Breast cancer was in her family. Her mother had passed away when she was only in her 40s. So she knew she was at risk-but she never expected to be diagnosed while she was pregnant.
Her name is Heidi Floyd, and today she serves as Breast Cancer Development Ambassador for the Very Bradley Foundation, traveling the nation raising money for breast cancer research. But when she was diagnosed, she was working in IT sales, and didn’t know where to turn. “The first oncologist I spoke to didn’t know how to treat a pregnant patient,” she says. “He told me my options were to terminate the pregnancy, or carry the baby to term while not addressing the cancer.”
Heidi’s cancer was aggressive, and growing fast. An “estrogen-fed” tumor, it was actually thriving in the estrogen-rich environment of her pregnant body. To not treat it would leave her with low odds of survival-and potentially leave her unborn baby (and three beautiful daughters) without a mother. Fortunately, Heidi was working for a company who had just made a large donation to the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center, where researchers study the latest in breast cancer treatment. Heidi’s boss recommended she get in touch with the center.
“My other doctors had been in tears talking to me, as they didn’t know what to do,” Heidi says. “This oncologist was calm. He had treated dozens of pregnant women before. He reassured me that while treatment would be difficult for me, it would not be as difficult for my baby. He showed me other children he had helped take care of. They were healthy. They were fine. I had hope!”
Heidi started treatment, with a baby growing in her belly. As the doctor said, it was difficult. She couldn’t take anti-nausea medications, or drugs to help stabilize her white blood count, as these would be harmful to the fetus. “I would always get chemo on Friday, and then Monday I would go in for an ultrasound. They checked my baby constantly.”
Meanwhile, Heidi worked full time for Vera Bradley. “The women there were with me during my whole treatment. They sat with me, held my hand, made meals for my family. It’s a very rare company. They don’t just say they care, they really do.”
Noah, Heidi’s son, was taken by C-section a month premature. Heidi desperately needed radiation, and no kind of radiation is safe for the fetus. Fortunately, the baby was fine. “His immune system was compromised, because mine was compromised,” Heidi says, “so I wasn’t able to be with him for the first few days. It seemed far too long!” After the birth, Heidi went through additional surgeries, including a partial mastectomy. When asked how she made it through it all, she credits her son, and her faith. “I had something really worth fighting for in my mind-my unborn baby. Plus, my faith kept me going. I’m a Christian person, and I realized I, personally, could do nothing about this situation. I had to turn it over to God, and to the doctors, whom I trusted, and let it ride.”
For other women facing similar challenges, Heidi emphasizes the importance of finding a doctor with whom you can feel comfortable. “You’re basically handing this person your life,” she says, “and asking them to fix it. You have to be positive and strong as you fight through this-so you have to have someone you feel has your back. I met a woman in California who had to go through 4 doctors before she found one who would treat her while she was pregnant. Not all doctors are on the same level. You have to feel comfortable and trust your instincts. Everything depends on it.”
Today, Noah is a happy and healthy 4-year-old little boy. In August of 2010, Heidi will have reached her 5-year mark. She no longer works in the IT sales department, but at the request of her boss, is one of three people who promotes the Vera Bradley Foundation for breast cancer research. “Our money goes to research, period,” she says. “The Vera Bradley Corporation supports services for breast cancer patients, but the foundation strictly supports research.”
Heidi finds great satisfaction in her work now, as she can offer women hope. “So many times, when fundraising, we’re talking about loss. How someone lost their mother, their grandmother, their daughter. I’m able to offer a different perspective, as my battle resulted not only in my life being saved, but the life of my son. This little boy is here because of the research we have supported. He is the outcome.”
What would Heidi tell other moms diagnosed with cancer? “You’re stronger than you think you are. Don’t be afraid. This is the best time in your life to prove that someone else is more important than you are. If you’re fighting for the baby, great. If you’re fighting for someone in the family, great. Fight for someone, and don’t stop.”