PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Md. — A new mom in Prince George’s County survived breast cancer while pregnant and she credits early detection with saving the life of her baby and her own.
For new mom Terah Herman-Saldana, who brought her baby girl Avery into the world eight months ago, life has new meaning.
“Just looking at her, I feel so much gratitude that she’s here, she’s safe, she’s wonderful,” Saldana said. “I’m just thankful that every single day we have the science, the medicine and the knowledge of how to treat someone with cancer while they’re pregnant.”
When Saldana got pregnant last October, she noticed an unusual lump in one of her breasts and assumed it was part of the pregnancy. But, a trip to the doctor for an ultrasound then biopsy determined something different.
At the age of 35, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“It is terrifying," Saldana said. "Cancer is so scary on its own, but then when you feel responsible for a second human being while you’re battling cancer, it feels like there’s so much unknown."
Dr. Julie Collins, a breast medical oncologist at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital said having breast cancer while pregnant is rare, but tends to happen in women who wait longer to have children.
“The incidents seem to be increasing as more women delay child bearing, but we feel this increase is more likely related to age at pregnancy more than the pregnancy itself,” Dr. Collins said.
According to the World Journal of Oncology, cancer during pregnancy happens every 1 in 1,000 pregnancies annually.
Dr. Collins said chemotherapy is a safe and effective treatment for moms like Saldana, which she started right away .
“Chemotherapy is timed very carefully, and it’s always started after the first trimester,” Dr. Collins said. “This reduces the risk of harm to the developing fetus."
"It’s always stopped at least a few weeks before planned delivery because we know this decreases complications like low white blood cell counts that can lead to increased infection risk for mom and baby," Dr. Collins explained.
“With the new mom exhaustion on the top of the chemo exhaustion , it was rough,” Saldana said. “You’re fighting for two and every single step, you’re just like is this the right thing."
"But, it’s also great motivation to know that I’m doing this not just for myself , but my family .”
After Avery’s arrival Saldana had a partial mastectomy and other treatments that she found herself getting alone because of the pandemic. However, she remained strong and in May, came out on top, cancer-free.
“She’s incredible, she’s been through so much,” said Saldana’s husband, Carlos. “The most important thing, I think, is to let people know they’re not alone .”
Saldana said she has no family history of breast cancer or any known risk factors. She encourages everyone to stay on top of their checks-ups, doing self-breast exams and advocate for yourself if you know something feels wrong.
“Self-breast exams are so important, even if you’re young and healthy,” said Saldana. “ I felt like I was in the best shape of my life and I still got cancer.”