From Miscarriage to Survival Mode: My Pregnancy Loss & Cancer Journey
By Corine Hoffer
My husband wasn’t home when I took my first pregnancy test, but we were able to FaceTime. We both held our breath as we waited, and when two pink lines finally appeared I shouted that we were pregnant and I remember my husband asking, “wait, are you sure?!” We were so happy and caught up in the pregnancy glow that we immediately started mapping out our future, picking out names and colors for a nursery.
After a month of being pregnant, I had a gut feeling that something wasn’t right and I started to mentally question all of the aches and pains I was feeling. I initially shrugged it off as first time pregnancy jitters, but the gut feeling never went away. In hindsight, I wish I would have trusted my instincts a little more, as it would have saved me from a lot more heartbreak in the months to come.
In the afternoon of December 12, 2018, I used the restroom at work and found blood in my underwear. It was tiny amount, but enough to be a cause for concern. After frantically texting my friend, I decided I needed to call my OB. I lied to my employer and said I was sick so that I didn’t need to explain about my possible miscarriage and left work early. As my husband drove to the appointment, I knew deep down that what I was experiencing wasn’t normal and I started mentally preparing myself for the inevitable.
But no amount of rationalizing or mental preparation can prepare you for the reality of a miscarriage. The ultrasound tech found no fetal pole and no heartbeat—all that was left of my baby was an empty sac, and all that was left of me was a broken heart. I sobbed when my doctor finally confirmed that I had miscarried at 7.5 weeks. It was one of the most devastating moments of my life. I felt broken and like less of a woman.
I was given three options in that moment: I could let nature take its course and have the miscarriage happen naturally, I could take a medication called Misoprostol to help clear out my uterus, or I could have a D&C. I decided a D&C was the best option because I felt like it would offer me the closure I needed to move on, and I just wanted to get it over with. My first D&C was scheduled for December 17, 2018, and it was terrifying and emotional. The procedure went as planned, and I went back to work the next day.
I tried my best during the next two weeks to come to terms with what had happened, but I was too sad and angry. I refused to tell anyone what was going on besides my immediate family and close friends. At that time I didn’t want to be judged for my failing body, but I look back now and realize that was the worst decision I could have made. I suffered in silence and had no outlet for my emotions.
Two weeks after my D&C, I had a follow-up appointment with my OB. My husband asked if he should come to the appointment, but I declined since it was just a check-up and I didn’t feel it was necessary for him to take off of work for it. My doctor was shocked to hear that I was still bleeding heavily. The more she examined me, the more I started to bleed, and by the end of the appointment both the examination table and the floor were covered in blood. She ordered an immediate vaginal ultrasound to see if there was any tissue left behind in my uterus and asked me to wait in a different room.
I texted my husband and friends to update them on the situation; I felt like something horrible was happening. The amount of blood I was losing didn’t seem normal. The ultrasound tech examined me and found more tissue in my uterus. She gave me an adult diaper to wear for the bleeding. Due to the amount of blood I lost, my doctor wanted to schedule another emergency D&C right away. I was too shocked and scared to agree at that moment and wanted to consult my husband before I made any decisions. I walked out to my car with tears in my eyes and waited until I shut the door before I had an all-out mental breakdown.
My husband met me at home, and I went to the bathroom to show him the blood. In the forty minutes it took to ride home, I had completely filled an adult diaper and my husband immediately called to schedule the D&C. I hemorrhaged so much blood that when I went in for my D&C that night, I had already filled two adult diapers and numerous pads. It was one the scariest days of my life, and I’m thankful I was able to survive it.
The next day, my doctor called and said although she was still waiting on the pathology report she had a gut feeling that I had a molar pregnancy, and she wanted to mentally prepare me for that outcome. In my search of miscarriage symptoms I came across molar pregnancies, but I never thought it would apply to me given their rarity. Oh, how wrong I was! Two days later, I was diagnosed with a Complete Molar Pregnancy (CMP) and was referred to a Gynecological Oncologist.
