How I Survived Breast Cancer During Pregnancy—After 3 Doctors Told Me to Terminate

Imagine choosing between your own life and your unborn child's. This was the dilemma presented to Aleseia Saunders—until she found out about this amazing breakthrough.

Aleseia SaundersCourtesy Aleseia SaundersIn 2013, 38-year-old Aleseia Saunders got some of the most exciting news of her life: She was pregnant for the first time. A contract specialist with the United States Federal Government in Washington, DC, Saunders and her family were reveling in the joyous news when she got the some of the worst news she had ever received: A lump she had found in her breast was cancerous. Despite several warnings that she should terminate her pregnancy and start chemotherapy right away, she resisted—and she made the right choice.

Saunders remembers getting the bad news just a month into her pregnancy: “I had a biopsy done and the ultrasound doctor told me that she suspected the tumor was cancerous. However, she wanted to wait for confirmation. Two weeks later I received a phone call while at work, and was told that my tumor tested positive for cancer; specifically invasive ductal carcinoma. I immediately fell to the floor. I was in disbelief because I knew there was no family history and I was the healthiest I had ever been.”

Struggling to make sense of the news, Saunders sought the advice of oncologists, knowing that her pregnancy added an extra layer of complexity to her treatment plan. “I was shocked that I was advised to terminate, considering this was my first child and it should have been a time of excitement. My family was supportive of my decision not to terminate—even though their priority was saving me. I refused to believe that termination was my ultimate path and decided to seek a second opinion.”

The doctor who performed Saunders original ultrasound referred her to David Weintritt, MD, FACS, who had recently learned of a new genetic test called “Mammaprint.” The advanced diagnostic test reveals the likelihood of early-stage breast cancer spreading to other parts of the body. Saunders explains, “From our initial meeting, Dr. Weintritt reassured me that I would be able to receive treatment and deliver a healthy child. He biopsied my tumor and sent my results to be analyzed. Upon receipt of my low test score, he informed me that my cancer was unlikely to spread, no matter the size of the tumor. With those results, he felt confident in the treatment plan of surgery, radiation, and hormonal therapy.”

Saunders underwent a lumpectomy as she entered her second trimester, and delayed further treatment until her daughter Julia was born. She says of her treatment, “The lumpectomy was the easiest. I had more than 35 sessions of radiation therapy, which was quite a challenge. Radiation made me very fatigued and it burns at the treatment site, which causes its own type of pain. It was very difficult trying to care for a newborn while having minimal energy. The hormonal therapy of Tamoxifen was the most challenging. I experienced hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings.”

Today, Saunders is pregnant with her second child and is grateful that she is cancer free. She wants other women facing the same unique combination of a cancer diagnosis and pregnancy to know they have options. “Stay focused on surviving and never give up hope,” she says. “Research, explore options, and don’t hesitate to get a second or even third opinion. Cancer does not define who you are. Don’t allow it to overshadow the blessing of pregnancy.” She adds, “I often look at my daughter and think about the journey to bring her into this world. I cannot wait until she is old enough to understand how hard I fought to save her life and my own.”

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Jen Babakhan
Jen Babakhan is an author and credentialed educator living in California. She writes regularly about advice and culture for Reader's Digest. She is also the author of Detoured: The Messy, Grace-Filled Journey From Working Professional to Stay-at-Home Mom (Harvest House Publishers, 2019). She earned her BA in Communication Studies from California State University, Stanislaus. You can follow her on Instagram @JenBabakhan , Twitter @JenBabakhan, and Facebook @JenBabakhanauthor.