Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, January 09, 2015

Making Memories

"We were completely overjoyed. It gave us hope we could continue on with the pregnancy and I could get treatment to be here for my other children. It really felt like a win-win for all of us."
"I don't think it is something to get too down and out about. Everything happens for a reason. Good things can come out of experiences you have."
"I have not a single complaint about treatment whatsoever. I have been able to remain pregnant and do treatment so I am over the moon about it."
"What I really want to continue to do is just be with my kids and have fun and just make as many memories for as long as we possibly can."
Jillian O'Connor, 31, soon-to-be mother of three

"[Once, oncologists would have recommended termination of the pregnancy] But with the training and experience I have, we were able to have a very rational conversation about the totally irrational."
"There is nothing rational about being pregnant with metastatic breast cancer, but you try to make sense of the insensible."
"It is challenging beyond anything I can even imagine. I can't imagine the soul-searching she [Jillian] is doing with her husband and family."
"There's no way we could have kept her alive — because of the cancer in her liver — long enough to deliver a healthy baby [without the therapy throughout the pregnancy]."
"What we've done in this particular situation is choose a cocktail of treatments that will enable the cancer to shrink as much as possible. Keep the mom well, but also not harm the baby."
Dr. Mark Clemons, oncologist/clinical researcher, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Jillian O'Connor has been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer and is also pregnant with her third child. Despite her grim prognosis, she is determined and filled with optimism. Her doctor is Mark Clemons.
Jillian O’Connor has been diagnosed with breast cancer and is also pregnant with her third child. Her doctor is Mark Clemons.    Julie Oliver / OTTAWA CITIZEN
A little-mentioned complication of women waiting longer, growing older, gambling on the 'right time' to have children appears to be the potential of breast cancer accompanying a pregnancy. Breast cancer is more common among older women, not young women. But, it would appear, as women increasingly decide to have pregnancies later in life, according to Dr. Clemons, doctors are seeing more pregnant women with breast cancer.

Dr. Clemons should know; he has acquired expertise recognized internationally in the treatment of pregnant women with breast cancer. He informed Jillian O'Connor, an operating room nurse at Queensway Carleton Hospital, awaiting her third child when she was diagnosed with metastasizing breast cancer that he felt he could "in all probability get her safely through the pregnancy, get the baby safely through the pregnancy and keep her alive".

When Jillian and her husband David were informed of her diagnosis they thought the pregnancy would have to be terminated. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, a mastectomy was done, and this is when they learned that the cancer had spread to her liver. The knowledge that she could carry through with the pregnancy irrespective of the cancer, in the care of this seasoned medical professional gave the couple hope for the future.

Not, unfortunately, the hope that the soon-to-be mother of three would live a long and happy life with her very young brood and her husband, but that she could be guided safely through this pregnancy, welcome a new child into their family and have some time yet with their children before the cancer completely dominated her life to the point of ending it. Now, she dreams of the near future, the baby's birth, its welcome, the initial nurturing, and as much time as can be given her to enjoy her young family.

The young woman is not new to adversity in her life; it began early when her parents died when she was eleven years old, and an older sister raised her. At eight months of pregnancy and taking chemotherapy, she wears a wig, which doesn't inconvenience her, nor has she experienced much discomfort because of the therapy; she is serene and forward-looking, hoping to make the most of whatever time is left to her.

How many of us could manage such a sunny outlook in the face of such a dismal prognosis? But her peace of mind and ability to see the positive side of the dark shade in her life has also inspired her doctor. The treatment that Dr. Clemons prescribed for this patient was in the nature of a gamble, he allows. A personalized chemotherapy cocktail, halted in preparation for induced labour worked well enough under the circumstances of the pregnancy Dr. Clemons hadn't been able to use more effective drugs because of the pregnancy.

But her enlarged liver shrank with the chemotherapy, and the closely monitored fetus appears to have developed very well. According to Dr. Clemons the placenta offers protection to the baby from the chemotherapy, and it seems perfectly healthy; only to be confirmed with the actual birth. Only when the baby is presented to them will they be certain that it is perfectly well with no complications having arisen.

She will have a week at home with the new baby to rest up anticipating a series of scans and tests that could not be conducted while she was pregnant, to determine the extent of the cancer. And then a new course of treatment will be initiated, one that the doctor feels will "hopefully keep her disease under control for years."

Several at the very least, they hope.

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