Editors Note: In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we brought in a special guest to write about her experience overcoming breast cancer while pregnant. Here's the story of Karyn Giles. We're honored to have her on the blog:
When I was a child, “Think Pink” referred to Saturday morning cartoons featuring the Pink Panther. But now “Think Pink” has much more meaning.
Nine years ago this month, I was happily cruising through life as a mother of three children age 6 and under, when a visit to the doctor revealed that I was indeed pregnant, and that I should get further testing on a lump I had noticed in my left breast.
My suspicion that the lump was some hormonal adjustment brought on by a struggling pregnancy was at first validated as “probably some fibrous tissue like what you’ve had removed before.” When I determined that further research could wait until after the holidays, Ronnie, my doctor’s nurse, called and scheduled the needle core biopsy for right after Thanksgiving.
It turns out, I may owe my life to Ronnie. I was tested on Monday, got pathology results on Wednesday, visited the surgeon on Friday and was in surgery the following Monday. My family is thankful for inspired and proactive caregivers.
Within a short span of days, pink became a lasting part of my life. I had high-grade ductal carcinoma in situ—cancerous cells in ducts plus a mass that had expanded beyond the duct walls.
My particular breed of cancer was rare—not hormone receptive (thank goodness, as hormones were racing all through my pregnant body) and very invasive! My tumor cells had no recollection that they had once been breast tissue.
A Blur of Questions
The blur of questions, specialists visits, answers, more questions, and lots of strangers becoming more familiar with my life and my body was only overcome through the power of prayer by family, friends and neighbors and the faith that all I could do was take one step at a time.
I grabbed a spiral notebook and started writing down questions, data, referrals, more questions and information I gleaned talking with surgeons, oncologists, perinatologists, and from books, websites and friends.
The answer to one question often led to 10 more questions. People had been down similar roads before, but no one had my exact situation. I realized that I was in charge of my destiny – to ask questions, seek insight and make inspired decisions of what to do and when to do it.
In the throes of my chemotherapy treatments, my blood was not returning to acceptable levels, and I was offered a shot to stimulate the bone marrow.
I asked how many pregnant women had taken it. Though data was sparse, there was no known impact to the fetus.
After I spent a week in the hospital with neutropenic fever (extremely low white blood cell count), I determined the shot was the only way to get all the needed chemo before the baby would arrive. I was able to take the prescribed five treatments before he was born. God was watching over us.
The day of my last chemo treatment, my OB-GYN informed me that there was lots of extra umbilical cord and extra thickness in the placenta. God’s “filtration system” had ensured that my son was not being hurt by the chemo (technically too large a molecule to cross the placenta), but he was not growing as much as he should; it was hard for him to get nutrients through the filtration.
After three weeks of non-stress tests and the threat of being induced, Jacob was born on his own. He needed an early transfusion to thin his blood and a week in the hospital to get his body/blood sugars regulated, but he has rallied to be a happy, healthy, VERY active 8-year-old.
How Cancer Has Changed Me
• Blue is still my favorite color, but pink is a part of me.
• I know what really matters: family, love and time together are best.
• Thanks to cancer, I understand that I am the one who determines my destiny. God has blessed me with potential, and it is up to me to become that.
Sometimes I still “sweat the small stuff,” but I know better. My faith is strengthened. My desire to really live is encouraged, and my commitment to make a difference every day is my focus.
Because of my cancer diagnosis, my quiet life of anonymity has gone more public. A few similarly diagnosed friends and I started a local, county-wide cancer support group here in Montana.
We try to make sure that others don’t have to go through the blur of diagnosis or the battle of treatment without help and support. Through fundraising in our caring community, anyone diagnosed with cancer and referred to us receives a stipend to help defray the additional costs that diagnosis involves. Those in on-going treatment get a personal lap quilt so they can literally be warmed and comforted by their community of support.
So What? 11 Ways to Think Pink
1. Tell the people you love how you feel about them and why.
2. Celebrate life every day.
3. Take care of yourself. Do what you know you should—eat well, exercise often, laugh aloud and love much.
4. Live each day as if it were the only one you have.
5. Reach out to others – there is always someone in worse shape than you are. All you have to do is swap stories with other people in treatment to realize how good you have it.
6. Ask your loved ones (men and women) if they have had regular screening tests.
7. Engage in open discussion of health and family history. Early detection has a critical role in expanding treatment options.
8. Do hard things.
9. Express gratitude for the little things in life: breathing, being able to sleep, keeping food in your stomach, having the energy to do something every day.
10. Cherish the people around you. See their good and grow it.
11. Live without regret.
About the author: Karyn and her husband Andre have four children and currently reside on 100 acres in central Montana. She is active in her women's club, scouting and other community organizations. Karyn is the Secretary of Chouteau County Cancer Support Group. She grows her own vegetables and raises chickens and sheep. Karyn is a fan of several NSP immune system products, which she used during and after her bout with breast cancer.