At just seven weeks into her pregnancy, Marie Smith, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, received unexpected news that a lump in her breast was cancerous, and she was now faced with a major healthcare decision. “My world was suddenly turned upside down,” recalls Smith.
The holidays were rapidly approaching, and Smith knew it could be a challenge to find an exceptional healthcare team to review her case, and provide treatment recommendations in a timely manner. But that was not the case at NYU Winthrop Hospital’s nationally accredited Breast Health Center, recently named one of America’s Best Breast Centers by Women’s Choice Awards®. There, she met with Virginia E. Maurer, MD, chief of breast surgery. Dr. Maurer is a nationally recognized leader in the treatment of breast disease and a skilled surgeon with more than 45 years of experience. She is also a strong and compassionate patient advocate.
“The goal when treating a pregnant woman with breast cancer is the same as when treating a non-pregnant woman, to cure the cancer whenever possible or to control it, and keep it from spreading,” says Dr. Maurer.
NYU Winthrop’s Breast Health Center uses a collaborative approach to care delivered by a team of board-certified specialists who offer risk assessment, diagnosis, evaluation, and management of a wide range of malignant and benign breast conditions, as well as the latest treatments in surgery, radiation, and medical oncology.
“Traditionally, women who are diagnosed with breast cancer during their first trimester are presented the option for termination, but this was not Marie’s desire,” explains Dr. Maurer. “Honoring her wishes, our interdisciplinary team carefully coordinated a timeline for a treatment plan that would include surgery and chemotherapy during the second trimester, enabling Marie to continue her pregnancy with the safest possible outcomes for both her and the baby.”
Eager to get her treatment underway, Smith soon began visits with maternal–fetal medicine specialist, Wendy L. Kinzler, MD, at NYU Winthrop, who she visited regularly throughout the pregnancy. Upon reaching the second trimester, doctors determined it was safe for Smith to undergo surgery to remove the cancerous lump in her breast. In early February 2017, Smith had the first of two surgeries performed by Dr. Maurer to remove the cancer. During both surgeries, special precautions were taken to ensure the safety of both Smith and her baby, with specially designated clinical teams on hand to assist if needed.
Less than one month later, a very strong and determined Smith had recovered from surgery and was ready to tackle the next important step in her treatment. Under the care of oncologist Nina D’Abreo, MD, medical director of the Breast Health Program at NYU Winthrop, Smith began chemotherapy.
“As a medical oncologist, my goal is to treat the cancer appropriately but at the same time, with minimal risk to the baby,” says Dr. D’Abreo. “We realize that both mother and baby are impacted by the treatments, and that we are caring for two lives, both precious.”
Administered once every three weeks, the three-hour treatments involved four visits to Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Winthrop Hospital Infusion Center, a state-of-the-art facility offering innovative cancer treatments and therapies in a comfortable atmosphere.
“The nurses at the Infusion Center were absolutely fantastic, helping to pass the time quickly while providing the most amazing care,” recalls Smith.
Closely monitored by her team, Smith was excited to complete her last round of chemotherapy in June 2017. With two tremendous milestones behind her, about eight weeks left in her pregnancy, and a tremendous network of support from her husband, family, and friends, Smith remained encouraged.
“I was anxious to reach the final chapter in this journey. I remained focused on the baby and doing what was best for the both of us, and that’s what got me through,” Smith explains.
On August 8, 2017, Smith gave birth to a healthy baby boy. At the end of the month, Smith began a 6.5 week course of radiation therapy with Donna Catell, MD, a radiation oncologist at NYU Winthrop. She completed her last radiation treatment in late October, and continues taking tamoxifen, a hormone therapy. Today, Smith is cancer free, and enjoying the challenges of motherhood with an even greater appreciation for life.
“I always think back to the day when I was diagnosed since it was right before Christmas. I remember how scared I was because of all the decisions I needed to make, and the impact they would have not just on me, but on my entire family,” recalls Smith. “However, this year especially, I looked at my little boy, who is happy, healthy, and exploring the world; at my daughter, who loves her baby brother beyond words; and at my husband, who is always laughing and playing with them; and I thought to myself how blessed and thankful I am. Without Dr. Maurer and the entire team at NYU Winthrop, my little family wouldn’t be as complete as it is now, and for that, I am most grateful.”
“NYU Winthrop takes great pride in the constant collaboration among our physician team, and the ongoing communication we have with both patients, and their families. It is this hallmark that makes the difference in the lives of patients like Marie,” says Dr. Maurer.