Jennifer Deus was almost nine months pregnant when she learned she had breast cancer.
Doctors gave her a C-section at 36 weeks so she could start her treatment soon after the delivery.
This is Deus' story, as told to Jane Ridley.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Jennifer Deus. It has been edited for length and clarity
I enjoyed every minute of my baby shower when I was eight months pregnant with my third child.
The pregnancy had gone smoothly. It was exciting to think of my two daughters, Isabelle and Hannahbel — who were 2 years old and 4 years old respectively at the time — getting to meet their little sister at last.
But a week after the shower, I noticed that the tissue in my left breast had gotten harder. My armpit had started to swell and hurt.
I asked my OB to examine my breasts during my next visit. I saw the look on her face when she examined me. "It might not be anything, but we should just get you an ultrasound," she said.
The scan showed two lumps in my breast and one in my armpit. I needed a biopsy. I called my stepmom and she told me not to worry as much. I said, "No, mom, I think it's breast cancer."
The biopsy proved me right; I got the results on October 5, 2021. It felt like my whole world had crashed down. I thought, "What's going to happen to my children?"
My heart felt as if it was jumping off my chest. I couldn't catch my breath. I had nightmares because I kept thinking about the cancer inside my body. I'd been told that it was stage 2B.
Patrick, my husband, stayed positive. He hugged me and said, "We're going to get through this together."
My doctor said that she would take care of me and my unborn baby
I cried and cried. Then, all of a sudden, I gathered my strength. "I'm not going to cry anymore because crying won't do anything for me," I told my husband.
I had no choice but to fight. I had two small kids and one in my belly. They depended on me. I had to do right by them.
Medical staff thought it was better for me to deliver the baby at 36 weeks. The oncologist told me she was concerned that all the hormones during my pregnancy were making the cancer grow faster. She said that I'd need treatment as soon as I gave birth.
I was worried about the baby coming four weeks early. I thought it might affect her development. But my OB reassured me; she said the baby was seven pounds already and would be fine.
Ishbel was born via C-section on October 15, 2021, around a month before her due date. I felt a surge of energy when they laid her on my chest. I thought, "She doesn't know that mommy is sick." Then I thought, "She doesn't know that I might not be there for her when she's older." It made me want to fight even harder.
I was determined that cancer was not going to stop me from living my life
I started chemotherapy in early November. I could hardly walk into the hospital because I hadn't yet healed from the C-section. The first day of treatment lasted eight hours. It was difficult both mentally and physically.
But I kept on going. I cooked a meal for Thanksgiving. My husband said, "You really don't have to do that." I said that cancer wasn't going to stop me from doing the things I'd always done for our family.
I had six rounds of chemo in total. The last was in February of this year. Most of my hair fell out. I changed my way of eating and started exercising. I knew the changes would have a big impact on how the treatment was working.
They gave me the all-clear signal in May after I had a double mastectomy. I'm hoping they'll put in the implants soon. I had radiation to be on the safe side, but I finished it a few weeks ago.
I've never felt more alive. My experience with cancer has made me a better, stronger person. I love and appreciate my family more than ever. I'm blessed because Patrick and I can raise our kids the way we'd always planned.
People have said to me, "I'm so sorry about cancer." I don't want them to be sorry, because I'm not sorry. At first, I thought it was a punishment. Now I think that if I hadn't gone through cancer, I wouldn't be the woman — and the wife and mother — I am right now.
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