Pregnancy can be an exciting and stressful time, both physically and mentally. But imagine receiving a cancer diagnosis while being pregnant. That’s what happened to one local woman. Jiovana Rodriguez Perez was 12 weeks pregnant when she found out she had acute myeloid leukemia.
It’s been a little more than nine months since Jiovana and hematology oncologist Dr. Haifaa Abdulhaq first met. Jiovana and her husband were thrilled to finally be expecting after trying for a while. She said they were about to lose hope, “Right when we gave up, like that’s it… it’s not gonna happen for us… it did.”
But Jiovana’s blood work showed something was wrong. Her OBGYN broke the shocking news.
“He printed out my blood work and he wrote right there ‘acute myeloid leukemia’,” stated Jiovana.
Acute myeloid leukemia is an aggressive type of bone marrow cancer. Jiovana was referred to see Dr. Abdulhaq at the Community Cancer Institute.
Jiovana continued, “You hear that word cancer and automatically you, I mean you’re scared to your bones, you know? Like no one wants to hear that they have cancer, that’s the worst.”
Dr. Abdulhaq explains acute myeloid leukemia is extremely rare in patients that are pregnant.
“There are only few cases in the literature about this diagnosis and treatment. We do know that we cannot give chemotherapy in the first trimester because that would lead to termination of the pregnancy,” stated Dr. Abdulhaq.
Jiovana was presented with a few options.
The doctor continued, “I told her that we cannot give induction chemotherapy in the first trimester, so I gave her both options of terminating the pregnancy and starting chemotherapy right away after that, which is what probably many people would do in this situation. But also, I gave her the option of keeping the pregnancy with close monitoring and providing supportive care with transfusions, and then waiting a few more weeks until we are in the second trimester where potentially we can treat.”
Receiving chemotherapy even in the second trimester poses significant risks to both baby and mom. The treatment can cause patients, like Jiovana, to have low blood counts or become anemic, which negatively affects the fetus. But Jiovana wanted to keep her baby and chose to move forward with treatment in her second trimester.
“For me, it was just, is the baby going to be okay, is my pregnancy going to be able to go through the term and everything,” commented Jiovana.
She underwent a total of three chemotherapy treatments while pregnant, and at 34 weeks gestation, Jiovana delivered a healthy baby girl via C-section.
Jiovana cried, “So if it wasn’t because I got pregnant and went and saw my OB, who knows when they would have caught this.”
Dr. Abdulhaq said the new mother is cancer free today, and it’s because of the excellent multidisciplinary care offered through Community. Many healthcare workers had a hand in helping Jiovana through her cancer and pregnancy journey.
“For treating acute myeloid leukemia, it really requires a team effort, including the oncologists, the nursing staff, the pharmacists who are all well trained and experienced in treating this disease… and then to treat acute leukemia and pregnancy that requires way more support and even another level of multidisciplinary care including the OBGYN team as well as maternal fetal medicine,” said Dr. Abdulhaq.
Jiovana said she’s grateful she was cared for by Dr. Abdulhaq and the entire team at Community. She can now focus on being a mother to the baby she always longed for.
“I’m just grateful, I’m very blessed that Dr. Abdulhaq, she took a chance on me, you know? She didn’t just take one patient, she took two patients on. How can I pay her back for that. I’m very grateful with her,” ended Jiovana.
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