“I had breast cancer when I was 7 months pregnant”

I had breast cancer when I was 7 months pregnant

7 months pregnant, Maëlle learns that she has an aggressive and metastasized cancer. After giving birth to her baby and facing the treatments, she goes to walk in the Sahara desert on the Rose Trip trek, to defend this cause and reconnect with her body. Testimony.

We are in the Sahara Desert, in the middle of the sand dunes. Maëlle has just climbed one of the highest of Erg Chebbi, as part of the Rose Trip, a 3-day orientation trek, 100% female and united, committed to the fight against breast cancer, open to all. Maëlle did not always have such a valiant body as it is today. As she approached 30, at 7 months of pregnancy, the young woman learns that she has inflammatory breast cancer, stage 4, with metastases all over the chest bones. Three years later, accompanied by two of her friends, one of whom, Sophie was her caregiver, she testifies to this fight against breast cancer so young, of this motherhood put to the test and this surviving body, which carried her so far.

“I felt this lump in my breast in October 2017, for the first time. I felt stabbing. As my mother had pre-cancerous cells in the breast, I will consult quickly. I have not stopped take me from the walls: when you want to have a mammogram under the age of 30, you are not taken seriously, despite the order! They tell me about a fibroadenoma, nothing to worry about, to come and have it checked 4 months later. I am reassured. At the same time, I am embarking on a baby project with my partner with whom I have been for 15 years. It was not relevant, but all of a sudden, I have the feeling that it has to be now, so we give it a try. In January 2018, I am already pregnant.

Maëlle, on the Rose Trip trek, after having conquered her breast cancer © Jane Roussel

A 7 cm diameter ball in the breast

If I had followed the recommendations of the first mammogram, I would have had a check-up in February of that year. But since I was on a trip to the United States, I did not do it until March. After 5 minutes of breast ultrasound, I am told: “Everything is normal, don’t worry!“I believe in it, I continue my pregnancy, with peace of mind. At the same time, my mother has a recurrence of her cancer, and I start to develop strange pains: my pelvis makes me suffer, my neck is so stiff that I can no longer lift my head to look at the sky. I convince myself that the pregnancy and the 20 kilos that go with it explain these discomforts. My breast becomes more and more rigid, the lump grows, and at the next appointment with my gynecologist, I ask her to palpate me. I realize that this is the first time since I got pregnant. The expression on her face changes the minute she touches me. She sends me for an ultrasound in emergency.

The ultrasound machine can’t tell me what’s wrong, she thinks of mastitis. But it’s astonishing, I am not in pain. By doing exactly the wrong thing to do, which is by searching the internet, I find that the symptoms are similar to inflammatory breast cancer, except that it doesn’t hurt. My next appointment with the gynecologist confirms this fear: I have stage 4 HER2 positive cancer, I have a 7 cm diameter lump in my breast, the CT scan then carried out reveals that it has metastasized to the bones, from the neck to the sacrum, passing through the liver. We are in August 2018, jI am 32 weeks pregnant, and after 10 months of misdiagnosis, I finally know what I have.

Time is running out, I am told. One of the first things that comes to my mind is that I won’t see my son grow up, that someone other than me will raise him. There is no question. In a few minutes, I turn into a war machine: it’s just a setback in my life, I don’t ask myself any questions, I do whatever I am told to do.

Chemotherapy with my baby in the womb

Before I could even digest the information, the appointments are linked, I meet an incredible oncologist, who allows me to keep hope. “We’re going start chemotherapy before childbirth, with two types of drugs that will not cross the placental barrier. In 5 weeks, when your baby will have exceeded the risks of prematurity, you will have a cesarean delivery, so that we can continue with a more aggressive treatment “, I am told. They explain to me that if I had been in my first trimester, it would have been necessary to resort to a medical termination of pregnancy, but at this stage my baby is not at risk. I tell myself that the delay in diagnosis at least allowed that, that I have my child. The context is not ideal, I learn that vaginal birth is impossible: the pelvis is so damaged by the disease that it could rupture. I am worried about my baby, who passes a CT scan through me, who undergoes general anesthesia for the placement of the chemo box, but I accept everything. I am a robot.

Maëlle, Sophie and Cassandre’s neat healthcare team on the Rose Trip trek © Jane Roussel

My pregnancy takes on a whole new rhythm, nothing is spontaneous anymore. I regret to tell myself that I will not know the contractions, that I will not be the one who will give it life, they will come and take it from me and I will be asleep. Forever the date of his birth is linked to my illness, I am angry. On September 14th, I am already wearing a headscarf to hide my hair loss when I arrive at the maternity hospital for him to be born. My friend Sophie, who supported me until then and who works in this maternity hospital, prepared a dream birth for me, she decorated our room, held my hand in the OR until I asleep, she carried my son to his father and was there when I woke up 20 minutes later to become a mom. “Yann was born and he cried straight away, ”she told me. The tests show that the start of my treatment had no effect on his health.

We go through the neonatal service, because he has a respiratory problem, not serious. Despite my scar, I get up immediately and spend my days there. This period is both filled with the happiness of meeting my son and terribly difficult. I’m sick, I’m still 20 pounds extra, and I know it’s not going to subside anytime soon, with the meds he’s no longer in my stomach and a big fight awaits me. My reflection in the mirror is difficult to face.

“I wanted to make this broken body walk again”

Two weeks later, I resume chemo. My motherhood begins painfully: I am exhausted the first few days, I lose my memory, I have extremely dry skin, my eyes too. I’m afraid I won’t be able to take care of my baby. But I am incredibly lucky, he is an easy infant, who sleeps, eats, smiles and starts over! My partner takes 3 months of leave to face this period, which ultimately goes quite well.

In February, after 5 months of intensive chemotherapy, I learn that I am in total remission. The last CT scan reveals that there is no more metastasis, that the lump in my breast has literally disappeared. I should have come out of this disease with two fewer breasts and a lifelong chronic disease (which is often the case when there is metastasis), and none of that happens. The cancer is gone, gone.

After the illness, Maëlle made a three-day trek in the Moroccan desert © Jane Roussel

My first walk with my baby takes place that same month, I finally have the strength to go for a walk with him, my pain has subsided. In this month of November 2021, he is just 3 years old, and I am still under chemotherapy, with two drugs that will be administered to me for life, to prevent a recurrence. My bones remain in bad condition, but after having lived this crazy adventure, I told myself that I had to come and do this trek. Let me make this broken body walk again. We finish this intense trip, and I feel alive again. ”