Since every pregnancy brings physical changesyour breasts swell, your joints ache, your skin may develop blotches or stretch marksthe symptoms of cancer can easily be overlooked. Still, Jessica Denton knew something was not right. "Id never been pregnant before, so at first I took my GPs word for it that the lump was probably just a blocked duct," she says. "But it seemed to be getting bigger, so I trusted my instincts and showed it to my obstetrician."
Of course, these women are painfully aware that they are different from other cancer patients. "Let me tell you, you get some funny looks when you go in for chemotherapy with a big, round belly," says Sandi Bender. Bender was a 32-year-old mom in Macomb, Illinois, just seven weeks pregnant with her fourth child, when she was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma. For three years, shed been feeling an uncomfortable pressure in her throat. Shed gone from doctor to doctor; finally, an endocrinologist she consulted ordered an MRI, which showed a tumor spreading across her neck and chest. "When I heard the news, I was in shock," Bender says. "My first thought was, Am I going to lose the baby?"
Bender began chemotherapy when she was around 10 weeks pregnant. The drugs made her tired and nauseated, on top of the exhaustion she felt from pregnancy. "The fatigue knocked me out," she remembers. "I spent a lot of time in bed, and my husband would bring my kids into the bedroom to visit with me."
Sandi Bender and Jessica Denton are now in remission; Floyd recently had a bilateral mastectomy after finding another mass in the same breast as her original tumor. Their children are all doing great. Their advice for women confronting the unthinkable: "Youre in a battle for your life and your babys life, and you need doctors who will fight as hard as you," Floyd says. "Dont stop searching until you find a team that will back you up."