Kathie’s Story: Is Chemotherapy Safe During Pregnancy?

For some women, the happiest time in their lives is complicated by the scariest time in their lives.

Elyce H. Cardonick, MD, Maternal Fetal Medicine physician at Cooper University Health Care and founder of the Cancer and Pregnancy Registry, has played an integral role in helping women diagnosed with cancer during their pregnancy. Dr. Cardonick began this study to pool into a single database all the diagnostic and treatment information from throughout the United States. She then followed the health of the women and their children beyond the delivery to learn the best way to treat cancer during pregnancy. Such information, which is kept confidential, helps study the effects of a newly diagnosed cancer and its treatment on a concurrent pregnancy. Women have even received chemotherapy during pregnancy and delivered healthy infants. Follow-up of the women and their children is ongoing through diagnosis, treatment, delivery, childhood, adolescence, and beyond.

Dr. Cardonick has followed Kathie’s story annually ever since her pregnancy with twins 23 years ago. During Kathie’s pregnancy a routine ultrasound showed she had an ovarian mass. It was cancer. After the diagnosis, Kathie was advised to terminate her pregnancy. At that time, having chemotherapy during pregnancy was met with fear by many physicians and, of course, by the patients.

Kathie with her twins Sierra and Dakota. Kathie provided Dr. Cardonick permission to use this photo while lecturing on chemotherapy during pregnancy as it inspired her.

Kathie opted to keep the pregnancy and became one of Dr. Cardonick’s first five patients to enroll in the Cancer and Pregnancy Registry. Kathie was also in the care of James K. Aikins Jr., MD, Gynecologic Oncologist and Director of Research in the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at Cooper University Health Care. Dr. Aikins performed surgery to remove her ovarian cancer at 16 weeks of pregnancy. With careful guidance, Kathie went through chemotherapy during weeks 23 to 32 of her pregnancy, with four cycles every three weeks. Full term, Kathie delivered a healthy boy, Dakota, and a healthy girl, Sierra. When Dakota and Sierra were 9 years old, Dr. Cardonick worked with a pediatric psychologist to study the development of children exposed to chemotherapy in the womb and compared results to children of women with cancer in pregnancy who did not receive chemotherapy. The twins participated in this study. The study results provided evidence that chemotherapy during pregnancy was safe.

Dakota and Sierra proudly participated in sharing their mom’s (Kathie’s) story

Fast forward 23 years later, Kathie has been cancer free and healthy, and the twins have grown into beautiful young adults.

Kathie says, “Dakota is an ambitious person. He is funny, expressive, empathetic and not afraid to run to danger or help people during a crisis. His life-long dream is to be a police officer and he is currently pursuing a career in law enforcement. Sierra is sweet, sincere, smart, and studious. She is currently in college and pursuing a career as an ultrasound technician specializing in echocardiograms.”

Enrollment in the Cancer and Pregnancy Registry is voluntary and confidential, and can help you and newly diagnosed women facing cancer during pregnancy. Even if you have already delivered your baby, it is not too late to contribute your experience to the growing information about cancer and pregnancy in the registry.

For more information about the Cancer and Pregnancy Registry, click here.