Texas mother welcomes baby days after completing cancer treatment

AUSTIN (KXAN) – An Austin mother has a special reason to celebrate this Mother’s Day, just months after successfully completing breast cancer treatment while pregnant with her first child.

Emily Williams celebrated her 40th birthday last March and underwent her first routine mammogram, which returned no results. In May, after seven rounds of in vitro fertilization attempts, she found out she was pregnant with her first child.

But in June 2022, she discovered a lump in her breast. After completing a biopsy, she was diagnosed with stage IIB breast cancer.

“It’s almost like my luck has turned 180 degrees [degrees],” she said. “Can I even keep this baby after everything we’ve been through? And it really was — it was devastating for me.”

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Williams connected with Dr. Debra Patt, a medical oncologist at Texas Oncology-Austin Central. Patt told Nexstar’s KXAN that pregnancies require a different approach to treatment from oncologists, with some therapies being safe while others need to be avoided until after delivery.

“Female patients can often safely carry a pregnancy to term and receive cancer treatment. The best way to get the best outcome is to see her doctor as early as possible to best manage the complexities that we face when pregnancy and cancer coexist,” Patt said.

Typically, Williams’ treatment began with chemotherapy. As she neared the second trimester of her pregnancy, her team at Texas Oncology began with a single mastectomy.

After the surgery, Williams’ treatment plan changed chemotherapy to use two options that were considered safe for use during pregnancy. She ended chemotherapy two weeks before her scheduled cesarean section — but her daughter had other plans: Williams gave birth to a healthy baby girl just five days after chemotherapy.

In a beautiful fusion of worlds, Williams’ obstetrician and her surgical oncologist were close friends and were out having brunch when Williams’ water ruptured. Both came to help her give birth to her daughter.

“It was almost like two worlds came together on my delivery day,” she said. “And that was also just a surreal and amazing experience that really made my delivery an amazing experience.”

The birth of her first child after chemotherapy not only made her dream come true, but Williams also had her sights set on another milestone. After staying active through both chemotherapy and pregnancy, Williams decided to set a new goal: run the London Marathon.

The achievement would be her eighth marathon and her fourth major marathon. Within two months – and after no less than six and a half weeks of radiation – Williams crossed the finish line and claimed her medal.

“It was just an emotional experience. I burst into tears and just thought, “This is the end.” “I mean, I’m done,” she said. “I think it was the perfect ending to my entire journey.”

Looking back on the past year of her life, Williams said she wants an ongoing commitment to getting people to be proactive and take responsibility for their health, including routine monthly breast checks and exams. Her experience is living proof: she went from a clear mammogram to an almost two-inch tumor in just a few months.

“Early detection is really important,” she said. “If there’s something else, just make sure – even if you don’t think it’s something – just go to a doctor to get that confirmed. Because the earlier you get infected, the easier the treatment will be.”

Patt echoed Williams’ advice, saying women should be diligent and monitor any breast lumps, discoloration, skin changes, nipple discharge or bleeding that might occur.

Women with no family history of breast cancer should start mammography at age 40, with Patt advocating annual checkups. Individuals with a family history or other increased risk of breast cancer should consult with their doctor about the best timing and strategy for screening.

Speaking for Patt, she said Williams’ progress over the past year and the birth of a healthy, happy baby girl is an inspiration and a reminder to other cancer patients that they too can carry pregnancy while battling cancer.

“Emily is an inspiration and she inspires everyone who touches her,” she said, adding, “Throughout the treatment, she kept working, exercising daily, and was filled with joy.” I’m sure a lot of it scared her did, but she approached it fearlessly. It gives me great pleasure to see how well she and her daughter are doing. Our team at Texas Oncology and her team at home worked well together to give her what she needed for a great outcome.”

At the root of Williams’ journey was a supportive team both in medical care and behind the scenes, she said. Joining breast cancer support groups and finding a community to rally behind her at her local gym gave her the strength and courage to see through both her treatment, her pregnancy, and her marathon training to the finish line.

“Having a happy, healthy baby after all this just amazes me and I can only hope that we continue to advance our cancer treatments and one day find a cure for cancer.”

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