Monitoring Your Symptoms During Pregnancy Matters
- Mom, 24, who experienced a persistent cough and shortness of breath late into her pregnancy, was told her symptoms were from the pregnancy. However, scans by her doctor revealed a 12-centimeter tumor and eventual non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis.
- Lymphoma is a cancer of the immune system that affects infection-fighting cells called lymphocytes. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is more common than Hodgkin lymphoma and typically starts later in life. Common symptoms of this disease include fever, night sweats, weight loss, and fatigue.
- Treatment for non-Hodgkin often includes chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy.
- SurvivorNet experts say using a chemotherapy combination called R-CHOP is an effective treatment for aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It stands for Rituximab (Rituxan), a monoclonal antibody, Cyclophosphamide (a type of chemotherapy drug), Doxorubicin hydrochloride (hydroxydaunomycin – a kind of chemotherapy drug), Vincristine sulfate (Oncovin – a type of chemotherapy drug), Prednisone (a steroid).
- Other effective treatments include targeted therapy, which uses a special protein to deliver medicine directly into the cancer cell designed to kill it.
New mom Zoe Plastiras, 24, experienced unusual symptoms during pregnancy that she nearly dismissed as pregnancy-related. However, an unsuspecting cough and shortness of breath that worsened over time was a tell-tale sign of an eventual cancer diagnosis. Her story cautions new moms to pay attention to their bodies for anything unusual, even amid pregnancy, as it could be lifesaving.
View this post on InstagramRead MorePlastiras is enjoying motherhood to her baby girl Ophelia, but her cancer journey kicked into high gear just weeks after giving birth to her daughter last year. She’s since taken to social media to share her cancer journey and encourage other young moms to be mindful of unsuspecting symptoms.
Plastiras said about 32 weeks into her pregnancy, she developed a persistent cough and shortness of breath that she grew increasingly worried about.
“Everyone told me I was breathless because I was pregnant and near the end, but I knew it was more than that,” Plastiras told Newsweek.
She talked to her doctor about the cough, which prompted an X-ray.
“It revealed an almost 12-centimeter mass in my chest,” she said.
“After surgery on December 19 to test the tumor, I got the call on December 23 to tell me that I had lymphoma cancer. I wasn’t surprised by this point. Of course, I cried,” she added.
She was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
“Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a big category,” Dr. Julie Vose, chief of hematology/oncology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, previously told SurvivorNet.
WATCH: Learning about the types of lymphoma.
All non-Hodgkin lymphomas begin in white blood cells known as lymphocytes, which are part of your body’s immune system. From there, doctors separate these cancers into types depending on the specific kind of lymphocytes they grow from B cells or T cells. Knowing which of these you have can help steer you to the most appropriate treatment.
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Fortunately, Plastiras was able to give birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl, but moments of joy were in short supply because the new mom had to focus on her health. She had waited 15 weeks for an official diagnosis, so she was beyond ready to begin treatment.
She underwent six rounds of chemotherapy followed by 18 rounds of radiotherapy. She’s now awaiting another PET scan to learn if the treatment worked, which would enable her to reach remission.
Throughout her cancer journey that was adjoined to becoming a mom, Plastiras credits her family for supporting her.
“Juggling it all is a big mess and a struggle; you need lots of support. I have the best family support network and partner. I moved back in with family during treatment to have help with Ophelia,” Plastiras explained.
If you were recently diagnosed with cancer, you likely know about the wide range of emotions that news can bring. This is one of the most difficult phases of the cancer journey to overcome.
However, during these early stages, a team of supporters can be most helpful. Your supporters can be made up of close family members and friends. Your support group can also be filled with people outside your inner circle.
“But for people who feel like they need a little bit more, it is important to reach out to a mental health professional,” she added.
Plastiras is hopeful she’s nearing the end of her cancer journey. In the meantime, she hopes other women hearing her story will be watchful for anything unusual with their bodies.
