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Home | Episode #86
Pregnant with Cancer
June 2022 | Student Producer:

Gaines Carter
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Pregnant with Cancer
Paulette Carter is diagnosed with terminal cancer when pregnant with her first child and must decide who to save, herself or her child. (10 min)

Gaines: The sound of my mom, Paulette, opening her eyes in the post operative room while waking up from a biopsy. It was then that, with a groggy mind, the dreaded words, “you have cancer,” were said to her. She was pregnant with her first child, my sister Emma. With my dad, Greg, standing by her side, they began a life-changing journey. 

Paulette: And after I came out of the operating room, the doctor walked in with your dad and told me, and I turned around to look behind me to see who they were talking to. Cuz they were surely not talking to me. They were not telling me that devastating news. It had to be whoever was behind me.

Greg: Poor thing, she just had this innocent look on her face. And, and then, you know, I think it was the doctor that actually told her what it was and You know, mom was just, she just looked bewildered there for a while. She didn't know what the make of it make of it all. And um, You know, I just think it took a while to sink in, you know, for her to understand what he was saying.

Gaines: Two months away from having her first child, my mom was faced with a life changing diagnosis 

Greg: And so, Mom was, uh, seven months pregnant with Emma when she found out this was in October and Emma was born in December.

Gaines: What did this mean? What about the baby? What about me? A rush of questions and feelings of confusion began to fill her mind. I wondered how she felt about this unsettling and immediate change in her life. 

Greg: Uh, You know, I mean it was, it was, you know, tense because we didn't know what the doctors were gonna find and what they were gonna tell us and everything.

Gaines: My mom has always been a realist, and my dad – a researcher. Both of my parents are extremely analytical science based individuals. Their backgrounds provided them with knowledge of what they knew they were going to have to face. Fear became anger as the diagnosis settled in, and started to become a reality.

Paulette: Of course, I was terrified, but I was also very angry because your dad and I were having so much fun and we were, you know, starting a family and I was really mad.

Gaines: My dad refused to believe that he would lose his wife, and their unborn child would lose her mother. This was not an option. I have always known my mom to be fierce and stand her ground. She advocates for herself and others. My soft-hearted dad, in this situation, assumed the role. 

Paulette: Your father who would not give into, uh, the first diagnosis, which was, you're gonna have the baby and then you're gonna die. He wouldn't give into that. And we found someone who, uh, real obscurely was doing research with, um, pregnant women with, uh, breast cancer. 

Gaines: Being at an extremely large research hospital, and looking for any sign of hope, my parents were relying on the reputation and findings of the doctors that were about to treat my mom. She knew that she was at the place to be for her situation. 

Paulette: I mean, they, when they learn something, you know, they implement it, they test it and implement it and they teach it to other doctors around the world. So it, it is the place to be to get, you know, cutting edge, especially when you have something rare and, um, you know, or out of the ordinary.  

Gaines: Experimental treatment - my mom was willing to go to extremes to keep herself and her baby safe. This meant using treatment that was not a guarantee. What risks would you take to save your unborn child? 

Greg: Um, and so, you know, the, the big question was how should my, um, being, uh, seven months pregnant be treated for breast cancer. And so it, it is, it's a decision that wasn't just made by one doctor. It was made by a group of doctors. 

Paulette: And they had what was called a tumor conference and came up with the protocol of how I would be treated.

Gaines: With this team of doctors, a treatment plan was settled on. My mom would be treated with chemotherapy while pregnant. Though this was a terrifying decision to make, my parents knew that it was the right one. When speaking to doctors, my parents were informed that during the third trimester of pregnancy, the placenta acted as a barrier, protecting the baby from the chemotherapy drugs. 

Greg: And so, you know, that made us feel much better because we knew that the drug was not going to be able to reach Emma and hurt Emma.

Gaines: There were two goals, save my mom’s life and have a healthy baby. Though there were risks with the treatment, as there are with all treatments, my mom was willing to go to any extent to ensure her and her baby’s safety. When receiving chemotherapy, she got an infusion at the hospital, but had to be hooked up to a pump to inject the drugs into her system at an extremely slow rate.

Greg: She had to wear a pump that slowly pumped it into her system over several days of time, because it was such a, they called it a red devil.

Gaines: The red devil, a drug both characterized by its red color, and its extreme potency. The plethora of side effects of this drug also make it fearsomely toxic and one of the worst chemotherapy drugs on the market in that aspect. When injected too fast, the drug could cause corrosion of the veins.

Greg: A pump that she wore, um, three days over three days, yeah. It was a three day period of time. So, you know, she would put that on, they would hook her up to that with a needle in her. 

Gaines: After countless extensive treatments and it seeming like her unique diagnosis was a handful of doctor’s first experiences, I was curious if my mom might be part of a bigger study that brought awareness to her situation. 

Paulette: Um, yes, I am part of a study and I continue to be part of a study and I get questionnaires sent to me yearly asking me, you know, where I am in treatment in uh, if I was cured, you know, or if I had a recurrence or whatever. So, yes, there is an ongoing study.

Gaines: Through all of these intense experiences, I wondered if she thought if this impact on her life, shaped her into who she is today. 

Paulette: It has, it shaped me. It is part of who I am. It's partly made me who I am today. And most definitely, um, you know, as it is with all life's experience shape people who they are and what they want and what they believe. This has definitely impacted my life tremendously, you know?

Gaines: And I do know. My mom has been dealing with cancer for my entire life, and I have seen her perspective on ideas, people, and the world change as time goes on. These changes have reflected on my entire family and can be directly contributed to the battles and experiences my mom has faced. She could not have predicted the future, but perhaps the odds would be relatively in her favor. 

Paulette: And so, um, I was extremely lucky because, um, after Emma, I wasn't supposed to be able to have any more kids and guess who came after Emma?

Gaines: Me.

Paulette: You. So, you know, I I've had all kinds of, um, miracles and proving people, um, wrong and what they believed was possible and, uh, you know, just totally and completely blessed, but I will say that ever since it came into my life, it has been a huge factor in every aspect of it. Cancer has been.

Gaines: Cancer has shaped my mom, and the experiences my family has had. We have all grown together, and experienced miracles that would have not been possible without the strength my mom holds.