What happens when a mom-to-be is diagnosed with breast cancer during her pregnancy? She relied on the experienced breast cancer team at Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital to help her beat cancer and live a healthy life with her baby.
Lotis Planas of Rosenberg was excited for her first pregnancy and happy to have a new obstetrician-gynecologist she liked, Lorelei Capocyan, M.D. At the end of Planas’ first appointment with Capocyan, the doctor asked if she had any questions.
The query prompted Planas to ask about the lump in her breast she had found a few months earlier, prior to becoming pregnant. Her previous physician had declared the lump benign, but Planas wanted Capocyan’s opinion.
That simple request marked the start of a harrowing journey for Planas. She would soon find out that her pregnancy would not be a normal one, because she had breast cancer.
A Rare Diagnosis
Pregnancy-associated breast cancer – defined as breast cancer diagnosed during the pregnancy or in the first postpartum year – is rare. Studies show that just 1 in every 3,000 pregnant women will be diagnosed with pregnancy-associated breast cancer.
Capocyan was concerned enough about the lump to recommend that Planas see Sandra Templeton, M.D., board-certified surgeon with Houston Methodist Breast Surgery Partners. Even before Planas’ appointment, the lump changed; it was larger and the skin around it was discolored.
Templeton performed an ultrasound-guided biopsy right in the office.
“She told me she was 95 percent certain it was cancerous even before the lab looked at it,” recalled Planas. “It was hard to believe, but I could tell from her sense of urgency that I really had cancer.”
Choosing The Right Breast Cancer Team
Planas soon realized she was at the right hospital for her unique situation. Houston Methodist Sugar Land’s experienced, multi-disciplinary breast cancer team works together to develop individualized care plans that meet each patient’s unique needs – from surgery, radiation and chemotherapy to nutrition, physical therapy and emotional support.
That collaborative approach is powerful, especially in complex cases such as Planas’. After diagnosis and throughout treatment, team members share information and ideas to ensure that the care plan is on track, or adjusted as needed, and that every aspect of care is being considered and included.
Along the way, physicians and staff provide ongoing support and assistance, with a specially trained nurse navigator assigned to each patient to facilitate appointment scheduling, serve as an information resource and connect patients to valuable services.
Individualized Care Plans Make A Difference
Planas’ care team recommended that she undergo chemotherapy first to shrink the tumor, then surgery and radiation. Her chemotherapy regimen – under the direction of board-certified hematologist/oncologist Jorge Darcourt, M.D. – was split into two components due to her pregnancy. She underwent one course of treatment, took a break to give her body time to recuperate before labor and delivery, and then resumed chemo. In total, she had 32 treatments.
“Dr. Darcourt has a white board in his office and on my first visit, he drew out the entire timeline of my treatment plan,” Planas said. “He took the time to answer all my questions and I felt so much more comfortable and confident once I could see how all my treatments came together and how the doctors were working as a team.”
Undergoing chemotherapy while pregnant was a concern. But Planas says her care team helped her understand that her baby was safe.
“Of course, I was worried about my baby,” she said. “You’re taking these powerful drugs and you are pregnant. But Dr. Templeton and Dr. Darcourt were very reassuring. They told me that since I was in my second trimester before starting chemotherapy, the baby would not be affected.”
Planas was diagnosed in October 2019 and her chemotherapy began shortly after. In February 2020, her daughter Whitney was born at Houston Methodist Childbirth Center at Sugar Land – happy and healthy. It was a time for celebration in an otherwise stressful and difficult year.
“My husband Lincoln and my parents were by my side all the way, and between their support and the help I received from everyone at Houston Methodist Sugar Land, I felt like I could finally see a brighter future,” she said.
A few weeks later, Planas resumed chemotherapy, and when her regimen was complete, Templeton performed a successful surgery to remove the lump.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, Dr. Templeton and Dr. Darcourt are a 20,” said Planas. “The way they handled everything made such a difference for me. They never let me get discouraged or depressed. All I had to think about was fighting for my own health.”
After surgery, Planas had six weeks of radiation, under the direction of board-certified radiation oncologist Clive Shkedy, M.D.
“Dr. Shkedy and his team were so responsive to my needs,” she said. “It’s not often they have a patient with a newborn baby, and they really worked with me to facilitate scheduling of my appointments.”
It Helps To Be Close To Home
In addition to comprehensive care, Houston Methodist Sugar Land is accessible and convenient for patients in Fort Bend County and surrounding areas. Everything a patient needs is available on the hospital’s campus with easy access and free parking.
“Being close to home made all the difference,” said Planas. “When you are undergoing treatment, you are making multiple trips to the hospital. Going into Houston from Rosenberg would have been a big hurdle for me, especially since I often drove myself. The treatments are tiring and having a short drive home is really helpful. This also allowed me to spend so much more time with my baby.”
Planas also appreciated the hospital’s breast cancer nurse navigator, Rose Gonzales, who assists patients with navigating appointments and resources, and helps provide a seamless process from diagnosis to survivorship.
“Rose is so awesome,” said Planas. “She helped me so much. It’s easy to be overwhelmed with everything when you are undergoing care. Rose removes the burden of scheduling and coordination, and she serves as a liaison between you and the care team.”
A Healthy Future
Today, Planas is cancer free, and she and Lincoln will soon celebrate Whitney’s second birthday.
“I can’t say enough good things about the way I was treated at Houston Methodist Sugar Land, from my outstanding treatment at the Cancer Center to the care my baby and I received at the Childbirth Center” said Planas. “I am so grateful to be alive and healthy and to have a healthy daughter.”
To schedule your 3D screening mammogram at the
Houston Methodist Breast Care Center at Sugar Land, visit houstonmethodist.org/breastcare-sl or call 281.242.PINK(7465).
To schedule an appointment with an OB-GYN, call 281.274.7500.
Visit houstonmethodist.org/sugarland to learn more about Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital.