November 2, 2016 | by Samantha Bonar
Two years ago, Lorena Rodriguez, 38, got the shock of her life when she went to see her ob/gyn to discuss her difficulties getting pregnant for a second time. During the routine exam, her doctor found a small lump on Rodriguez’s breast. Her doctor referred her for a mammogram, which led to two biopsies, which came back with the astonishing news: breast cancer. Instead of beginning fertility treatments, Rodriguez would be starting surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
“My world just fell apart,” said Rodriguez, who lives in Fontana, California. “I was in shock. I couldn’t believe it. I got really depressed.”
Rodriguez had just had an all-clear physical the previous December 2013. Now, in August 2014, she was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer (it was also in her lymph nodes).
But, having 5-year-old son, Anthony, at home gave her the motivation to live and not only fight her cancer, but fight to preserve her fertility so she could try to have another child in the future.
“I was thinking, ‘I don’t want to die, I want to live. I have a son. Why is this happening to me?’” she said. “We had so many plans for the future.”
Knowing she wanted to have at least one more child, her City of Hope team recommended Rodriguez freeze her eggs before beginning chemotherapy. But the cost was prohibitive and not covered by insurance, plus this procedure takes time before a patient can begin cancer treatment.
“It was too expensive,” Rodriguez said. “So I was talking to God and I said, ‘God, I already have a son — if you want me to have children in the future, I put it in your hands.”
But she also put it in the capable hands of Linda Bosserman, M.D., an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research at City of Hope in Rancho Cucamonga, California. Bosserman had another plan.
“She was given a shot monthly, starting before her chemotherapy started, to shut down her ovaries,” hoping to preserve their function, Bosserman said.
Rodriguez underwent chemotherapy for three months, then radiation for a month and a half. Bosserman then recommended that Rodriguez take the hormone-blocking drug Tamoxifen for several years to prevent a recurrence. However, if she wanted to try to get pregnant, she could delay the start of Tamoxifen for six months.
“We use long-term hormone-blockade pills to reduce the risk of microscopic tumor cells that might have spread from the original tumor from coming back, as well as to decrease the risk of second cancers,” Bosserman explained. “This is now used for 10 years. Delaying the start for a few months is of concern, but had to be balanced by Lorena’s overall health and life goals to have a second child.”
After Rodriguez finished her chemotherapy and radiation, the hormone-blocking shots were stopped. She delayed the start of hormone blockade with Tamoxifen and her periods quickly returned. Amazingly, she got pregnant just three months after finishing therapy and delivered her daughter a year after her chemotherapy phase finished.
“I never expected it, and then all of a sudden I took a home pregnancy test and it came out positive. I couldn’t believe it!” Rodriguez said. “I was so excited, so happy.”
She had the baby, Aliyah, this February. “I’m cancer-free and have a healthy baby girl,” she said.
“It was such a blessing that her periods came back and she got pregnant right away!” Bosserman said. “I was surprised due to her previous infertility, but maybe that was the gift her disease gave her.”
After breastfeeding for a few months, Rodriguez weaned her daughter and began taking Tamoxifen. She is now in remission with no signs of cancer. “Her prognosis is excellent,” Bosserman said. As for future children, right now she’s happy with her family as is. “I have a daughter and a son and we’re just very happy spending time together as a family. We’re very happy the way things are.”
According to Bosserman, it would not be risky for Rodriguez should she choose to try to have a third child. “Of all the ironies, we know that getting pregnant, when we have highest levels of estradiol, is not associated with increasing the risk of breast cancer recurrence or new breast cancer development. So it would not be risky for Lorena to have another pregnancy, but her and her husband’s goal was a second child. They have completed their family and she now wants to use hormone blockade to help her remain as healthy as possible to raise these beautiful children.
“It is such a humbling honor to have helped Lorena in her journey through and now beyond breast cancer,” she continued. “We all had tears in our eyes holding her beautiful daughter and knowing she was fulfilling her dreams.”
Learn more about City of Hope's Breast Cancer Program. If you are looking for a second opinion or consultation about your treatment, request an appointment online or contact us at 800-826-HOPE. Please visit Making Your First Appointment for more information.