And, you know, when I’m getting–every time I go in to get the poisons injected into my body, what does that do to her? You know, because it-it causes me pain and nausea and sickness. I was wondering how she was feeling the whole time, you know.”
Hearing the Breast Cancer Diagnosis During Pregnancy
Oh (laughing). My name is Charro Arnold. Um. Well, first I was, uh, I found out that I was pregnant in May. And I was about 16 weeks pregnant when I found out that I had breast cancer. And I had invasive ductal carcinoma which they guessed was a stage 2, um, in August. And they can’t stage you, because when you’re pregnant you can’t have an MRI or anything else like that. But it was a grade 3, which meant it was a very aggressive tumor.
So, I mean the day that I found out that I had breast cancer, um, the very next day I had an appointment with with an oncological surgeon. The day after that I had an appointment with an oncologist, and then the day after that I had an appointment with a high risk OB. The next Tuesday I had a port placed, and I started chemo that next Thursday.
Receiving Chemotherapy While Pregnant
I ended up having 12 chemo treatments over the course of 18 weeks. So and then they – they make you deliver early. So I had to deliver early, because they’re like there’s like this little, quick 3-week period where you’re off the chemo, and then they have to get the tumor removed just in case there was some live tumor left before it starts to regrow. So then I had, um, the tumor removed a week after my cesarean, because she ended up being an emergency cesarean. She wasn’t taking the whole ready to give birth yet thing a try. (laughter) I had some residual tumor left over, which means that it was still alive. So they put me on 12 more weeks of chemo.
A Mastectomy With Immediate Breast Reconstruction
I ended up having my mastectomy. Um, it was in May, right after I was done with my last chemo treatment. So, after my last chemo treatment, they waited 2 weeks for the chemo to be out of my system. And then I got–well, not that I “got to” woo-hoo! (laughing)– I got my, uh, I did my complete mastectomy. And they did reconstruction immediately during, like, you know, right after the mastectomy, so. And then I stayed in the hospital for a couple days and got to go home.
The Choice for a Hysterectomy
And then I just had my revision in my hysterectomy about 8 weeks ago.
[Interviewer: Are you BRCA-positive?]
No, I was actually negative. I was negative for the gene.
[Interviewer: Then why did you have a hysterectomy?]
Because it’s still shown that if you’ve had breast cancer–and I had estrogen and progesterone receptive breast cancer–that you are at a 40 percent increased risk of having ovarian or uterine cancer afterwards. So it’s also recommended that you have a, um, a hysterectomy.
[Interviewer: It’s been quite an eventful…]
Oh my gosh, yes! Yeah, needless to say, this has been a very, very busy year for us.
How Does it Feel to Go Through Chemo While Pregnant?
Okay. When I first was diagnosed, since I was pregnant, I was just devastated. I was. I was actually devastated. Like I just could not believe, you know, after waiting 12 years to get pregnant, you know. Now I have breast cancer, too, while being pregnant? And it was hard. And then going through treatments was worse.
And I almost kinda feel guilty because I feel like it took away from the pregnancy, and took away from the joy that you feel when you’re pregnant. You know, you get excited and the butterflies. And instead I’m worried about “oh my God, is she growing okay?” And, you know, when I’m getting–every time I go in to get the poisons injected into my body–what does that do to her? You know, because it causes me pain and nausea and sickness. I was wondering how she was feeling the whole time, you know.
So every time I would go for treatment, I would put on a some soothing music. We would do, like, some classical music so that she could listen. And then (to daughter: did you drop the bracelet?) …and, um, I don’t know. I was just… it… it was tough. It was really, really tough.
“You Just Do What You Gotta Do”
[Interviewer: What About After Delivery?]
The cesarean…I’m, I’m a nurse. So I’m kinda supposed to know what you’re supposed to do, what you’re not supposed to do–which that completely went out the window. Because I’ve also been, I’ve al- I’ve always been very tough. Like, I’ve always been very athletic. And I’ve felt like I was always very healthy before all this happened. So when I had the cesarean section, like I was up and moving like 2 days later. Like, I was ready to go. Like, I wanted out of the hospital as soon as possible, because I knew I only had this limited time to be home with the baby before I had to go back to the hospital to have [the] lump removed.
And, um, so, I don’t know. And thank God, um, my mom had taken off a little bit from work, and my husband had taken off a couple weeks from work. So they were there to help me, and so that kind of helped. But then I started back into chemo, so.
