Pregnancy, cancer and moving houses.
A lot has been happening over the last 9 months or so. On the medical side there have been lots of scans, with lots of good clear results, then slightly fewer scans with continued clear results. On a semi-medical side, I’m having a baby! And on the totally not medical side, we sold our house and bought an old fixer upper! Life has been busy, and God has been gracious.
I’m planning on writing up a bit about the work we’re doing on the house at a later date, so I’ll save that for now, and instead concentrate on the very exciting news on a new addition to the family. While a new baby is happy news, and something that we have been thinking, discussing and praying about for a while, we realise that those of you who care and love us might have some questions and concerns; specifically about what pregnancy and a baby might mean, given my history with cancer. That’s very understandable, and I wanted to take the time to talk through some of the implications of that, and to dispel some of the most common myths and misunderstandings.
Myth #1: It is recommended that people who have had cancer do not go on to have more children, and therefore should undergo a vasectomy or some form of female sterilisation.
This is definitely not true and actually pretty crazy. While there are women who choose not to have children after having had cancer, this is certainly not standard recommendation and that would also be questionable from an ethical perspective. On the contrary, huge amounts of time and effort are put into preserving men and women’s fertility throughout different cancer treatments. This include freezing eggs, sperm, embryos; removing and replacing ovarian tissue; ovarian transportation; shielding during radiotherapy and more. This might be a more complex discussion for those with genetic mutations linked to cancers, such as the BRCA mutation, yet even then there is not a standard recommendation, and thankfully for us, it is not a discussion that has ever been raised.
Myth #2: Pregnancy can make the cancer grow quicker.
This one is quite common, a lot of people assume that the growth hormones of pregnancy that help baby grow can also help cancer grow. There was historically thought that this was the case with hormone dependant cancers and gynaecological cancers in particular, but research has not been able to support this. Outside of this category, there is no evidence that pregnancy effects the growth of cancer. Macmillan are pretty categoric in their statement concerning this:
‘You might worry that being pregnant may make the cancer grow faster. But doctors have researched this in different types of cancer and there is no evidence to support this.’
Myth #3: There is a specifically length of time all cancer patients have to wait until pregnancy is recommended.
For those who have had chemotherapy, there is a normal recommendation to wait between 1 and 2 years after treatment has finished. This both due to the huge toll chemo takes on an adult’s body and also on risks to the developing baby while the chemicals are still present in the body. There have been many babies conceived shortly after chemo has ended and there has not been an increase in negative outcomes, but this data is certainly not large enough to say that is is safe. For those, like me, who have not had chemo there are no clear guidelines, and decisions are therefore made based off different factors including age, cancer types, general health and the effects of pregnancy on future treatments and monitoring - which leads me on to my next myth.
Myth #4: You can’t have any monitoring while pregnant.
MRIs have been deemed to be safe during pregnancy. In fact, MRIs are commonly used to scan babies during pregnancy to detect defects and other problems. These are my current main form of surveillance and I’ll be having my next one in just a few weeks. It is also possible to do many X-rays and ultrasounds during pregnancy. CT scans however, should be avoided. I had been having CT scans every 6-7 months, though my consultant was considering extending this to every year, with X-rays and MRIs in between. When monitoring, there is a fine line between regular checks and limiting exposure to radiation that can increase risks of secondary cancers down the line. With this is mind, my specialist recommended that if we were to have a baby to try immediately after my last CT scan for a month (possibly 2) then to wait until after the next CT, to reduce the amount of time they would be delayed. By Gods grace I ovulated 2 weeks after, and had a positive pregnancy test less than 2 weeks after that! This is such a blessing, and a testimony to Gods kindness. It also means that my next CT scan will happen 9 months after the last, which is a great compromise between the 6 and 12 doctors were debating.
Myth #5: You can pass on your cancer to the baby if you have cancer while pregnant.
This just isn’t true, and doesn’t need much explanation. Cancer also isn’t contagious, for what it’s worth.
I hope some of that was useful or interesting, or at least was able to follow. We realise not everyone will have made the same decision that we have, and some will disagree, and that’s ok. The risk of the cancer recurring down the line is still fairly high, and if we have to deal with that at some point with three children rather than two, I’m certain that will make things more complex. We are confident however, that we are not adding increased risks, being reckless, irresponsible or thoughtless and we pray you can rejoice along with us!
Many thanks and love, Anna x