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“To any other woman who is pregnant, don’t put unusual things down to just pregnancy. A lot of people wouldn’t bother getting checked, but knowledge is power to stay alive,” Plastiras said.
Cancer symptoms can often mimic pregnancy symptoms, potentially delaying a diagnosis. A pregnant woman who notices a lump in her could be experiencing a clogged milk duct, but it could also be a sign of breast cancer. Changes in bowel habits may include hemorrhoids – common for pregnant women – but bowel changes could also indicate colorectal cancer. Similarly, feeling tired and fatigued during pregnancy may be a symptom of the pregnancy, or it could mean a possible lymphoma or blood cancer.
It’s important to always talk to your doctor when something feels unusual to ensure the symptoms you are experiencing during pregnancy are not something else like cancer or chronic disease.
Helping Patients Understand Lymphoma Treatment Options
- Could New Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Drugs Mean Less Chemo in the Future?
- Could Weed Killer or Radiation Exposure Increase Your Risk for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma?
- Drug Cocktail Helps Keep Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Under Control
- Epkinly: A New Antibody Treatment Gets Approval for Patients With Difficult to Treat Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
- Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma: Can Radiation Scans Cause Cancer?
- How Effective is Radiation Treatment for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma?
- What Are the Side Effects of CAR T-Cell Therapy for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma?
Understanding Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
Lymphoma is a cancer of your immune system. It starts in the lymphatic system, a network of vessels, ducts, and nodes that run throughout your body.
This system drains excess fluid and waste from your tissues and drains them into your bloodstream. It also produces disease-fighting white blood cells called lymphocytes that defend your body against infections.
Lymphoma starts when lymphocytes develop a genetic mutation that makes them multiply faster than usual. The mutation also makes older cells that would usually die stay alive. The quickly multiplying lymphocytes start to collect and build up in your lymph nodes, the small glands in your neck, armpits, and other parts of your body.
“In the beginning of a conversation with a patient, we have to talk about exactly which type of lymphoma they have,” Dr. Lawrence Piro told SurvivorNet.
“There are some lymphomas which are very treatable but not curable,” Dr. Piro added.
“On the contrary, there are some lymphomas that, if you don’t treat them, they’ll progress rapidly, and you may succumb to it, yet there are very intensive treatments that you can take that may cure you,” he adds. Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, the most common type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, is an example of an aggressive but treatable cancer.
No screening tests for lymphomas exist, and symptoms can be hard to identify. Hence, doctors typically perform a biopsy on a lymph node to accurately determine if non-Hodgkin lymphoma exists. However, some common symptoms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma include:
- Swollen glands
- Night sweats
- Weight loss
How Is Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Treated?
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma treatment depends on the type of lymphoma, the stage, and how fast it is growing. People with aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma can expect to get a chemotherapy combination called R-CHOP, a drug cocktail consisting of chemotherapy drugs, an antibody drug, and a steroid to treat diffuse large B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Patients receiving R-CHOP receive the drug in six cycles three weeks apart.
“R-CHOP is a cocktail of drugs. There are five different drugs in that recipe,” Dr. Jennifer Crombie, medical oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, tells SurvivorNet.
WATCH: Understanding R-CHOP treatment.
R-CHOP side effects can include:
- Tiredness and weakness
- Hair loss
- Mouth sores
- Bruising and bleeding
- Increased risk of infection
- Appetite loss and weight loss
- Changes in bowel movements
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can also be treated with radiation.
Questions for Your Doctor
If you are facing a lymphoma diagnosis, here are some questions you can ask your doctor to begin your journey to a successful outcome.
- What type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma do I have?
- What stage of my lymphoma is in, and if it has spread, how far?
- Do we need to treat the lymphoma immediately?
- What treatment do you recommend to help me beat this diagnosis?
- Should I get more opinions about the treatment options available?
- What are some possible side effects I should expect during treatment?
- Will insurance cover the recommended treatment?