Facing Breast Cancer During Pregnancy

How a woman gave birth and started chemotherapy within a week, without being Superwoman

For new mothers, one year can seem like a lifetime. The daily routine of less than twelve months ago has completely changed, and the previous way of life has become a distant memory. But few moms have experienced a year like Connie Helton did. Twenty-nine weeks pregnant with twins, Connie discovered in August of 2009 that she had breast cancer.

“I had my five-minute breakdown after Dr. Fehr told me,” Connie says. Her OB/GYN, Karen Fehr-D’Alessandro, MD, had scheduled an ultrasound and biopsy after Connie discovered a lump in her right breast. Connie, who was 34 at the time, did not have a family history of breast cancer and had breast-fed her first two children. Despite the shock of the diagnosis, Connie soon developed a calm that amazed everyone around her.

“I thought about my kids at home and the twins,” Connie recalls. “I knew this was something that I couldn’t control or face on my own. I had to pray, let go and let God be in control. After I realized that, it was easy for me to go with the flow.”

Susan Mahany, MD, performed a mastectomy on Connie three days later. The recovery time for the surgery would take Connie very close to the birth of her twins. Christopher and Susannah Helton were born healthy on September 17; one week later, Connie began chemotherapy.

“Part of the reason for waiting until after delivery is peace of mind for the mom,” explains Mark Taylor, MD, a hematologist and oncologist with Summit Cancer Care who treated Helton in the Nancy N. and J.C. Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion. “This way, Connie would know for sure she didn’t put her two kids at any risk at all.”

“Fortunately, it’s not often that I’ll have a patient who is pregnant during treatment, but it does happen every once in a while,” Dr. Taylor says, though Connie was his first patient that was pregnant with twins. “The wait did not affect Connie’s chances for an effective treatment.”

Connie was treated with chemotherapy for almost five months. She and her husband Chris immediately received help from their friends from church and from the Mother of Pre-Schoolers group, of which Connie is a member.

“I would be wiped out for a couple of days after the chemo,” Connie recalls. “They would come over and watch the babies, cook meals, or help clean the house.”

Connie’s friends were amazed to see how her strength and serenity never faltered. Connie, in turn, saw their help as the source of her resolve.

“It seems simple, but it’s a hard thing for many women to let other people do certain things for you,” Connie says, remembering how she used to be a worrier that needed to feel in control of things.

“Don’t try to think that you’re Superwoman,” she advises. “People want to help you. It blesses them to be able to do things for you.”

Connie’s twins just celebrated turning one, and Dr. Taylor’s assessment of her health today is simple.

“She’s doing awesome.” 
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