A beaming ray of positivity and pillar of strength, Jordana, newly pregnant with her second, was diagnosed with breast cancer at 32 years old. Now, having faced the biggest challenge of her life, she’s come out the other side with two healthy babies and enormous gratitude for life. Here, Jordana shares her empowering story from chemotherapy to having a mastectomy while pregnant, plus life-saving pregnancy hormones, taking back control after losing her hair, and the greatest medicine of all, love and support. @jordybstrong
At 11 weeks pregnant with Ethan, the doctor called me with the news that I had cancer.
Last September, I got pregnant with our second child. Over the moon to be growing our family, we were in total bliss for weeks. As October rolled around, I felt a lump in my right breast. Since I was pregnant and going to the doctor often for the baby, I brought it to my OB’s attention. Initially, she said it was likely nothing, but suggested I make a sonogram appointment to be on the safe side.
“Over the past year, I have heard from countless women that the first reaction is to assume a lump is not a cause for concern; however, I have learned that it’s super important to be an advocate for yourself. Don’t dismiss anything when it comes to your health, as it cannot hurt to get it checked out.“
I made a sonogram appointment and she asked that I come back the next morning for a biopsy, which, at that point, was a little concerning as we knew it wasn’t a cyst. After that, everything happened quickly. On Wednesday I went in for my sonogram, on Thursday I went in for the biopsy, on Friday I went to have the skin looked at plus an incision and by Saturday, October 27th 2018 almost a year ago, my life and world forever changed. At 11 weeks pregnant with Ethan, the doctor called me with the news that I had cancer. The tumor I felt was one of two tumors with the second one was deep inside. Getting that news was shocking, my husband and I collapsed on the floor. Everything stopped. It was one of the worst weeks of our lives.
Of course, I heard cancer and immediately thought about the baby. But, I kept saying, ‘We’re going to be OK,’ to myself and my baby.
Gutted, I assumed I wouldn’t be able to get treated and carry the baby to term. Since it was the weekend when we received this news, we couldn’t talk to anyone, and spent the weekend in tears. The following week was a total blur filled with endless doctor’s appointments and multiple opinions. By the end of the second week, we had a plan in place, and they told me I could keep the baby! The moment we heard this, overjoyed, we fell into each other’s arms. They informed me by some miracle of the body, the chemotherapy treatments and surgery I needed would remain separate from the baby.
I was on the operating table within two weeks for the mastectomy. They removed the right breast with the tumors. They decided not to remove the left one yet, as it was considered preventive, and I couldn’t be under anesthesia any longer than necessary because of the baby. If I wasn’t pregnant, they would have removed both immediately. I didn’t care that much about my breast; I only wanted the tumor out of me at that point and to get better.
I was on the operating table within two weeks and had ten rounds of chemo before he was born.
A month after the surgery, I started chemotherapy. My plan was called ACT which stands for the name of the drugs, Adriamycin, Cyclophosphamide, and Taxol. I began with four rounds of AC (Adriamycin and Cyclophosphamide), which is the more intense chemo version of December through February. They would connect me to a stress test and fetal heartbeat monitor during the treatments and Ethan was a champion throughout. During that time, life was business as usual, I commuted into the city, worked full-time, kept up with my home, our toddler, dog, and my husband. I didn’t let it take me down. I knew that if I allowed that to happen, then everyone around me would crumble.
Something powerful happened inside of me; I had this positive attitude and knew that we were going to make it. Of course, in the beginning, there were many tears, and it was the hardest thing I have ever had to face, but once we had all the information, I felt OK. And yes, it was terrifying going into each new step of the process but kept moving forward. I was scared shitless on my first chemo session, but once I understood the process, I felt good. I knew that my mental attitude would make all the difference in the outcome. My family said to me, when I got cancer, we all got cancer. They were there for me every step of the way, at every doctor’s appointment and every chemo session; I was never alone. Overall, I continued with my “normal” life, and when I needed a minute, I took it for myself.
“Early detection is vital as it could save your life. It saved mine. I didn’t know much about breast cancer before because no one ever thinks it’s going to be them. Same. But, turns out it was me.“
You never know how strong you are until you have to be.
Losing my breast wasn’t as difficult as when my hair started to fall out. It’s the first outward sign that something is happening to you physically. Otherwise, when you looked at me, no one knew I had cancer. It was a lot to take in. SO when I did begin to lose my hair, I was depressed for a couple of days. But I took back control, shaved my head, and filled my closet with wigs. The worst part was coming home and looking at myself in the mirror, completely bald. After the hair, my eyelashes and eyebrows fell out which was very emotional as they’re a major part of the face — of which I didn’t realize until they were gone. I found solutions, though and became a pro at penciling in my eyebrows. However, at the end of the day, when I would come home and take it all off, it would bring me right back to that place which was hard but I always had the love and support of my family. Not once did my husband ever make me feel anything less than beautiful. All of this took time to get used to, but, like the rest of the process, I kept moving forward.
Fortunately, with everything else I was dealing with, I didn’t have any of the typical pregnancy symptoms (perhaps the universe was looking out for me in that way). Same with the chemo, outside of losing my hair, I didn’t feel much in terms of side effects.
He’s my little man, thriving and beautiful.
We scheduled to have Ethan a little earlier than his due date, as with everything to consider, they wanted to be sure to get him out safely. I had ten rounds of chemo before he was born on April 25th, completely healthy, and so was I. To say the least, it was an incredibly emotional day. Finally, able to have him in my arms, we called him our little warrior and named him Ethan, which means strong, after what he had endured. He’s my little man, thriving and beautiful.
Post-birth, I finished my last six rounds of chemo (the T, or Taxol portion of the regiment), which brought me to June. Also, I was finally able to get a PET scan, because I wasn’t pregnant anymore, to detect if there was any other cancer in my body. Once I got the call, with negative results from the scan, I began to feel a sense of relief. Not being able to test if cancer had spread to other parts of my body for nine months was extremely worrisome. Overall, managing the unknown throughout the process was the most challenging part. I finished chemo, followed by 28 sessions of radiation, and on August 14th, I was finally done.
Now, I guess you can say I am cancer-free.
Now, I guess you can say I am cancer-free. Mind you, I say that loosely because you never know and still have a slew of preventive measures ahead of me, including my second mastectomy, reconstructive surgery, and removing my ovaries because I am BRCA 1 positive, which puts me at high risk for ovarian cancer. For the rest of my life, I’ll be monitored; this is something that will never entirely escape me, but I have found a way to cope and come to terms with it.
“Know your family history. Ask questions and get tested. Breast cancer is treatable and curable, but you have to catch it early.“
We always say that Ethan saved my life. Had I not been pregnant, who knows if I would have felt the lump when I did or caught it early because I’m young I likely wouldn’t have gone in for a mammogram. I was Stage Two and so lucky in the sense that they found it when they did.
Coming out the other side, I have learned that family is everything. I found strength in my team of doctors, the breast cancer community, my best friends, my colleagues, my faith, and even strangers. And more importantly, I am forever reminded not to take life too seriously. I have come to realize all the little things that annoy us, or we think they are problems, are not. Plus, I can’t say it enough, we all must be a little kinder every day to the people we love, or even the people we don’t, as you never know what they’re going through.
Jordana urges, with one in eight women estimated to get breast cancer in their lifetime (a sobering STAT) and in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, if anything does not feel right, take action. Do not take health for granted. @jordybstrong