March 24, 2019

They told me I had cancer – then they said I was pregnant

mOn Christmas Eve last year, Karrie-Ann was told she had breast cancer. Still reeling from the news, a few weeks later she got another big shock – she was three months pregnant.
When doctors told Karrie-Ann Hoppe she was pregnant with her second child, she didn’t at first grasp what they meant.
“I was about to be put under a general anaesthetic so they could take two lymph nodes to check for cancer,” she says.
“Then the doctors told me my urine test had come back positive. I replied, ‘OK, positive for what?’ thinking it was another illness. Then they told me I was pregnant.”
Breast cancer is rare among women of child-bearing age. In the UK it affects about one in 3,000 pregnant women.
Karrie-Ann, 36, and her husband, Luke, had been trying for another baby after the birth of their eldest son, Wyatt, in 2013. But when she was diagnosed with cancer they put their efforts on hold.
“My breast cancer was hormone-based so I had been advised to not get pregnant but it turned out I already was,” Karrie-Ann says.
When the news came through, she had already been prepared for surgery, and was faced immediately with a difficult decision: doctors asked if she wanted to know the risk of the operation causing a miscarriage.
“I said, ‘No.’ We hadn’t known about the baby in the first place and if he didn’t survive it would hurt, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
The two lymph nodes taken from under Karrie-Ann’s arm were found to be cancerous.
“Being told it had spread was the worst part of the whole experience,” she says.
“Up until then I had been matter-of-fact and dealing with things as they happened. But my step-mum had died from breast cancer after it got into her bones and that was what I was most scared of.”
Fortunately, her baby survived the operation and a scan at the start of February revealed she was nearly 12 weeks pregnant.
At this point, though, the couple began to worry whether it might be necessary to have the pregnancy terminated.
“We were surprised and emotional. My husband has four daughters from a previous relationship but we did want another child together,” says Karrie-Ann.
“I think if we’d been told we needed a termination we would have accepted it, though, as it was more important I survived for Wyatt.”
I thought my husband might leave me because I didn’t feel like a complete woman.
In fact, termination is rarely recommended to pregnant women who are diagnosed with breast cancer. Most are able to receive treatment while they continue their pregnancies.
“Treatment for pregnant women is pretty similar to treatment for women who aren’t pregnant,” says Martin Ledwick at Cancer Research UK.
“There may just be a small delay before starting chemotherapy until they have finished their first trimester.”
Doctors told Karrie-Ann she would need a mastectomy rather than a lumpectomy. Pregnant women are usually advised to have a whole breast removed because it reduces the need for radiotherapy, which increases the risk of harm to a foetus.
“I said they could just take it,” says Karrie-Ann.
“You wouldn’t keep a broken car if you couldn’t fix it so why keep a broken boob?”
Doctors took Karrie-Ann’s left breast and 17 further lymph nodes in February.
“I showed my husband the scar but it took me two weeks before I showed him my whole chest. I thought he might leave me, because I didn’t feel a complete woman. But he said he loved me for who I was and not what I was.”

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