At week 15, Cherron Williams was diagnosed with cancer. With a husband and 3 children to live for, Cherron had to make a hard decision of whether to keep or terminate the pregnancy – she chose the former and here’s her empowering story…
“I found a lump in my breast at the beginning of 2016. I told my PCP and he scheduled me for an ultrasound. The tech told me that I had no need to worry because it was a fluid-filled cyst. After hearing that, I was good, although the lump never went away. It would hurt at times with my cycle, it never grew…it just stayed there with a tiny little mountain, that was visible.
Fast forward to August 2018.
My husband and I got the biggest surprise of our lives together. We were pregnant at 40??? We were both turning 40 that year, and I was planning a trip for my birthday to celebrate. Our children’s ages were 2 daughters 19 and 18 and an 11-year-old son…so this news was crazy. My husband was excited, I was skeptical. We had tried to get pregnant back in 2010 through 2012. And when we got pregnant, an ectopic almost killed me. So we gave up. I was heartbroken.
In 2015 I ended up with health issues that caused me to be out of work, eventually leading to being disabled. So a baby?! That was the last thing I thought possible.
Well, they couldn’t even find the baby for the first 2 weeks after finding out, and we live in Brooklyn, N.Y., whereas the hospital we chose was in Long Island N.Y. So we traveled back and forth every 2 days for them to do ultrasounds to see if they could find the baby, all while drawing blood to see if my HCG levels continued rising. And they sure did. The fear was if the baby was in my tube due to the previous ectopic. Eventually, they found the baby and then the real fun started. I was considered high risk from the beginning. There were so many tests, (or so I thought at that time), to make sure everything was mapped out to figure the course of how to handle this pregnancy to bring this baby to term.
Things started settling into a routine when I noticed at the beginning of October that the breast with the lump was different than the other. At this point I had just started my 2nd trimester, the books an apps said that the pain in my breasts should slow down. But only the left breast stopped hurting, the right breast would randomly have sharp, shooting pains. I also noticed that It was way smaller than the left breast. While checking, it leaked out a little blood. I freaked out…but I stayed calm enough to wait the 2 days for my next OB appointment. I explained everything to the NP, she felt it was nothing for me to worry about, but to be safe she scheduled an appt with the Breast Clinic right away.
I was in there by the middle of that same week. They did the ultrasound an wanted to do a biopsy the same day. While they prepared for the biopsy, I walked out to my husband who was waiting and started crying before I could explain to him what was happening. He reassured me everything would be fine. He said “Do the test”, we will go out that weekend with family and friends to celebrate my 40th, and we will be fine. I went in and did the biopsy.
On Monday, October 22, 2018, I found out I had breast cancer.
How in the hell can I have cancer, I am PREGNANT! That is not possible…I knew it was too good to be true, I felt like, I am going to have to get an abortion if I want to live for the rest of my children and not leave my husband behind. And that would definitely kill the rest of the spirit I have left after losing the last one in the ectopic. Why was this happening? Was it a cruel joke? Maybe they made a mistake, it’s a mix up in results! I cried more. I cried in my pillow in silence. I was a hot mess! I didn’t dare want to upset my husband at work…I said I will talk to him when he came home that afternoon from work, but my OB wanted me to come in right away.
We were told that my cancer was common, which gave them faith that it would be able to beat since they’ve encountered it before. I was told I could keep my baby but my choices for how to treat the cancer would be different. I must also understand that statistics show that there is no real difference in the outcome of survival between women who abort, or women who keep their babies. I was told I could go to one of the other hospitals, like Sloan Kettering. I asked them if they themselves dealt with any other women who had cancer while pregnant. They said yes 3 so far that year. Two stayed with them an one went to Sloan Kettering. I told them that I would be staying with them. I know of two people who went to that hospital for cancer treatment, and neither of them is here anymore. I was not comfortable with that hospital. But the way the people at Long Island Jewish rushed to help me that morning, the way they made me feel comfortable and heard me when I spoke, which is not easy being a black woman who has a hard time with Drs. with my previous health issues, I was not going to just up and leave them. I felt safe, I felt very safe. They made all the arrangements and appointments with the top Drs. from their hospital. We walked away from the meeting breathing again.
That night I googled everything I can find on being pregnant with cancer. I saw small articles that talked about the possibility, stating the same things that the Drs told me that morning. But then I came across an article on Dr. Elyce Cardonick, and a link for Hope For Two. I read the stories of the women on there and was amazed. I saw the statistics and was in shock that so many women were dealing with this same issue right then and there it saddened me that I wasn’t alone. This is supposed to be a happy time…and the joy was being sucked from it super fast! But there were so many women who survived and were living with healthy babies, children, and teenagers. It let me know that it can be done. I was very thankful that she has done what she has done that in 2018 I and my baby had a fighting chance.
