In this article we will present you a story about Gina Zapanta-Murphy, a working mother, who didn’t have time for complications during her second pregnancy, but unfortunately, she was soon to be diagnosed with cancer.
On her 35 birthday, she was extremely tired so she spend it in bed, and soon after she noticed a clear, watery discharge that was not usual for her. The next three weeks, she even had to wear a pad, due to the heaviness of the discharge. She also got fever, and her first thought was: What if her amniotic sac had ruptured and was leaking fluid this whole time?
Her doctor from PIH Health Women’s Health Center in Whittier, California, almost immediately directed her to Labor and Delivery for a pelvic exam. OB/GYN Brent J. Gray, M.D. and his team tested the fluid and the results showed that her amniotic sac was intact. Nevertheless, they noticed a little polyp and sent it for testing. The results from the biopsy came three days later, and OBGYN Sacha Kang Chou, M.D. told her that the lesion was in fact cervical cancer right on the phone, so this call definitely changed her life.
“Like most people who don’t have cancer in their lives, I thought cancer equals death sentence,” Gina recalls.
Luckily, Gina was wrong because the American Cancer Society claims that the rate of cervical cancer deaths have decreased by 50% over the last 40 years. This is all due to the increased use of regular Pap smears.
She immediately scheduled an appointment with her new gynecologic oncologist,
Samuel Im, M.D.
Even though this type of cancer is slow-growing, being pregnant can kick its growth into high gear due to an increase in blood flow and major hormonal changes. For example, when she was tested in the sixth week of her pregnancy, the pelvic exam had shown no signs of this disease. But when she got into the 29th week, the test showed stage one cervical cancer and a lesion nearly 1.5 centimeters long. As you can see, Gina’s cancer was growing aggressively. Moreover, this also means that every day her baby was left to gestate, was another day for the cancer to grow.
The doctors couldn’t use an MRI to monitor its grown due to her pregnancy. They couldn’t even examine her physically until the baby was born. Gina decided that she will deliver the baby at any cost, and asked the doctors to monitor her the best they could and to deliver the baby when there are no chances to harm the baby.
Fortune was definitely not on her side, because at her follow-up appointment 2 weeks later, the doctors discovered that her lesion was no nearly 2 cm long. Due to the fact that the cancer was growing too fast, her doctor decided to push the due date to 34 weeks. The team of doctors decided to deliver via C-section and immediately perform a hysterectomy in order to remove the localized cancer.
PIH Health Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) team guided Gina through the whole process. She said: “My priority is being around for my girls as long as I’m able to. If they had to take off my limbs, I’d have said, ‘Take them off. Do whatever you need to do.’”
Delivery day arrived when she received 2 shots of antenatal steroids to stimulate growth in the baby’s lungs. Gina underwent a series of back-to-back surgeries with obstetricians, surgeons, and oncologists all in the room.
“I begged to stay awake for the delivery, and they let me see my baby girl before I went under for the hysterectomy,” she says. “I remember kissing her little warm face. The next thing I knew, I was waking up in recovery.”
Luckily, after 24 hours, Gina was holding her baby Valentina in the NICU when her final report came back. She was completely cancer-free. During the procedure, the doctors had to remove her uterus, fallopian tubes, and pelvic lymph nodes, but were able to save her ovaries and keep her from going into immediate menopause. Even though Gina was extremely happy with her results, knowing she’d never be pregnant again left a sting.
“I’m not going to cry about it, though,” she says. “Some people aren’t even able to get pregnant. I was lucky enough to have my two girls.”
This bad experience make Gina worry every time she had an acne or pain, which after all is not a bad thing, because she now goes to a regular check-ups. When this type of cancer is diagnosed at its first stage, the survival rate is 92%. Gina decided to share her story with the public and he warns all women: “Don’t be scared to face going to the doctor and hearing something that you might not want to hear,” she says. “Be proactive.” It could very well save your life.