A CMP is so rare that only 1 out 1,000 women will ever experience it. A CMP happens when a non-viable egg, an egg without the mother’s DNA, is fertilized by one or two sets of male sperm. To make up for the lack of chromosomes, the father’s chromosomes are duplicated. Since the egg is non-viable, no baby is formed, however, the placenta continues to grow as normal and produces the pregnancy hormone, HCG.
At the time of my referral to my oncologist, my HCG was at 23,985. Unable to determine whether my HCG was rising or falling, my oncologist scheduled four weeks of HCG blood tests. Moles release HCG, so my blood had to be monitored regularly to ensure that my levels were dropping. Each week, my HCG continued to rise: 44,446 to 63,676 to 86,308 to 123,115. I was cautiously optimistic during this timeframe. Even when my HCG continued to rise, I figured at the very worst I would be classified as a low-risk case and wouldn’t have go through intensive chemo. Looking back now, I realize how naïve I was.
Due to the rise in my HCG, my doctor scheduled me for a CT scan of my pelvis, abdomen, and lungs. It turns out that there was a 4-5 cm tumor in my uterus and multiple nodules in my lungs, and on January 24, 2019 I was diagnosed with stage III cancer stemming from Gestational Trophoblastic Disease (GTD). GTD refers to a group of tumors that involve abnormal cell growth within the uterus. Most GTDs are benign; however, when they turn malignant, they are referred to as Gestational Trophoblastic Neoplasia (GTN). There are several different types of GTD: I had an invasive mole, which means a mole that has grown into the uterine muscle and cannot be completely removed by a standard D&C (this explains the hemorrhaging I had experienced a few weeks before).
Getting a cancer diagnosis following a miscarriage felt surreal. It was like watching a movie, where bombs are going off in the background, but all the character hears is the sound of their own heartbeat. I remember my oncologist asking us if he should stop talking about plans for moving forward to give us time to process everything, and all I kept thinking about was how I needed to hear every last drop of information from his lips. We left the office, and an eerily calm feeling came over me. I called my family and texted all of my friends with a nonchalant attitude. I was admitted to the hospital that night for my first chemo treatment.
Since I was considered high risk due to the aggressiveness of my cancer, I was not able to freeze my eggs prior to starting chemo. Not being able to freeze my eggs has been the single most upsetting aspect of this whole ordeal. I felt like my choice of having biological children was ripped away from me the moment my doctor declared I had stage III cancer.
For the next five months, I was on an intensive chemo regime. It was a grueling process and something I wish to never revisit; however, I would like to say that I had more good days than bad, emotionally and physically speaking. I am now happy to report that my HCG is below 5, which is considered normal for non-pregnant females. I am also considered in remission and cancer free as of June 21, 2019.
Due to chemo and the likelihood that pregnancy could re-trigger GTD, there is a chance that my husband and I may never conceive a biological child, a possibility which is devastating to me. This whole experience has been such a punch to the gut, and there are days where I think, “why me?” I never got the chance to mourn my miscarriage because I was immediately put into survival mode. But if cancer has taught me anything, it’s that it’s silly to worry over things we can’t control. For now, I am recuperating, reconnecting with my husband, and trying to channel my depression and anxiety into something positive.
I am in the process of starting three businesses! One will be dedicated to women with medical devices. My dream is to create an athletic clothing line that accommodates all medical devices but is also still cute and fashionable! I’m in in the beginning phases of writing a business plan, but I already feel so accomplished and know that all of my hard work will pay off.
I have no idea what my future will hold, but I am making a conscious decision to press “restart” on my life and live it to the fullest. And I know that someday I will become a mother. Whether my child is biological or adoptive is of no consequence to me.
Corine Hoffer has been happily married to her husband Tyler for 2 years. They currently live in a small town outside of Cincinnati, Ohio with their two dogs, Anders and Kringle. Corine has jumped headfirst into the blogging world with her upcoming site blackberryandsage.com. When she’s not writing, you can find her curled up on the couch with a good book, out on a hiking trail with her two pups, or remodeling her 100 year old home. You can find Corine on Instagram here or Facebook here.