While getting her first ultrasound during her seventh week of pregnancy, Aleksandra Patete and her husband, Dominic Jr., discovered she had a 12-centimeter cyst on her right ovary. The cyst was removed through a minimally invasive surgery by University Hospitals doctors, but a biopsy revealed the 28-year-old first-time mother had stage 1 ovarian cancer — a diagnosis that affects two out of every 100,000 pregnant women. Dr. David Hackney, UH’s director of maternal fetal medicine, led a coordinated effort among oncologists and obstetricians to develop an 18-week low-dose chemotherapy treatment plan. Rather than conduct a more extensive surgery that put the baby’s health at further risk, the treatment would maintain both Aleksandra’s and her unborn child’s health. At 3:07 p.m. April 24, Dominic Patete III was born weighing 8 pounds, 7 ounces.
I had no symptoms prior to this. Usually with ovarian cancer, it’s not detected until about stage 4, so I was lucky. Had I not gotten pregnant, the cyst could have possibly ruptured, and the cancer could have traveled to other parts of my body.
The word “termination” had been thrown around by family members and doctors, because that was ultimately my greatest chance of survival — to terminate the pregnancy and aggressively treat the cancer. Ultimately, we were going to do whatever was going to save my life, but in my mind, I knew this baby had saved my life already so that wasn’t an option for me.
I felt like I had no energy to get up and do anything. I would just sit on the couch for those days. Even my joints in my fingers would ache, so it was hard to move. It was like I had the flu. Two days after Christmas, we decided to shave my head because my hair was just coming out in clumps.
I had my last treatment when I was 34-weeks pregnant. The risk was that if the chemo was affecting the baby and he was born early, then he would have some immunosuppression and would maybe need some help in the NICU.
We joked that I deserved to have an easy labor considering all the things I went through. I pushed for 30 minutes, and he was born at 3:07 p.m. He was completely healthy.
I had gone through surgery and scans and chemo with this kid, and he was finally there. I felt horrible that I had to put him through it, but at the same time, we did it together. It gave us this bond that’s never going to be able to break.
Six weeks after I gave birth, they took out the effected ovary, lymph nodes and fallopian tube. They did biopsies to make sure they didn’t see any other cancer. Every biopsy came back negative.
DOC SAYS: “A rising tide carries all ships,” says Dr. David Hackney. “If you maximize mom’s health and you maximize the outcomes for mom, then you’re also making things better for the baby. You want to disturb the uterus as little as you can.”