Real Life: Battling Cancer while Pregnant Part I

When Jen Wang found out she was expecting her second child, never did she expect the new few months to be some of the toughest in her life.  

WORDS CHRISTEL GERALYN GOMES

Jen discovered she was pregnant with her second child just after Chinese New Year in 2016. “I was five and a half weeks along and my family and I were overjoyed!” she recalls. However, her bubbling joy was shortlived.

Soon after, Jen began suffering from excessive vomiting, throwing up 20 to 30 times a day. “At one point, the skin of my oesophagus tore and I threw up blood,” she said. Jen was losing weight at a dangerous speed and within the first month, she had lost 9 per cent of her body weight.

“I was weak and emaciated. I spent every day locked up in my room in darkness waiting for time to pass, I was terribly lonely and time seemed to stand still. My family and friends were worried and concerned for my health and the health of the baby. It seemed like, with each passing day, I was getting worse and worse. My gynaecologist diagnosed me with the most severe form of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. My condition could cause electrolytes and acid-base imbalances, nutritional deficiencies, and even death. Severe hyperemesis requiring hospital admission occurs in 0.3 – 2 per cent of pregnancies.”

 

 

Jen thought that she had truly hit rock bottom – but she would soon learn that life could get so much worse.

 

 

Mysterious Pains

At 15 weeks, Jen began having pains in her back. “At first it was a persistent, achy sort of pain, which I ignored and wrote off as one of the woes of pregnancy. Then came stabbing pains that caused me to convulse and collapse to the floor. I was rushed to the A&E three times but they could not figure out why I was exhibiting such symptoms. Blood tests and urine tests showed I had ketones in my urine and I had malnutrition. But what was causing that stabbing pain? No answers.”

The pain increased in intensity until Jen could no longer walk or breathe properly. Suspecting it could be kidney stones, Jen saw a urologist who after an MRI, found a tumour measuring 4 by 3cm, pressing on her ureter. “My right kidney was swollen and couldn't drain urine due to the pressure of the tumour; hence the stabbing pains.”

 

Surgery

Surgery was needed to insert a ureteral stent. While the operation was successful, the pains remained. Jen then underwent a second surgery to remove the tumour. At this point, she was seventeen and a half weeks pregnant. When the surgeons went in, they found that part of the tumour was encasing major blood vessels and could not be removed. They also found that the growth was both cancerous and aggressive. Jen was diagnosed with stage 4 advanced cancer.

Jen took the news as well as could be hoped. “I was strangely calm and felt I was prepared by God for this storm in my life.” Jen began to think a lot about death and what she should be doing to prepare for it.

 

 

She was told that abortion was the only medically sound decision to make, given the circumstances. If she chose to keep the baby, the odds were grim for both her and her child.

 

 

Three Choices

Wanting to hold on to the fragile life she had created, Jen had three choices: one, to remove the tumour with radical surgery; two, to opt for chemotherapy which might shrink the tumour, or finally, do nothing and wait till the baby was delivered.

“All three choices were a cup of poison so to speak; there was no best or good solution in my case,” said Jen.

“If I chose surgery, the success rate of a good resection was low as my secondary tumour was too gummed down to major arteries. Risks were also high to lose the baby on the operating table. If I chose chemotherapy, it could potentially kill or deform the baby. Even then, there were no guarantees that the chemotherapy would contain or shrink the cancer cells – the chances of it doing so were only 20 to 50 per cent. Waiting to deliver was the worst choice medically as my cancer was aggressive and the tumours were threatening to encroach into more organs. If we just waited around, the cancer could potentially kill me and my baby even before delivery,” she said.

 

Look out for Part II of Jen’s amazing story to read about her decision and the days after.

Thanks for sharing!