[READ also; Mom of two, Nathalie Tamasha opens up on the trials and tribulations of raising her special needs daughter, Amanda]
I went to all my appts and did all the testing they could do. Testing came back from the biopsy an I was told it was stage 2a breast cancer her2, and estrogen and progesterone receptive. I chose to keep my baby when the Oncologist asked my decision. Thank God I was given the opportunity to keep my baby! She explained there will be a risk of low birth weight and premature birth. All which didn’t worry me too much because my 1st son was born early at 33 weeks an 1 day at 4lbs 10oz. He spent 12 days in the NICU. I hated it, but the fears I had then I didn’t have as strongly now seeing him grow as a healthy boy in my face. So the plan was set… I would first be scheduled asap for a mastectomy and space placer of the right breast only to minimize my time under anesthesia while pregnant. We will revisit after full chemo treatment is over to remove my other breast with reconstruction, and possibly a hysterectomy. At 24 weeks pregnant, I would start chemo. 4 sessions every 2 weeks. 1 month after the mastectomy so I get time to heal. For the month of February, I would do no treatment since I need 1 month to heal a recoup my immune system to be prepared for a scheduled c section at 34 weeks to remove our baby boy (we ended up finding out due to other complications with his health, but that scare turned out as a blessing as well!). After this, I would get 2 weeks to heal, upon approval from my OB go on to start more chemo, weekly for a year. Radiation was up in the air due to the findings of the surgery. All of my Drs met with each other to map out the best course for my treatment, what more could I ask for!
11.16.18 I had my mastectomy. My baby boy was fine, I was fine. I woke up from surgery to feel him moving. They removed the whole tumor, my margins were clear, it became Stage 2b because they removed 15 lymph nodes, and found cancer in the sentinel node and a little bit in the 2nd node. I came home 3 days later. That experience was hard on so many levels. I knew what I needed to do and I did it, but it didn’t feel good doing it. I was strong all the way up until walking into the room for surgery holding my stomach and asking myself why? I had no control of the tears that dropped from my eyes. God bless the hearts of the two people who were prepping. They asked me questions to get me talking about the baby and rushed me off to sleep. Recovery was really hard. I didn’t sleep in my bed for a month after, I slept on the recliner in my living room, my husband would not leave my side. He slept out there with me every night despite how uncomfortable he was.
We had my baby shower early. I had no idea how chemo would make me feel so it was what we thought would be best. And boy was I right to do that. My 1st treatment was on a Friday before, the baby shower was the Sunday, and the side effects kicked in that Tuesday! And they kicked my butt, and every time I got treated. But all the while…my son kicked away and I pushed forward. I felt every movement and he was ACTIVE! I got extra appts to see him too since they wanted to monitor him closely. I got chemo every other week and then the week of no chemo was an ultrasound. Some weeks were good news and some were scary. My amniotic fluid was low at times, he hadn’t grown enough at others..but then he started catching up. And then finally chemo was done and it was time to rest up for my month.
I gave birth by C-section section to Kayden on March 6th, 2019 at 2:11 PM. He was 4lbs 14oz. I held my breath till I heard him cry and when he did so did I. He was healthy and beautiful! He stayed in the NICU for 5 days. He needed oxygen for a couple hours after he came out and was under the heat lamp for 2 days. He was a little jaundice but he didn’t need the lights. I was able to produce breast milk for him from my other breast and when my milk came in I had more than enough to take care of him. I got to feed him and freeze milk for 1 month before I had to start chemo again. I was given donor breast milk thru insurance. It has been different because I’ve never fed my children formula, but he has to eat so, so be it. He gets a mixture of formula and donor breast milk.
Kayden is an amazing baby, I can’t wait till I’m done with my treatments so I can be more alert, and stronger to take care of him. These treatments are kicking my butt in other ways. But as always, I push forward every day. For now, I do what I can, and my husband and daughter do the rest. They are an amazing support team if I haven’t said that already. I still have 6 months of chemo treatment and a couple of days more of radiation, but God willing I will see it thru. I’m not ready to go! I want to share my story because I know there are other women out there like me who never thought these 2 things can coincide…and the rates are rising as women are waiting till later on in life to have their children. I just want others to be aware, and to know that they have options.