Leah Snyder was living her fairytale. She married her prince charming and looked forward to having children. And her dreams came true when she gave birth to her baby girl.
Snyder breast-fed her daughter for a year, and during that time, she felt lumps in her breast. She wasn’t concerned, however, because two years earlier, she had an ultrasound that revealed the lumps were fibrous tissue and nothing of concern. And another ultrasound performed six months later revealed the same thing.
“Any strange places I felt in my breast, I attributed to the fibrous places,” Snyder said.
She skipped her breast exam that year because she was nursing, and for the next couple years, she did not schedule a yearly physical because “I was relatively healthy and young,” Snyder said.
A couple years after the birth of their daughter, Snyder and her husband hoped to start trying for another baby. After several months of difficulty, including one miscarriage, Snyder decided to finally make an appointment for a physical in November 2011. She not only wanted the lump examined once again, but she wanted to check for low progesterone levels, which may have been contributing to her difficulty getting pregnant.
Snyder’s doctor ordered an ultrasound, mammogram and then a biopsy of the lump. As the threat of cancer loomed over her head, Snyder learned she was pregnant with her second child.
“I had so many mixed emotions,” Snyder said. “But I knew that the baby was a blessing, even if the biopsy was positive.”
And on Jan. 18, 2012, the results from the biopsy revealed just that. Snyder had breast cancer.
“I was seven and a half weeks along in the pregnancy, and the surgeon felt I was a good candidate for a lumpectomy,” Snyder said.
She had 19 lymph nodes removed under her arm, and the results of the pathology report revealed that nine of the 19 lymph nodes were positive.
“I was Stage III,” Snyder recalled.
Once Snyder reached her second trimester, she was able to begin chemotherapy. She continued with six rounds of chemo before taking off one month before giving birth to her baby boy.
“We delivered at 37 weeks,” Snyder said. “He was 5 pounds, 2 ounces and 18 ½ inches long. He was perfectly healthy.”
While Snyder’s story is alarming, breast cancer during pregnancy is rare. According to cancer.org, one in every 1,000 to one in every 10,000 pregnant women is diagnosed with breast cancer each year.
Dr. Melanie Bone, a gynecologist with Women’s Health and Healing of the Palm Beaches in Atlantis, said she only saw three cases in her entire 20-year career.
Some studies show that women may be diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant because they are choosing to have children later in life. But Dr. Gladys L. Giron, a board-certified breast surgeon with 13 years of experience and associate medical director of Baptist Health Breast Center in Miami, said there is “no real truth to this other than breast cancers are more common in older women,
so logic dictates then that if you have a child at an older age, the risk of having a pregnancy-associated breast cancer [a diagnosis within a year of delivery] increases.”
Breastcancer.org states that if a woman feels an unusual lump, she should not wait until after she delivers or is finished breast-feeding to get the lump examined.
“Seek the advice of your OB or a breast specialist if you find a suspicious lump” so you can go through proper testing to find out if the lump is benign or cancerous, Giron said.
While the common changes in the breasts during pregnancy may make it more difficult to tell the difference between a normal lump and a worrisome one, Bone, who is also a long-term breast cancer survivor, stresses, “Women really need to be their own advocate.”
If your OB said breasts are supposed to be lumpy when you’re pregnant, but you feel a lump that does not go away, let your doctor know that you want tests done immediately.
The most important thing a pregnant woman who feels a lump in her breast can do is to remain positive.
“Percentages are definitely in your favor to do well if you are diagnosed with breast cancer during pregnancy,” Bone said.
Snyder is one woman who can attest to that statement. While the journey has been long and difficult, her story is one of success. She attributes this success to her team of doctors, her family, friends and Hope for Two (Hopefortwo.org), the Pregnant With Cancer Network, which offers free support for women diagnosed with cancer while pregnant.
Most of all, Snyder said, “It was my faith that really helped me through this.”
Snyder will continue to see her oncologist and radiation oncologist every six months and will receive hormone therapy every day for the next five to 10 years.
But Snyder is staying positive.
“My son turned 1 this past weekend,” Snyder said. “And my mammogram last week was clear.”