by Roxanne Martinez
“You have breast cancer.” Those are not the words that any otherwise healthy 30-year-old independent woman expects to hear over the phone as she begins her workday. Those are really not the words any woman wants to hear just days after learning she is pregnant. But that is exactly where I found myself that day on November 1, 2010. Just months into my new senior marketing job at a major airport, I was fighting back tears as I told my supervisor that I had to go home due to an emergency.
Indeed, it was an emergency. Just not the type of emergency that has you yelling “Fire” in a crowded room. In fact, I could hardly say the words “breast cancer” as I called my significant other. For everyone else, which included my immediate family and a few close friends, I would send a mass text message: “It’s cancer.” I had just shared the news of both my pregnancy and breast biopsy with them only days before. I don’t quite remember how I was able to drive myself home that day from work but I did. And that day began my journey — a terribly tumultuous one that would send me through a whirlwind of emotions.
My first OB appointment and my initial meetings with my breast surgeon and oncologist were all scheduled on the same day. Although the OB staff seemed reluctant to offer an ultrasound before I knew what my treatment plan would be, I jumped at the opportunity to see the little life growing inside me for the first time. It was at that moment that I knew I would be fighting this battle for two.
Subsequent meetings with my surgeon and oncologist to learn possible treatment plans at first disheartened me. However, my oncologist reassured me that there was extensive research that proved promising for pregnant women battling breast cancer. While my physicians consulted with other experts and collaborated on the best treatment plan, I turned to the Internet to conduct my own research. This research would completely consume me for countless days and even more sleepless nights.
However, it was online that I found several resources, including Hope for Two, an organization providing support to women diagnosed with cancer while pregnant. Through this organization, I was able to connect with a doctor who was researching cancer during pregnancy. Her extensive research, along with my oncologist’s own knowledge, gave me the confidence I needed to proceed with my life-saving treatment.
Because I was diagnosed with Stage 2, triple negative breast cancer early in my pregnancy, my oncologist recommended that I have a mastectomy first, and wait until my second trimester, when the baby’s organs were fully developed, to begin chemotherapy. So, at about 14 weeks pregnant, I underwent my first surgery to remove my left breast and hopefully the aggressive growing tumor.
When I came out of surgery and learned that my baby was still kicking inside me, I was overjoyed with happiness and hope. I knew then I was not fighting this battle alone. It was after this surgery that I soon realized that I actually had an army of supporters rallying for the both of us and that they would help me fight one of the toughest battles of my life.
As I recovered from surgery, I also learned I would be terminated from my job due to the extensive recovery time and not being eligible for FMLA or short-term disability at the time. Already prepared to lose a breast and soon lose my hair, nothing devastated me more than losing my job. It was then that my army of supporters, nicknamed Team Roxy, jolted into action. Team Roxy supporters launched a website, organized fundraising events and showered me with uplifting messages.
All the while, I focused on staying healthy, preparing for the baby and getting through treatment. Restless with unemployment, I used my free time between appointments and treatments to volunteer at my local Susan G. Komen office, answering phones and stuffing envelopes. I also organized a Team Roxy Race for the Cure team. Days that I was stuck at home, I decorated and organized the baby’s nursery. Although I experienced dreadful side effects from chemo, I was determined to not waste a day being unproductive.
Lab work and check-ups became routine and then started to occur more often as the months went on. My blood work and ultrasounds always turned out well. Physicians reassured me that my baby would probably only experience mild side effects, such as a low birth weight and possibly baldness. Still, there was absolutely nothing any doctor could tell me that would completely alleviate all my fears. I wouldn’t be at ease until I could physically see and hold my baby in my arms. What I didn’t know was that the time for that would come sooner rather than later.
A few days after my seventh round of chemo and seven months pregnant, I successfully completed the Fort Worth Race for the Cure 5K. Crossing the finish line gave me an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. But my major triumph would come about a week later. On the day that I was scheduled to receive my final chemo treatment, I instead went into early labor and gave birth to my daughter. Born premature, but perfectly healthy and with a full head of hair, Serenity Milagros had arrived to let me know we had won our battle.
Prepared for a lengthy stay in the NICU, Serenity and I were released from the hospital just five days after her birth. Within the first few weeks, Serenity flourished to a healthy weight, while I recovered from a long and grueling battle. About a month later, I received scan results that came back clear, with no evidence of disease. I rejoiced in this news with my family, friends and Team Roxy supporters.
Since recovering, I resumed my volunteer efforts to raise breast cancer awareness. I now share my story of hope with others every chance I get. I celebrated the one-year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis by undergoing a preventive right mastectomy, in hopes that I will spend a long, happy life with my daughter. I have also established Team Roxy as a nonprofit organization to support other women battling breast cancer.