Amy Rupp was 28 when she accidentally became pregnant.
The first five months was a time of great joy and expectation for her and Michael, her fiance. She was a shoe store saleswoman and he was a firefighter. The Baltimore couple was excited when the sonogram showed a boy and they were trying to pick a name. Thomas? Andrew? Christopher? Little did they know that the accidental baby was about to save Rupp's life.
During her sixth month of pregnancy, Rupp was in bed reading when she felt a painful lump in her breast, something hard like a stone. She wasn't overly concerned -- breasts are often sore during pregnancy.
On Amy's next appointment with her obstetrician, she mentioned the lump and her doctor did a sonogram. (Pregnant women should not be exposed to the X-rays of a mammogram.) The doctor saw the lump, told her he didn't think it was cancerous and referred her to a surgeon, who then performed a lumpectomy under local anesthetic. Rupp wasn't too upset, but her mother came from Illinois to be with her.
The next morning, the surgeon's secretary called and said the surgeon needed to see her that day. It was then Amy knew something was terribly wrong.
The surgeon explained that she had breast cancer and that he needed to take care of it right away. Her mother broke into tears first, then Rupp sobbed. The surgeon hugged her.
"He was wonderful," Rupp recalls. "He told me everything. I didn't listen to a thing. I couldn't take it in. ... I was so blown away, I didn't want to know the details -- I just wanted to get rid of it -- adios.
"I knew he was going to cut off my breast. I didn't care. All I thought was, 'Get this cancer out of my body.' I was afraid of dying."
She told the doctor her secret fear: "I'm never going to live to see my child."
He reassured her, and scheduled the mastectomy for the following week.
Amy went home and opened a bottle of wine -- abandoning prenatal caution for the first time. She had to tell Michael.
Her fiance knew something was wrong by the way Amy sounded on the phone. When he walked into their apartment, he knew by the way she looked.
"You don't have to marry me because I have cancer," she said.
Michael cried. "I want to spend the rest of my life with you and our son," he whispered.
One week later, Rupp had a radical mastectomy. From the moment she awoke in the recovery room, she could not have pain medication because it could harm the fetus. She remembers waking up and seeing Michael, her parents, his parents, her twin sister ... and feeling like she'd been "hit in the chest by a car."
"I decided that it had to become bearable," Rupp says. "I did not have time to feel the pain. I had to get ready for the birth. Throughout all the pain, I kept thinking I had to live for my boy."
Breast cancer occurs in one out of every 3,000 pregnancies, according to the National Cancer Institute. The average patient is age 28 to 32, and with women choosing to delay childbearing, it is likely that the incidence will increase. Some women choose ++ to have an abortion before the mastectomy, though the operation is not risky for the fetus and no damaging effects on the fetus from the cancer have been demonstrated.
So the fetus could be monitored, Rupp remained in the hospital five days. That was in February 1994.
Amy and Michael were married on March 31, then baby Christopher's birth was induced May 12 -- three weeks early -- so Rupp could start chemotherapy. Christopher was healthy, strong and beautiful. Rupp started chemo two weeks later. Every day she cried as she brushed clumps of hair into the trash can. Worse, she couldn't breast-feed, and felt she'd lost out on something.
Rupp's hair came back as soon as the chemo ended. She chose not to have reconstructive surgery, and instead wears a false breast, which she presses on with tape and can wear in the shower and while swimming.
Rupp was lucky. Her oncologist told her that if she hadn't become pregnant when she did, the lump may not have been detected for at least five years. Maybe it would have killed her.
It was the pregnancy that allowed the lump to be found. During pregnancy, the breasts change, triggered by hormones, to prepare for nursing the new baby. The hormonal changes produced milk; the milk pressed on the lump, which caused Rupp pain.
Rupp is 4 1/2 years cancer-free now. Tomorrow, she will run in the "Reach Out and Run for the Wellness Community" in Towson to raise money to fight cancer.
"Blessings can come in disguises," she says. "I get up every day and thank God for my life, my child, my marriage, Michael and my stepson, Bryan. ... "My life is complete, and it all started with an accidental pregnancy."
More than 186,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, and 46,000 will die from it annually.
To raise money to fight cancer, the "Reach Out and Run for the Wellness Community," a 5K race or 1-mile walk, is being held Sunday in Towson. The race starts at 8 a.m. at Towson Town Center. Register at The Wellness Community's office in Towson Town Center from noon to 6 p.m. today or at 6: 30 a.m. tomorrow. $15. 410-832-2719.
Also: On Thursday, the American Cancer Society is holding a benefit dinner and auction at 6 p.m. at Martin's West, Beltway and Security Boulevard, Baltimore. $75. 410-931-6850.
Pub Date: 5/02/98