Stacey Johnson and her husband were elated. A home pregnancy test had shown they were pregnant. Johnson made an appointment to meet with her doctor.
But between that home pregnancy test and the first doctor’s appointment, Johnson found a lump in her breast.
“I tried not to freak out about it,” she said.
Johnson hoped it was just normal pregnancy changes.
She went in for her first doctor's appoint to confirm the pregnancy, and then to an ultrasound of her breast. That led to a biopsy.
Ten weeks into the pregnancy, she heard the words she hadn’t even known to dread a few weeks earlier.
“That I had breast cancer,” said Johnson.
Everyone was in shock. The doctor Johnson was seeing discussed terminating the pregnancy, which is apparently common.
“That wasn’t an option for me, so I sought out a second opinion,” said Johnson. “I had a single mastectomy because we didn’t want me under anesthesia for any longer to protect the pregnancy.”
As soon as Johnson was in her second trimester, she began chemotherapy. She lost her hair. She had the normal symptoms of chemotherapy. All while pregnant.
Johnson isn’t alone. In fact, doctors say the number of breast cancer diagnoses during pregnancy is on the rise.
Dr. Lauren Nye is a medical oncologist at the University of Kansas Cancer Center. She is part of the team of people treating Johnson.
“It’s rare but becoming increasingly an issue as women are dealing with childbirth until their 30s and 40s. And we see over 10 percent of breast cancers in women in that age group. We’re starting to see that coincide more often. About 1 in 3,000 pregnancies,” said Nye.
She said there needs to be more awareness that a woman doesn’t necessarily have to terminate a pregnancy if she’s diagnosed with breast cancer.
“It hasn’t shown to improve breast cancer outcomes, and we can still treat breast cancer during pregnancy with our standard chemotherapies and surgery. As long as we can get them to the second trimester,” said Nye.
Doctors also recognize breast cancer can be tougher to diagnose during pregnancy because of the changes to breasts during those nine months.
“If you feel a mass or you see your nipple going inwards, or you see a rash on the breast… those are reasons to consider getting some imaging so we can rule out anything more worrisome,” said Nye.
Stacey Johnson has been invited to sit in the Buck O’Neil seat at the Royals game on Mother’s Day. Her baby boy, William, is due the following week. As soon as she’s recovered from childbirth, she will start chemotherapy again and then, when it’s time, radiation.
Johnson said she hopes, at some point soon, she’ll get to the point where she’s back to just being a mom instead of cancer patient, too.