A Woman's Instinct
- 29-year-old Emmy Burbridge was 28 weeks pregnant when she found a walnut-sized lump in her breast. Emmy was put off twice by her medical team, who chalked it up to a pregnancy-related issue—but pushed for a third time, and it turned out to be breast cancer.
- The first-time mom, now 31, thankfully made it through her traumatic health experience, and is now happy to report she is in remission with a healthy, two-year-old named Brodie-Rey.
- You know your body more than anyone, so if something doesn’t feel right, make sure to keep pushing until you feel heard. Emmy is cancer-free with a healthy baby girl because of her self-advocacy.
Emmy was put off twice by her medical team, who chalked it up to a pregnancy-related issue—but pushed for a third time, and it turned out to be breast cancer.Read More
“The original diagnosis didn’t sit right with me as I wasn’t even breastfeeding,” Emmy told Newsweek of just knowing something was off with her body. “I researched mastitis and read a blockage can be painful, but I didn’t have any pain at all.”
She said she went back to the doctor for a third time, “because it didn’t feel right, it had an irregular texture,” she said of the concerning breast lump.
Cancer didn’t even cross her mind. Especially while pregnant. “I was oblivious,” she admitted. However, what is important is that she kept pushing her care team to investigate something she knew was just not right.
Diagnosed with an Aggressive Cancer While Pregnant
At 31 weeks pregnant, Emmy was told she had triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive type more commonly found in younger women. Due to the aggressive nature of the disease, she needed to start chemotherapy as soon as possible.
Emmy was induced at 35 weeks, and Brodie-Rey was born 5 weeks early and was delivered at just shy of 6 pounds.
“All of the happiness from my pregnancy was taken away from me but Brodie-Rey was the reason I kept on fighting,” she shared. “Seeing her and holding her for the first time made me realize there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
The very next week, instead of settling into her adjustment period at home with her new baby, Emmy began chemotherapy treatment.
“Nothing can prepare you for motherhood whilst battling a disease,” she said. “The chemotherapy made me so sick and tired all of the time. Trying to look after a newborn whilst going through cancer was horrendous but somehow I just did it.”
After a lumpectomy to remove the tumor and radiation, last January, Emmy finally heard the joyous news that she was in remission.
“The main thing to take away from my story is that if you feel something isn’t right then trust your instincts and push to be heard.”
What is Triple-Negative Breast Cancer?
Triple-negative breast cancer is one of the most aggressive forms of the disease and accounts for about 20% of all breast cancers.
Triple-negative breast cancer gets its name because it doesn’t have any of the main drivers of breast cancer — the estrogen receptor, the progesterone receptor or the HER2 receptor — and consequently doesn’t respond to treatments that target them.
The main treatment for this type of breast cancer is chemotherapy, immunotherapy or participation in clinical trials. Triple-negative breast cancer is usually responsive to chemotherapy.
Breast cancer mostly occurs in older women, but it is possible for women under the age of 45 to be diagnosed with this type of cancer. In fact, about 9% of all new breast cancer cases in the United States are found in women younger than 45.
But in some ways, “a diagnosis for a younger woman can often be even more devastating,” Dr. Ann Partridge, an oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, tells SurvivorNet in a previous interview. “This is because the cancer is likely to be a more aggressive form of the disease and also at an advanced stage, as screening for younger women is not standard.”
How Cancer Treatment Can Affect Fertility
Unfortunately, some types of chemotherapy can destroy eggs in your ovaries. This can make it impossible or difficult to get pregnant later. Whether or not chemotherapy makes you infertile depends on the type of drug and your age—since your egg supply decreases with age.
“The risk is greater the older you are,” said Dr. Jaime Knopman, a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist with years of experience treating couples and individuals experiencing infertility. “If you’re 39 and you get chemo that’s toxic to the ovaries, it’s most likely to make you menopausal. But, if you’re 29, your ovaries may recover because they have a higher baseline supply.”
Radiation to the pelvis can also destroy eggs. It can damage the uterus, too. Surgery on your ovaries or uterus can hurt fertility as well.
If you are having a treatment that includes infertility as a possible side effect, your doctor won’t be able to tell you for sure whether you will have this side effect. That’s why you should discuss your options for fertility preservation before starting treatment.
Research shows that women who have fertility preservation prior to breast cancer treatment, in particular, are more than twice as likely to give birth after treatment than those who don’t take fertility preserving measures.
If you plan on having children—or more children—it is important to take steps now to preserve your fertility. While it’s never high on someone’s agenda to plan for cancer, life can through many different emotional, physical, and financial curveballs, therefore it’s best to plan ahead if motherhood is important to you.