For 36-year-old Jade Devis of Rancho Cucamonga, California, her story of becoming a mother and her story of battling breast cancer are inextricable.
Devis found out she was expecting in December of 2018, but shortly afterward, she began to experience intense breast pain.
By February, she noticed a hard, painful lump above her breast. She no longer believed that this was just a side effect of pregnancy as her physicians had told her.
“I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t ask for that biopsy,” she told TODAY. Her doctors diagnosed Devis with stage 2 triple-negative breast cancer.
“Had I followed the doctor’s recommendations, I would be dead. It was such an aggressive tumor,” she says. (1)
Breast Cancer & Pregnancy
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, about 1 in 3000 pregnant women are diagnosed with breast cancer. (2)
Changes in breast tissue during pregnancy can make cancer difficult to detect because of the overlap in symptoms. Cancer is often caught at a much later stage in pregnant women than in those who are not pregnant.
Patients with a cancer diagnosis who wish to carry their pregnancy to term will need an oncology team and a high-risk obstetrics team to get them through their pregnancies as safely as possible. In some cases, cancer treatment is delayed until a later stage of pregnancy or until after delivery. In other cases, treatment can begin safely during pregnancy. (2)
Devis adamantly refused the option to terminate her pregnancy. “I felt trapped. The only way out was to do the one thing that I thought I wasn’t supposed to do, which is to put my baby in harm’s way,” she told TODAY. “I wasn’t going to let anybody tell me his fate. I was going to do everything I could to save the baby. I wasn’t going to let a disease take the baby from me.” (1)
Cancer Treatments During Pregnancy
Chemotherapy is not considered safe for the developing fetus during the first trimester, but some forms of chemotherapy are safe in later stages because the placenta acts as a filter. (2)
Doctors also don’t give chemotherapy within 8 weeks of the expected delivery date. Chemotherapy can lower white blood cell counts for both mother and baby, which can increase the risk of infection during delivery. Chemotherapy can lower white blood cell counts (neutropenia), which can increase the risk of infection in the mother and the baby around the time of delivery. (3)
Surgery to remove cancerous tissue is typically safe during pregnancy, however, depending on the location, radiation is not safe at any stage of pregnancy. (2)
A Safe Delivery
A second surgery was performed to install a port that would deliver her chemotherapy, Devis started treatment in May at 25 weeks pregnant. Her medical team treated her with a regimen called FAC (5-fluorouracil, adriamycin, cyclophosphamide). (1)
Devis’ son, Bradley, was born completely healthy in July 2019!
“I felt like I’ve been holding my breath the entire time when he was trapped in my belly and I had to go to chemo,” Devis said. “I’m just happy he’s out of my belly. He’s safe now.” (1)
For now, Devis is still receiving treatment. She’s scheduled to continue chemo until the end of November. Her family is helping her with Bradley because chemo side effects make it especially difficult to care for him.
Her medical oncologist, Dr. Gayathri Nagaraj, worked closely with Devis throughout her pregnancy and cancer treatment. She wants to encourage women who are going through a similar experience.
“As a woman, you have this extra empathy for this patient in front of you because it’s difficult to go through chemo in the first place, and here she is having to go through her first pregnancy and chemotherapy. We wanted to give her every opportunity for a cure that we would offer a non-pregnant patient,” she told TODAY. (1)
“[Devis is] doing great. We’re proud of how she handled everything. There is hope [for pregnant women with cancer diagnoses].” (1)
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is for information only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition and/or current medication. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.
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