by Amy Vaerewyck
On Aug. 6, Sarah Addison went to the University of Colorado Hospital (UCH) for a pregnancy ultrasound test. She and her husband learned that they were going to have a baby boy. Moments after that, they found out that Addison has breast cancer.
“I thought ‘Why me?’” said the 25-year-old expecting mother. “I couldn’t believe this was happening while I was pregnant.”
Addison had little time to ponder what this diagnosis would mean for herself, her husband and their soon-to-arrive son. A scant 24 hours later, she met Virginia Borges, MD, a nationally renowned oncologist specializing in breast cancer at the CU School of Medicine.
“Dr. Borges was insistent that we start treatment immediately, based on my timeline of being pregnant,” she said. “I had my first chemo session one week to the day that I first met with her.”
“I feel like I’m in such good hands.”
Addison has had three chemotherapy sessions so far and will have one more before a four-week recess in treatment. In mid-November, she’ll undergo surgery for a double mastectomy. Her pregnancy due date is Jan. 5, 2013.
“Dr. Borges has been very positive about my treatment,” Addison said. “She is confident that following my surgery I’ll have a safe delivery.”
Borges serves as director of the Young Women's Breast Cancer Translational Program
along with School of Medicine colleague Pepper Schedin
, PhD. Known worldwide for her pioneering work, Schedin was the first to determine that, as breasts return to their normal state after pregnancy or breastfeeding, the risk of breast cancer increases. The duo has been researching pregnancy-associated breast cancer for nearly a decade.
“[Dr. Borges] is a straight shooter, and I appreciate her compassion and candor,” Addison said. “I’m so happy that I’m receiving treatment at this hospital.”
“The most helpful thing for me has been my husband and the hope for our son.”
Even while undergoing chemotherapy and entering her third trimester, Addison has managed to keep up her work-from-home tech sales job. She tires easily, but it’s the emotional challenges that sometimes hit hardest.
“Breast cancer robs you of your outward femininity, breasts and hair. However, I realize those are the side effects of my overcoming the disease—which is more powerful than being sad about losing certain physical aspects,” she said.
She looks often to her husband for support. The couple—who just moved to Denver from Nashville, Tenn., in January—is trying to focus on the joy and excitement of preparing for their new baby.
“We’re taking in every single minute together,” Addison said. “And as my body continues to change—from pregnancy, hair loss and the mastectomy—he consistently reminds me that I’m beautiful. He looks at me the same as he has since we met in 2006.”
“Cancer does not discriminate.”
At age 25, with no family history of breast cancer, Addison was an unlikely candidate for the disease. However, as Schedin’s and Borges’ work has shown, pregnancy can increase the risk of breast cancer.
“Luckily I was visiting the UCH Center for Midwifery
regularly for prenatal appointments, and I was able to ask about a lump that didn’t feel right,” she said. The midwifery practice referred her to the UCH Diane O’Connor Thompson Breast Center
in the CU Cancer Center
. “I’m not sure how long I would’ve waited to make an appointment had I not already been under a physician’s care [for my pregnancy]. Early detection is key, and I’m a firm believer that my baby saved my life.”
Addison wants to dispel the myth that a cancer diagnosis means that you have to terminate the pregnancy or that the baby could have cancer.
“With a well-informed doctor like Dr. Borges, you can aggressively treat your cancer while maintaining a safe pregnancy.”