You know, it sucks! I mean, there’s really no other way to put it: it sucks. I mean, you-you try to keep as positive of an attitude as you possibly can. I mean, I have this beautiful baby and I have a-a beautiful daughter that, that depends on me so you just kind of–you kind of suck it up and you just do what you gotta do. (chuckles)
Finding The New Normal
I’m actually pretty much done with my treatments. Um, so as far as right now the chemo, the problems that it’s given me, is I have neuropathy now really badly in my hands and in my feet that cause me a lot of pain. And I’m still having- I’m still really tired. And, um, so just trying to work through those right now (baby babbling) and getting back to that whole, they call it “the new normal,” you know. So trying to get some new medication straight.
Way More Than Menopause
Of course, they’re putting me on a medication that-that makes sure that you have no estrogen in your body whatsoever. So, what’s funny to me is everybody is like oh they love menopause. You know, they love having a hysterectomy. “It was great. It was great.” I don’t think they understand that I-I don’t get anything. Like I can’t take any kind of prescriptions or hormones, or…
(Chatter between baby, sister, and Charro)
(Sister: About your medicine…)
Oh they- they’re trying to get it straight. Because they put you on this medication that blocks all estrogen in your body. So it’s–I don’t have any ovaries, you know–I have nothing that produces estrogen, at least I thought. But, apparently, your fat cells will still convert to estrogen and, um, like, certain skin cells underneath your skin will convert to estrogen. So, it wasn’t bad enough I was getting that little bit of estrogen to make me not crazy. (chuckles) You know, they are making sure I have absolutely no chance of having any other estrogen that will, uh, cause tumors.
What Kind of Reconstruction Did You Have?
I had, um, a complete mastectomy. Um, I had revisions with, um, flaps. So I had some back flaps. I really didn’t quite have enough fat to make the breast size that I wanted because I, um–because I wanted my breasts to be the same size they were before I got pregnant. And I mean, it was a D cup, so I didn’t have quite enough fat. So they used some of the fat from there and then they used implants. But the fat that I used and the tissue that I used from the flaps made them look more natural.
Choosing Where to Have Breast Reconstruction
[Interviewer: Did You Do Research?]
Definitely. And it was funny because at first, you know, it was like a whirlwind of appointments. Like, you know, they were telling you which doctor you were gonna see and-and, you know, what you were going to do, and I had never even heard of this place before. And my neighbor’s sister was going through breast cancer. And she had said, “Oh no, you have to- you have to look at this place, you have to try to get an appointment here.” [The Center for Restorative Breast Surgery]
And that’s when I–when I first got the appointment. They actually ended up working with the surgeon that was going to do the mastectomy and lumpectomy. So I mean it was almost god-sent. That was that it ended up being perfect for me to go ahead and get my mastectomy done here and having the revision right after. So, it was-it ended up- it-it worked out really well because they kn-it-it was…
I-I wasn’t comfortable with who is going to do the-the reconstruction afterwards, at first. And so, when I had done my research on this place and–you know, I read a lot of reviews, like I’m really picky about the hotel I stay in, like it takes me an hour just to find that–so to find, like, the perfect surgeon to do the reconstruction took me awhile. And so I was very, very happy with my results. Like, whenever I-I had researched the doctors at this area, like, I-I picked between–like I had gotten them narrowed down to the 2 that I wanted–and then when I called to make the appointment they had actually put me with-with the perfect one, and it worked out really-really, really well for me.
What Do You Think When You See Your Baby?
[Large breath and pause] How blessed I am. I mean, to have to go through all of this, one of the…the things that I look forward to is the look on my daughters’ faces, on both of them. And I want them to see me as being strong. And, like, especially my oldest daughter, she knows what we’ve been through, and you know, my-our-our youngest daughter obviously we call a miracle, but our-our eldest daughter too.
But I want her to see that-that I was able to be strong and that I made informed decisions, and that, you know, that I’m going to be stronger after this. And I want her to be proud of me. You know, I know that my baby is a miracle and that I am fortunate just to be alive. And I’m fortunate to have gotten the care that I’ve gotten, because I have seen horror stories, you know. And I have seen what can happen and-and I’m just very blessed that it didn’t happen to me. And that my girls can be proud of me and that they can, they can look at me and know that-that I am a survivor and a warrior and a fighter.
This presentation is made possible through the support of AirXpanders and the Center for Restorative Breast Surgery in New Orleans. For more information go to imtakingcharge.com.