“Breast Cancer in Pregnancy” – Part B

In part two of Jamie’s High Risk Birth Story, she covers her experience with a lumpectomy and C-section recovery, followed by chemotherapy, and the struggles of being a new mother while going through cancer treatment.

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Dr. Fox: Welcome to “High Risk Birth Stories” brought to you by the creators of the “Healthful Woman” podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Nathan Fox. “High Risk Birth Stories” is a podcast designed to give you, the listener, a window into life-changing experiences in pregnancy, fertility, and childbirth.

When did the lumpectomy get done ultimately?

Interviewee: So the lumpectomy was 10 days after my C-section. So in those 10 days, you know, I had physical difficulties, but also emotional difficulties. Recovering from the C-section was not easy. My breast surgeon had told me to suppress the milk from the affected breast. So because the less milk that was in the breast for the lumpectomy, the cleaner, you know, surgery would be, and the milk makes everything, you know, hard to do during surgery.

Dr. Fox: So finicky, those surgeons.

Interviewee: Yeah. But you know, of course, I’m trying, you know, I want it to be, you know, perfect for the surgeon.

Dr. Fox: Sure.

Interviewee: You don’t want to muddle things, but at the same time I had this tiny baby, she wasn’t even 4 pounds. I tried to breastfeed her from my good breast in the NICU and she didn’t latch and I just took her off. And I just said, I can’t. I couldn’t do it. I felt like there were a lot of things going on. Ultimately I felt like I couldn’t. I felt very much like a failure, just in general, just because I knew that of everything I was going to go to, like, why do I want to breastfeed her now when I know in 10 days, I’m not gonna be able to? Why do I want to give her that only to take it away?

So what I did was I pumped from my good breast as much as I could to give her the claustrum and whatever. I wasn’t making a lot. I think that’s probably down to the stress and all of that, but I did the best I could. And I feel happy about those decisions that I made at that time even though my surgeon wasn’t happy because, sort of, you’re stimulating one breast, the other breast contralaterally might get messages so it wasn’t suppressing as well. But I felt, ultimately, like, I did what I could to help my daughter be strong and grow.

So 10 days later, I had the lumpectomy. During the lumpectomy, they also do what’s called a sentinel lymph node biopsy where they check the first however many lymph nodes are in the chain under your armpit. And my lymph nodes were negative, thank God. I was very, very lucky.

Dr. Fox: After that was done and you said you ultimately did the chemo and you had made a decision before the chemo to have eggs retrieved, like as if you’re undergoing IVF, so right away. And that was pretty soon after you delivered.

Interviewee: Very soon. It was actually…

Dr. Fox: More soon than typical, obviously.

Interviewee: It was very difficult. So, you know, luckily, I was recommended to go to a very, very good fertility specialist here in the city. When you have it’s called definitive surgery, so my lumpectomy was, like, my definitive…my curative surgery, if you need chemo, there are guidelines. It has to be within a certain amount of weeks in order to be optimal. So, you know, my body, I mean, I still had, like, a gravid uterus. Like, everything needed to, kind of, settle down before I could start medications that were gonna stimulate my ovaries. So, you know, that was difficult.

Some women are able to do more than one round before their chemo and some women not. For me, I was only able to do one round and I would say it was moderately successful. I would say, I think definitely it was not optimal because I was so close to being postpartum, but I was able to freeze a couple of embryos. So that was really, really fortunate.

Dr. Fox: Right. That’s great. And it’s great that they willing to do it, to work with you for the timing.

Interviewee: For sure. I think that in the cancer realm, especially breast cancer, which unfortunately affects a lot of young women, I feel like it’s, like, a totally different ball game. Like, if you look back even 10 years ago to now, the things that are advocated for and fertility preservation is just one of those things that is so great that it’s really stressed and they really try to do it as much as possible. I was able to freeze some embryos, and then as soon as that was over, like I had mentioned before, I got the results that I needed chemo. And then I did chemo.

