When Amber and her husband, Clint, found out they were pregnant with their second child in October 2022, they were so excited. Their son had just started kindergarten, and the couple was thrilled about growing their family.
Just a few months later in December, when Amber was at a routine prenatal care checkup, her OB-GYN noticed a stretch mark on Amber’s right breast. She thought it deserved a closer look and scheduled an ultrasound. The ultrasound showed three masses, so the clinic scheduled a same-day mammogram which indicated the masses were tumors. They biopsied all three right away, and Amber received a call the next morning. It was breast cancer.
“It was very emotional,” Amber said. “During the tests, I assumed the masses would be benign. I was too young to have breast cancer.”
Cancer care for a fragile situation
Amber’s health care provider at Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater referred her to the Cancer Center of Western Wisconsin (CCWW) in Hudson. “We knew it was stage 3, because it was in my lymph nodes,” Amber said. And because she was pregnant, Amber’s oncologist would have to treat her breast cancer differently. “My first round of chemotherapy started in January 2023,” she said. “I had four rounds in two months. It was not the full course of treatment, because of my baby.”
Along with each of Amber’s cancer appointments, she had weekly fetal appointments, so the medical team could keep track of the baby’s health and growth. “I think my pregnancy helped soothe my side effects,” Amber said. “I was exhausted, but I was not nauseated. I was able to keep food down.”
New baby, next treatment
On March 14, 2023, baby Olivia was born at 29 weeks. She was a perfectly healthy preemie, weighing in at 3 pounds, 4 ounces. Because she was so small, Olivia stayed in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) until the end of May, when Amber and Clint could finally take her home.
But first, on April 17, just one month after giving birth, Amber had a double mastectomy. “The surgery was really hard on me,” Amber said. “It was so soon after having Olivia, but I needed to have it done while she was still in the NICU so that I could heal before she came home.”
Once Amber had recovered from her surgery, she began the second round of chemo. This time, it was weekly, and it was harder. “They gave me a steroid that kept me up for two days after each treatment,” Amber said. “It was bad. I was so tired and more nauseated.”
After she finished chemo, Amber began receiving radiation at the CCWW clinic in New Richmond. “I had 28 days of radiation, Monday through Friday. I was able to come at the same time every day for my seven-minute appointment,” Amber said, “I was very fortunate to not have the burns and other skin issues many people have with radiation. I finally started to feel like I could breathe.”
Comforting care when it matters most
Amber says she’s had to work hard throughout her cancer journey to not fall into a depression. “Trying to keep yourself elevated and steady was the hardest thing,” she said. “I am 39. Having cancer and a baby is not easy.”
She credits the team at CCWW for treating her as an individual with a life and a story. “People know me here and I’m comfortable,” she said. “The thing I love about the hometown CCWW clinics is that you get excellent treatment, but with more care. It’s more personal here than the big clinics. The nurses and the doctors have special hearts for this type of work. They are involved in your cancer, and they are involved in your life. They remember my kids’ names and specifics about our lives. They are special people, and without them, I don’t think I would have made it through this process like I did.”
Trust, hope, and perspective
“Getting cancer changes you,” Amber said. “You lose some of yourself, but you also find a new you. The new me knows spending time with my family and making memories is more important than cleaning.”
As Amber reflected on the past year, she said, “At this point, I’m done with treatment. But am I done forever? That’s a thought I carry with me.”
She smiles and straightens, “If I hadn’t gotten pregnant, my cancer wouldn’t have been discovered for another year and a half. I am still too young for regular mammograms. My son? He was my miracle boy. But my daughter? She’s my hero. She saved my life.”
“This whole journey has been a blessing in disguise,” Amber said. “Nobody wants cancer, but I now have a beautiful daughter and a whole new chance at a life that I’m still young enough to enjoy. That’s my saving grace.”
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