Q&A with Megan Hildebrandt on Pregnancy and Parenting After Cancer

I was very excited that Megan agreed to do a follow-up Q&A after her beautiful guest blog post, Excerpts from Chaos in the Waiting Room. One of the reasons I asked Megan to guest blog for me was because I was curious to hear from someone who had a “typical” post-Hodgkin’s pregnancy. My pregnancy was treated as a “normal” twin pregnancy. Despite my health history, I never had to do any additional scans, tests, etc. beyond what would have been expected of any twin mom. Megan was completely willing to satisfy my curiosity about what my pregnancy may have been like if I had had a singleton pregnancy. She also delved deeper into some other related topics, like her experience with PTSD after cancer treatment and postpartum depression after pregnancy that uniquely affected her pregnancy and parenting experiences. I want to extend her a big “thank you” for her willingness to discuss such personal topics. I hope someone reading this will be able to learn as much from it as I did .

Megan with her husband (Daniel) and daughter (June). 

1) What was your diagnosis, stage & subsequent treatment?
Hodgkins Lymphoma, Stage 2A. ABVD Chemo infusion, 4 hours every two weeks for 7 months.
2) How old were you when you were diagnosed?
Diagnosed at age 25.
3) How old were you when you went in remission?
Remission at age 26.
4) Was cancer treatment effects on fertility discussed with you at all? Did you undergo any fertility treatments prior to or after cancer treatment? Please explain.
cancer treatment effects on fertility briefly discussed upon diagnosis. like a 2 minute thing. no fertility treatments prior to or after treatment- could not afford.
5) Were you scared you wouldn’t be able to get pregnant?
i was very, very scared i would never be able to have children. in some ways i was more upset about the possibility of not getting pregnant than the possibility of cancer returning.
6) How were your concerns about pregnancy and motherhood shaped by your cancer experience?
My brain reverted to being a cancer patient a lot when i was pregnant- another very medicalized experience, another “patient” experience. Illness verses condition.  I was a very nervous pregnant woman, possibly more so than the average pregnant woman. I was treated as high-risk because of having had chemo, so this added medical attention, while the best for the baby, wreaked havoc on my nerves.
7) You discussed that you were considered high risk because of your health history, can you explain how your pregnancy was different than a “normal” first pregnancy? How many times you had to go in to for check-ups, what types of scans they made you do, etc. Did they explain why they were so concerned?
I had monthly 3d growth ultrasound checks with a high-risk specialist. thank god i had medicaid and the scans were covered. i had a pulmonary function test and heart echo to make sure my body could take the strain of labor.  (Editor’s note from Laura to say that Megan stated that the doctor’s were concerned about specific drugs that can cause lung and heart damage but wasn’t sure which ones. My guess is that one of the drugs was bleomycin. Some chemotherapy drugs and radiation treatment also increase risk of heart damage as well, including Adriamycin, another chemo used in the ABVD treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.)
8) You told me your essay was inspired by the “lazarus effect.” Can you explain what that is and how you first learned about it?
I first heard of this Lazarus Syndrome thing through Lodovico Balducci, an oncologist and writer in Tampa. The actual Lazarus Effect in medical terminology is when the body moves or jerks after someone is technically “dead”.  But Dr. Balducci was more interested in it abstractly, in terms of spirituality- like a personal re-awakening.  We were on an Arts-in-Health panel together at Moffitt Cancer Center and this is where I first learned of it.
9) You discussed your experience with PTSD after your cancer treatment. What were some warning signs? What made you decide to get help?
ptsd set in right as chemo ended. without anything to physically battle, my brain began to battle itself. I was afraid to drive, to cross bridges, to cross streets, to fly in planes, to leave my house. I am not as bad as those initial months post-treatment, but ptsd still comes and goes for me.  I especially have trouble hearing other people’s cancer stories on the radio or on podcasts or in person.
10) Is there a relationship between PPD and PTSD that was discussed with you at all?
no one ever specifically has connected PPD/PPA and PTSD in my case- but I can totally see the connection very clearly.  more research needs to be done in this field.
11) Do you have any tips/advice to other young mothers/cancer survivors who might be reading this?
my tips would be: get involved with research studies (there is one I am involved with out of the University of California system) that track fertility in young adult cancer survivors.  It is only through our participation in these studies that can help scientists tweak treatments to reduce infertility rates. Many of the fertility “numbers” available to young adults currently undergoing cancer treatment are outdated and based on harsher treatments from the mid/late-20th century.

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