Dr. Fox: How long were you doing the chemo?

Interviewee: It was three months. Four cycles. Yeah. My daughter was very small at the time. She wasn’t even 3 months old. I would say she was a healthy baby, but she was a preemie. She was very small, you know, I needed help. I needed a lot of help taking care of her and I was just very lucky and grateful that my parents were able to literally stop their lives to help me. Somebody had to work so my husband had to work. Yeah. It was not easy. Chemo was a very, very trying time. From the standpoint of being a mother trying my best to take care of my daughter, it was very hard.

Dr. Fox: Yeah. I mean, listen, it’s your first baby. You had a difficult pregnancy. You had a not difficult delivery per se, but not, sort of, what you were expecting. And you had an operation, you had another operation, you have a cancer diagnosis, you’re getting chemo. I mean, yeah, like this is a real rough time emotionally, physically, mentally. I mean, it’s just…

Interviewee: I mean, with the chemo, you have good days and you have bad days. And on the bad days, I just needed to be alone. And there were just days where I would just hand my daughter off to my mother or my father and I would say, “I can’t do it right now.” There were days where I would just hold her and cry because I just didn’t see the end for me and I also felt like this is not what I wanted for my daughter. Like, this is not the kind of mother she should…you know. I’ll never forget, I woke up one night in the middle of chemo and I woke my husband up and I said, “I need to talk to you.” He’s like, “Okay.” We get up. We sit up.

Dr. Fox: It’s never a good start.

Interviewee: Never a good start. And I said, you know, “I’ve been really thinking a lot, very hard about this.” And he goes, “Okay.” And I said, “I think we need to put our daughter up for adoption.” And he’s like, “What the hell are you talking about?” And I’m like, “No, really.” I mean, if I tell you, Dr. Fox, not in my right mind. I said, “She doesn’t deserve a mother like this. This is gonna scar her for life. I can’t hold her. There are days I don’t want to be with her, be around anybody. What am I going to be, like, after all of this? Am I ever gonna be normal? Am I gonna be able to give her what she wants? Like, this is not fair to her to, like, be in a home with somebody who’s so sick. It’s not fair. I want to give her a great life.” My husband’s like, “Go back to bed, go back to bed. You’re talking total complete nonsense right now.”

It just touches on the point of total desperation and feeling of inadequacy which ultimately my husband told me, he’s like, “This is just, like, a blip in the radar, like, of her life. She’s not gonna remember one second of it.” And if anything, when she’s older and I tell her the story she’ll really, you know, admire me and, you know…

Dr. Fox: Hopefully. When she’s a teenager, maybe she’ll talk to you.

Interviewee: Exactly.

Dr. Fox: Were you having any professional mental health care during the time?

Interviewee: No. I mean, it was offered to me.

Dr. Fox: I’m just saying. So you weren’t.

Interviewee: No, I was not.

Dr. Fox: Again, and if you were, it doesn’t mean that wouldn’t have happened anyway.

Interviewee: Also, I also want to touch on this is that I definitely don’t think…I didn’t have postpartum depression. I didn’t have the blues, like, meaning it was all situational.

Dr. Fox: Sure.

Interviewee: I felt like my anxiety or depression was completely situational because of what was going on. And as soon as I was able to really grapple with it, you know, I clawed my way out of it and I couldn’t have done it without my family and some very good friends. But ultimately, it was really my husband saying, “No, like, you are gonna do this. You will bathe her. You will feed her. You will do all of these things and you can do it. You feel fine.”

Dr. Fox: He doesn’t come out sounding too good on that statement.

Interviewee: No, I know.

Dr. Fox: You will feed her. You will bathe her.

Interviewer: No, but meaning…

Dr. Fox: You can do it.

Interviewer: You can do it. You can do it.

Dr. Fox: He’s listening, he’s, like, “Whoa, whoa.” He’s getting thrown under the bus here. He’s like, “I’m not Ike Turner.”

Interviewer: My husband is literally a saint. Anybody who knows him knows he’s the most hands-on father. He’s literally the most hands-on father. He’s amazing. Totally, I won the lottery, but…

Dr. Fox: And so when you’re saying you would give the baby to your parents for the day, you’re a parent, I’m a parent, I can tell you right now that your parents are so thankful they were able to do that because they’re seeing their baby girl suffer, and she’s in misery, and like, at least I can do this. It’s one thing I can sit in the living room and look at her all day…

Interviewee: A hundred percent.

Dr. Fox: I can do something to help her heal. Essentially, you gave them an opportunity to help, which is so important for them.

Interviewee: Yeah, 100%. It was definitely, it was needed all around. And I would say that the turning point for me was really just, like, on those good days, meaning so my parents would come during chemo days…when you have chemo, you have, like, the bad days or a couple of days after, and then you start coming out of it and you start feeling fine where it was just me. It was just me and my daughter, meaning they would go, my husband would go to work and I’d be home with her.

And the beginning, I felt like, well, what kind of mom am I? I’m just sitting here, I don’t take her out of her stroller, I don’t have the energy to push the stroller so I just sit here all day. And at first I felt like I’m not giving her enough. And then I thought, you know what? Like, this is everything. As long as we’re together. Those days that we were alone, where I was just taking care of her, even if I had no hair and I had no eyebrows and I wasn’t feeling great.

Dr. Fox: Neither did she.

Interviewee: Yeah, neither did she. And we were doing it just her and I all alone.

Dr. Fox: It’s amazing.

Interviewee: And we did it and we did great. So, you know, we grew our hair out together. It was funny. I always joked we had a competition who’s going to grow their hair first.

Dr. Fox: These are the things you look back on, obviously, and there’s all the trauma you look back on, but then there’s this, sort of, like, sweet moments at the same time. You’re three years out now. Just most importantly, how are you doing?

Interviewee: I’m doing great, good days and bad days. I think something very important to realize about breast cancer is that a lot of people think when the surgery or the chemo is over, it’s over, and it’s not. For me, because I had hormone-positive breast cancer, the treatment that I am to receive either for 5 or 10 years has some very serious side effects, which affects everybody differently.

For me, the side effects were basically pretty crippling for me, joint pain and joint stiffness from the hormone suppression. So meaning some women can take only Tamoxifen alone. Other people get ovarian suppression plus Tamoxifen or ovarian suppression plus an aromatase inhibitor. And all of those elements that suppress your estrogen basically cause, besides the menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and whatever, one of the side effects that are the most debilitating is joint pain.

And so that was, sort of, the other issue that came up for me once my chemo and all of that was over was starting that treatment because I felt like here I am, like now I’m finally able to be this person’s active mom and do all these things for my daughter to the point where I was so arthritic that I couldn’t even close her snaps on her onesies. I couldn’t button a button, couldn’t tie a shoe. I couldn’t turn a doorknob. It was painful just to hold the stroller bar. So those were all difficult things.

Then oncologists will work with you to try different modalities, to try and help with that but ultimately, it’s very debilitating. And you know, other side effects, which, whatever, I won’t go into now, but overall where I’m at right now, I’m actually taking a break from my treatment to try to have another baby. And so I can fully say that the doctor did not know what she was talking about when she told me that it will never happen for me because since then I have read, researched, talked, learned, and all of the most recent evidence, which if you’re a doctor or a scientist, we believe in evidence, we believe in science and facts, show me the data.

Dr. Fox: #science.

Interviewee: Exactly. #science. Shows that for women with early-stage breast cancer who are in their reproductive years, that after a certain amount of months on hormone suppression, it’s safe to have a baby and that it won’t increase your chance of recurrence. It may even decrease it. There’s actually a big trial going on right now called the POSITIVE trial, which is an acronym, which I don’t know…

Dr. Fox: It’s always an acronym.

Interviewee: But basically it’s pregnancy outcomes and safety after breast cancer. And so I actually want it to be in the trial. It was really important for me. I made it, like, my plan. That’s actually really what got me through a lot of my treatment was that ultimately I was going to be able to…you know, I was taking off the months of hormone suppression, the suffering and the pain that I’m gonna be able to come off my medication and try to have a baby. One more month, you know. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, but just getting here has been amazing.

I actually was about to be enrolled in the trial, but the trial became full right before I could be in it. But I actually…you know, in this world, there are amazing people. And I actually…the head of the U.S. arm for the trial, she’s out of Harvard, and I just sent her an email one day and I was like, “What do you think? Like, should I do this? Here’s my information.” She wrote me back a whole long email.

Dr. Fox: So nice.

Interviewee: “You’re a great candidate, you should do it.” And you know, my oncologist is really supportive even though I’m not in the trial. So it’s very important to have people on your team that listen to all your goals, not just staying alive. But I would say that, you know, in life, like, I would say, if somebody tells you, you need chemo and you get three opinions and they all say you need chemo, like, you should probably get chemo.

But when it’s a little bit not as black and white, a little bit more gray, it’s so important to read and advocate for yourself. Learn, talk to other people because it’s not all cut and dry. There are so many women out there that I’ve personally met and spoken to that have gone on and had children after breast cancer. I’m not saying it’s for everybody. I’m not saying that everybody can do it. It’s, you know, don’t want to give false hope to anybody and it’s not for everybody. Not everybody’s comfortable.

There’s a risk involved in everything that you do but, you know, I would say if it’s something that’s important to you, like, I would never want to say to somebody, your dreams are not valuable. Some people would say to me when I was, you know, going through it, they’d say, “Well, you know what, thank God you have one child. You’re good. Like, at least you have one. I know you’re not gonna be able to have more, but at least you have one.” And I’m like, but that’s not my dream. Maybe to you that would be okay but just because you feel that that’s okay doesn’t mean that I feel that’s okay.

Dr. Fox: The same person probably would not say that if you had a child and then lost the child and say, “Well, you have one left.” But that’s how you view it. It’s like a loss, you’re losing the family you thought you would have.

Interviewee: Exactly.

Dr. Fox: I wanted to ask you a few things that I just thought were so interesting to get your perspective on, first from the pregnancy, now looking back. At the time you were diagnosed, was there any moment in time where you felt it’s me versus the baby? Like, or, oh, like, if we do what’s right for me, it’s bad for the baby, or if we do what’s right for the baby, it’s bad for me? Were you made to feel the way, or did you feel that yourself?

Interviewee: I think that I did have somewhat those kinds of feelings, but I think that it was more of, obviously I wasn’t in my right state of mind, but of self-sacrifice, meaning towards the end when I knew I wasn’t well. And I probably should say to somebody like, “Hey, like, my vision’s blurry,” or like, you know, say something in my twisted mind at the time. Because I was so focused on getting my daughter to a healthy place that I felt like I’m going to sacrifice myself so that my daughter can get to the end. Where in reality, that’s not the case because we would have both been up you know what’s creek without a paddle. I did feel that I would…like, give it all to me, like, give me all the pain and suffering, just don’t put her in the NICU. I don’t want to see her on a ventilator. I don’t want to see her with complications from that.

Dr. Fox: A lot of women do feel that way in pregnancy, but it usually doesn’t work out that way. Like I said, usually, if it’s not good for the mother, it’s also not good for the baby. And there’s so many layers to that. There’s also, you know, there’s, sort of, like, what you can see on the surface, but then there’s the next layer of, again, there’s your physical health, there’s your mental health, and there’s the baby. There’s all these other variables but it’s one of the times when that conflict potentially comes to the surface for people and it’s very hard for them to process that because they’re like, well, you know…

Interviewee: A hundred percent.

Dr. Fox: …then it becomes, like, guilt versus, again, competency, like, all these things. And as a mother, it’s pretty gruesome. I mean, obviously, don’t explain why it’s gruesome to get a cancer diagnosis during pregnancy but that is one of the facets. And the other thing is in terms of processing emotions, you’re at the end of pregnancy, which is a joyous time and you’re also in a very fearful time. How do those two emotions work together? You deliver a baby and what happens?

Interviewee: They don’t. They didn’t. For me, they did not work together.

Dr. Fox: Did the fear override the joy?

Interviewee: A hundred percent.

Dr. Fox: So you couldn’t really feel the joy.

Interviewee: It wasn’t actually fear, it was absolute heart-wrenching sadness. It was just sadness.

Dr. Fox: What was the first time you felt joy about having your daughter, would you say, like, true, like, I’m really happy to have her?

Interviewee: I think when we took her home from the NICU and, like, I finally got…you know, part of your birth plan. Like, I had her little outfit, which of course didn’t fit her because she was tiny. It had strawberries on it and it was just very sweet. And when we put her in and she was like, literally, like, swallowed by the car seat, she was so small, but I think my husband and I just laughed. We had a really good laugh when we looked at her and we were like, we’re, like, so proud to take her home and we felt very proud that we got her, you know, to this place. She’s coming home. She’s, thank God, healthy. She doesn’t need anything else besides high-calorie formula. And, you know, I think I really felt a big sense of pride there.

Dr. Fox: That’s great.

Interviewer: That I did it even though I made a lot of mistakes along the way. Cancer aside, but you know, personal mistakes because of my, like, emotional fragility, but we did it. So we made it.

Dr. Fox: We spoke a lot about your various…you know, your doctors and from your original doctors to the one who helped you when you were getting the biopsy and the results and everyone else. There’s this idea in medicine, you know about this, about patient autonomy, about letting people make choices for themselves, which is a great concept, but it doesn’t always work out perfectly for many reasons versus, sort of, like, just tell me what I need to do. And what was the balance you were looking for at the time and where did it work or did it not work?

Interviewee: I would say that I’ve definitely learned a lot and I’ve grown a lot. I’ve learned a lot about what it means to advocate for yourself, and it’s definitely not a simple thing like, “Hey, Dr. Fox, like, I want this.” That’s just the tip of the iceberg of self-advocacy. Self-advocacy is also reading, talking to people, getting other opinions, not necessarily feeling like there’s only one way. And I think that’s also a mindset. It’s not necessarily only the give and take between the doctor, it’s also the patient’s mindset of being able to look outside and, sort of, say like, is there another way?

So a good example for me in that respect, I would say is after my chemo, I had an option. I could get radiation or I could do a mastectomy. For me, my genetics panel was all negative, meaning, I don’t have either BRACA. I don’t have any…you know, back in the day, they only used to do BRACA 1 and 2.

Dr. Fox: You have none of the cancer genes.

Interviewee: Today, they have all these other panels, so who the hell knows, right? I don’t know, whatever, but I was negative for everything. Thank goodness. So on paper, I didn’t need a double mastectomy. On paper, I didn’t need that. There’s a big push in the last couple of years in the world of breast cancer that if you can do a lumpectomy, which is basically breast spearing, meaning the woman’s still isn’t as disfigured. She just has a lumpectomy, she has the piece of the cancer removed, she’s not as disfigured. There’s a big push for that. A lot of data came out that there was no difference in the outcomes between mastectomy and lumpectomy. That’s great. I’m all about #science.

So when it came time for me to make the decision of what I was going to do, I knew that I didn’t need a double mastectomy. We’re not in the days of, like, Angelina Jolie, right? Like, oh, you get a double mastectomy and you get a double mastectomy. I knew that I didn’t need it but something interesting that was posed to me was that if I did a mastectomy, I wouldn’t need radiation. So meaning because I didn’t have lymph nodes involved, I had a lumpectomy on the area, you need some type of cleanup. Cleanup around the area could be radiation locally to the breast tissue, or it’s a mastectomy. For me because I didn’t have lymph nodes involved, if I got a mastectomy, I didn’t need radiation.

And this is where I think for me, this is where a lot of myself advocacy came about. I really deliberated a long time. I spoke to a lot of people and read. I was 33 years old when I was diagnosed. My tumor was on the left side. The radiation that they do today is very focused. The likelihood of having any, you know, lung injury or cardiac injury is low. It’s not zero, but for me, because of my age, I was worried about long-term effects. The long-term effects of radiation come out later, like heart failure and those kinds of things, meaning 20 years later down the line. So for me, combined with the fact that I have very dense breast tissue and my breasts were very large, I felt for me that I wanted to have a mastectomy.

Dr. Fox: The fact that you were planning to have more kids, was that part of that decision also?

Interviewee: You know what, I felt like my daughter at that point was formula fed and doing great. And I felt like, you know what, like, I knew in my heart that if I did only the lumpectomy with radiation, I would constantly being biopsied, constantly being scanned because my breasts were dense and very large.

Dr. Fox: And again, you’re 33, the next 60, 70 years.

Interviewee: And I thought, you know what, like, if it’s breastfeeding, which obviously it’s sad that if I wouldn’t be able to do it in the future, but I felt like if that’s the thing I have to sacrifice for me, it was worth it. It’s not necessarily peace of mind because as the data says, it doesn’t really change your recurrence rate or overall survival.

Dr. Fox: It’s just the right decision for you.

Interviewee: It was the right decision for me. And so ultimately because of the mastectomy and issues with symmetry, I actually was approved to get a double and I was very happy about it.

Dr. Fox: You mean approved, like, insurance?

Interviewee: Yes. So the doctors were very discouraging. The breast surgeon did not want me to do a mastectomy because nobody wants to be that doctor today that does a mastectomy when you don’t need to because today, it’s considered…I don’t want to say the word overkill, but meaning there’s, that’s the trend right now to be more breast aware and breasts sparing.

Dr. Fox: They don’t want to be, you know, referred to as, like, the barbaric surgeon who’s disfiguring women, even if it’s what you wanted.

Interviewee: Right. That’s right. So that was a juncture where I could make a choice. So I had already made my choice and then I basically had to think about reconstruction of what kind of reconstruction did I want. And this is not a knock on anybody who has breast implants at all, but I think it’s very important to understand that women who have breast implants after a mastectomy, it’s totally different, both from how they look and also how they feel to let’s say a woman who had smaller breasts who wanted an augmentation. The look and feel is totally different because you don’t have that breast tissue there.

And I was just reading about, you know, women that have had breast implants after mastectomy for long periods of time, kind of, the issues that they’ve had. I’m sure you’ve heard of it, like breast implant illness, all kinds of problems that you can get with them, reactions, allergic reactions. And then ultimately, you have to change the breast implants out around every 10 years. And so, because of my age and all of those factors, and I know I’m already an allergic person based on the story, I said, you know what? I just, it’s not for me. It’s very well for somebody. It could be for somebody else, but for me, it’s not for me, I’m not gonna get breast implants. I’m not gonna…you know, breast implant illness if you’ve heard of it, it’s something that’s very…

There’s also other cancers you can get from the implants, certain types of lymphomas. I was like, I’m not going through all of this to get some other problem from a foreign body that I’m gonna elect to put in my body right now. Like, I’d rather go flat. And so ultimately, I learned about natural tissue reconstruction, which previously in the past, I would say 10 to 15 years, was reserved for women who had extensive radiation on their breasts who the skin couldn’t tolerate an implant, meaning the skin wasn’t…

Dr. Fox: Stretchy.

Interviewee: …stretchy or pliable enough, and their only option was to get a natural tissue reconstruction. But as the data has evolved and new information has come out about, you know, women after mastectomy having problems with breast implants, more women are electing to do natural tissue reconstruction. Ultimately, that’s what I chose. It’s not, like, a simple procedure at all.

Dr. Fox: It’s not a walk in the park.

Interviewee: It’s not liposuction, it’s not like a Brazilian butt augmentation, you know, it’s not just liposuction. It’s actually, you have to go to a specialist called a microsurgeon, basically resects part of your body. For me, it was my abdomen, my stomach. They resect the arteries and they connect them to the arteries in your chest because the tissue can’t survive without profusion. And if you don’t go to a good enough specialist or sometimes just bad luck, the transplant can fail. You can end up with one and then you have to try again with another source.

So my doctor, I think, thought I was, like, a nut, you know, that I was gonna do this surgery when I didn’t necessarily have a clear need, like meaning I didn’t try a breast implant and fail. But ultimately, I knew in my heart, it was the right decision for me. It was a very long surgery. It was 12 hours. I really had to advocate to get to the plastic surgeon that I wanted, who was absolutely phenomenal and amazing, changed my life. Like, a mensch, bar-none. It was the best decision for me. I would advocate for that surgery for anybody who even might be in this situation or thinking about it. There’s nothing like the feeling of having your own tissue.

Dr. Fox: Right. This mindset, has that changed how you think as a doctor or how your husband thinks as a doctor?

Interviewee: A hundred percent. Just going back to the words, just words are so powerful, much more sensitive to things of this nature. I know he gets particularly affected when he treats women who are breast cancer patients. Just a lot of sensitivity there.

Dr. Fox: What about in terms of, like, autonomy and giving patients choices? And do you think differently about that as a doctor?

Interviewee: Not to say that I’m, like, the greatest doctor ever.

Dr. Fox: You are.

Interviewee: But I would say that pre my diagnosis, I always said, I learned from one of my mentors, like, every doctor knows their limitation. Every doctor also needs to know when to say let’s get another opinion. And the doctor whose ego is so big that they can’t stop and do that probably is not the right doctor for you.

Dr. Fox: I believe that so strongly.

Interviewee: Yeah. And I would say that I’ve never had a problem saying, like, pump the brakes, let me get somebody else involved to help us out here. But I would say even more so now I really try to ask the questions to the specialist who it’s directed at because people generally have a lot of opinions and feelings and things they’ve seen, but I try to really direct my questions to the appropriate specialists.

Dr. Fox: I asked you how you’re doing overall, but I’m curious in terms of one specific thing, you know, your birth, obviously, thank God, your daughter is healthy and you’re doing well, but obviously, very traumatic experience to go through. And this is something that’s come up before on the podcast that even when the outcome is good, the event is traumatic and that itself is something from which you need to recover, so to speak. Where are you in that in terms of, like, the trauma and thinking back on it, you know, how are you now compared to then, what do you think is going to be moving forward? I’m just really curious to hear your thoughts on that,

Interviewee: Because my journey was really situational, meaning around a certain…my trauma, I should say, was based on somebody else. Me hearing somebody else dictate my reproductive future. I think for me, when I have another child, I think it will be very restorative for me. And I know that seems like very, like, cut and dry, like, I’m not healed until I have another child. That’s not the case. The fact that I’m already here on this journey and have seven specialists behind me that are rooting for me, for me, I already feel that I’ve crossed the finish line, but ultimately I feel like what I really would like to do is, God-willing, have another baby and walk into the surgeon’s office, “Hi, remember me?” Just kidding.

Dr. Fox: Was there a point, you know, when you couldn’t even tell the story because it was just too painful? I would imagine it takes a long time to even talk about it.

Interviewee: I mean, there’s a lot of shame also. I mean, I think depending on where you come from, also community, whatever your background is, your involvement, I think there are stigmas and taboos around talking about these things. And I would say initially I was much more reserved, but I’m definitely not as so, meaning I am involved in groups, I talk to other women, I made myself available to be…like, meaning through my doctors, they know that they can have their patients reach out to me if they want to talk about anything or have any questions.

It was actually a big part of how I got here because through my plastic surgeon, I met a woman that was on the patient referral list who told me that she’s had three children after her breast cancer. And she was like, “Just stick to the plan, like, stay positive. This is just temporary and you’re gonna get through it and you’ll have everything you want.”

Dr. Fox: Last thing I want to ask you today, we’re going to talk many, many more times than before, but today, looking back on this whole thing, global view, where you are now going all the way back then, what have you learned about yourself and what have you learned just about life in general, like the big lessons that you know now that you didn’t know then?

Interviewee: I would say pre-cancer, anybody who knew me always knew that I was, like, the get-it-done person, meaning like, if there was an issue that came up, if there was anybody that could do it, they could call me and I could solve the problem. I can make whatever it was happen, happen. That’s an element of being, like, very type A, very aggressive, very organized to, like, a fault, overly so, and also overly controlling. I don’t want to say not controlling in my relationship, but controlled every aspect, like, of life to the most minute detail. And I think going through all of this, I’ve really had to, like, let go a lot. It also comes back to also, like, being the provider and the patient, I have had to learn how to be the patient, and I think I’ve really come a long way with that where I can just sit in the doctor’s office and just be the patient.

Dr. Fox: We’ll find out.

Interviewee: You’ll find out. I’ve sworn up and down to every doctor. I’m like, “I am a changed lady. I will be the best patient you ever had.”

Dr. Fox: You were a great patient. You’re giving yourself a lot of a, you know, bad rap. You were a great patient going through something really horrible. You were always kind. You were always thoughtful. You were always asking the right questions. You were ideal. You were just going through a horrible thing. So yeah, you’re an emotional wreck, but you should be an emotional wreck. It’s an emotional wreckage that was happening, but no, you were a great patient.

Interviewee: Thank you. No, but I just definitely think letting go of some of the aspects of control and letting somebody else take care of you, trusting in that, having the ability to let go and say, “You decide.” That’s that balance between autonomy and not because at some point you’re tired, at some point you just want to say, just like, take it from me and just tell me what’s the right thing to do because your brain just gets so tired from constantly having to be three steps ahead when you’re fried, you had chemo, you had this, you had that, and you’re brain’s always, you know, what’s the next move, what’s the next move, but you’re tired. So I’ve learned a lot.

Dr. Fox: Well, I’m inspired by you. I think that you’re amazing. I think that what you went through was so huge and so difficult, but you handled it…honestly, yes, it was very difficult at the time, but you know, it’s been a while, we’ve known each other a while, with such grace, actually. And the fact that you’re willing to talk about it for a really long time, you know, which is great. I think that it is, A, just on the face of just interesting and fascinating, people will hear it and say, “Wow, like, I’m a better person for hearing the story,” but there’s women out there who are gonna hear this and it’s going to resonate with them personally. Obviously, if it’s exactly the same thing or just close enough and the same emotions and it’s important, like you said, to tell your story. It’s for you, and it’s for me, and it’s for people who listen, and it’s just really profound and I just appreciate you doing it.

Interviewee: Thank you.

Dr. Fox: If you’re interested in telling your birth story on our podcast, please go to our partner website at www.healthfulwoman.com and click the link for sharing your story. You can also email us directly at hrbs@highriskbirthstories.com. If you liked today’s podcast, please be sure to check out our “Healthful Woman” podcast as well, where I speak with the leaders in the field to help you learn more about women’s health, pregnancy, and wellness. Have a great day.

The information discussed in “High Risk Birth Stories” is intended for informational and entertainment only and does not replace medical care from your physician. The stories and experiences discussed in our podcasts are unique to each guest and are not intended to be representative of any standard of care or expected outcomes. As always, we encourage you to speak with your own doctor about specific diagnoses and treatment options for an effective treatment plan. Guests on “High Risk Birth Stories” have given their permission for us to share their personal health information.