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A pregnant pause: perspective from a mother diagnosed while expecting

Sweeney is pictured with her son, Loudon, who she was pregnant with when diagnosed with cancer. She underwent 16 rounds of chemotherapy after giving birth to him in 2014. Courtesy photo.

Sweeney is pictured with her son, Loudon, who she was pregnant with when diagnosed with cancer. She underwent 16 rounds of chemotherapy after giving birth to him in 2014. Courtesy photo.

Foreword by Graham Sweeney, editor of The Shelby Sun Times and The Collierville Independent:

My wife, Shannon, was diagnosed with Stage 2B breast cancer in August 2014 at the age of 36. She was pregnant with our second child at the time.

Doctors scheduled a lumpectomy for October in order to establish the best possible timeline for treatment, which would include chemotherapy and radiation.

Fears of carrying another life inside of her while being under general anesthesia occupied nearly all of Shannon’s head space during the weeks leading up to surgery.

Doctors assured that the risks of endangering the child were low and the procedure was ultimately a success. However, after surgery it was determined that the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. This was obviously reason for concern but chemotherapy couldn’t commence until she gave birth.

After nearly a month of worrying if the cancer was spreading, she gave birth to our healthy son. By December she was undergoing the first of 16 rounds of chemotherapy at West Cancer Center, followed by weeks of radiation.

After the disorienting regimen of treatments was complete, the implanted port used to administer chemo was finally removed from her collarbone area last year and she was downgraded to semi-annual check ps.

Now she is taking daily prescriptions for the next few years as she works to get her interrupted life back on track.

We sometimes refer to the period of time between her diagnosis and final treatment as the “lost year.” It truly was a whirlwind of dread and anxiety.

However, she is always quick to point out that our son was also born that year, serving as a reminder that light can be found in the darkest of days.

This is her story in her own words.

By SHANNON SWEENEY
Special to the Express

I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was six months pregnant with my second child. This is something that I’m often reluctant to tell people. So, I usually don’t.

This is partially because I’m an introverted person and this revelation inevitably puts extra attention on me. I also don’t like bumming people out.

I was understandably upset by the diagnosis but maybe not to the extent I would have imagined.

This passage in “The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying” by Nina Riggs best captures my feelings at the time.

“I have felt somehow relieved. It has happened, I keep thinking. The terrible thing. This is what the terrible thing feels like. Somehow, a lovely space has opened up inside my chest, a little, deep pool in the thickest woods.”

The anxiety I had barely kept at bay since becoming a mother for the first time had tried very hard to prepare me for this moment, as if I could trade my pain for theirs.

Cancer forces you to feel, not just know, the universal truth that you will die and that no matter how much you want to protect your children you can’t always keep them safe.

My life has a poignancy now that it didn’t before. Sometimes I tear up just because I look across the room and see my husband holding my son or my daughter asleep in her bed.

It also now comes with more resentment. We are told to live for today and embrace the present because that’s all we really have. However, you also have to prepare for the future, which means doing all the things that are required of you, like paying bills and grocery shopping and going to meetings.

You become more jealous of your time because it suddenly seems like a finite resource.

When I was actively in treatment I couldn’t see past the next step in the process: First, surgery, C-section and port insertion; then chemo and radiation.

Having a newborn in the house, along with a kindergartner, didn’t leave much room for feeling sorry for myself, and it wasn’t until after active treatment that I realized I needed someone to talk to about all these things I was feeling.

So, I went to a support meeting and started therapy.

It’s still hard not to let my anxiety get the best of me. It is hard to put away the Christmas ornaments without wondering if I’ll be around to put them up again next year.

I try not to live with two realities in my head – one that has me present for the future and one that doesn’t.

Instead, I try to remember how lucky I am to have my two beautiful wild children, my family and the grace to try again another day.I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was six months pregnant with my second child. This is something that I’m often reluctant to tell people. So, I usually don’t.

This is partially because I’m an introverted person and this revelation inevitably puts extra attention on me. I also don’t like bumming people out.

I was understandably upset by the diagnosis but maybe not to the extent I would have imagined.

This passage in “The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying” by Nina Riggs best captures my feelings at the time.

“I have felt somehow relieved. It has happened, I keep thinking. The terrible thing. This is what the terrible thing feels like. Somehow, a lovely space has opened up inside my chest, a little, deep pool in the thickest woods.”

The anxiety I had barely kept at bay since becoming a mother for the first time had tried very hard to prepare me for this moment, as if I could trade my pain for theirs.

Cancer forces you to feel, not just know, the universal truth that you will die and that no matter how much you want to protect your children you can’t always keep them safe.

My life has a poignancy now that it didn’t before. Sometimes I tear up just because I look across the room and see my husband holding my son or my daughter asleep in her bed.

It also now comes with more resentment. We are told to live for today and embrace the present because that’s all we really have. However, you also have to prepare for the future, which means doing all the things that are required of you, like paying bills and grocery shopping and going to meetings.

You become more jealous of your time because it suddenly seems like a finite resource.

When I was actively in treatment I couldn’t see past the next step in the process: First, surgery, C-section and port insertion; then chemo and radiation.

Having a newborn in the house, along with a kindergartner, didn’t leave much room for feeling sorry for myself, and it wasn’t until after active treatment that I realized I needed someone to talk to about all these things I was feeling.

So, I went to a support meeting and started therapy.

It’s still hard not to let my anxiety get the best of me. It is hard to put away the Christmas ornaments without wondering if I’ll be around to put them up again next year.

I try not to live with two realities in my head – one that has me present for the future and one that doesn’t.

Instead, I try to remember how lucky I am to have my two beautiful wild children, my family and the grace to try again another day.

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