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Research Is the Reason I Can See My Daughters Grow Up

By BCRF | March 31, 2021

Thanks to research, Jade Tan could deliver a healthy baby and be treated for stage 3 breast cancer

In December 2018, Jade Tan was just starting to tell family and friends the exciting news that she and her husband, Inigo, were expecting their second child. Her daughter, Clara, would be becoming a big sister.

Getting ready for work one day that month, Jade was shocked to notice a large, gumball-sized lump under her left armpit.

“I had no idea if it had just popped up or if it had been there for a few months,” she said. “But I’m a physician, so I knew it wasn’t normal.”

An initial ultrasound didn’t find anything concerning in Jade’s breast, but her doctor scheduled a biopsy of her axillary lymph node. She spent Christmas that year worried about the appointment two days later. The biopsy revealed that she had cancer in her lymph nodes, and then it took some time for her medical team to locate the primary tumor in her breast.

Jade, then 39 years old and 15 weeks pregnant, was diagnosed with stage 3 triple-positive breast cancer on New Year’s Eve.

“The last thing I could have ever imagined being told during pregnancy was that I had breast cancer,” she said of her initial reaction. “I was obviously really stunned and scared, and I thought I was going to die. In such a short span of time, I had received both the best and the worst news. But then I went into overdrive and started making appointments and getting opinions.”

About one in 3,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer during pregnancy. Thanks to research, we now know that most women can safely undergo treatment for breast cancer—with some modifications, such as delayed radiation—and carry a pregnancy to term.

Soon after her diagnosis, Jade had a lumpectomy with lymph node removal and started chemotherapy. When she finished that round of chemotherapy, she was 34 weeks pregnant. After a two-week break from treatment, she was induced at 36 weeks and gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Margot.

Just six days after delivery, Jade started other active treatments—additional chemotherapy, HER2-targeting drugs, and 30 courses of radiation—and eventually her PET scan came back clean.

Adjusting to life after active treatment has, in many ways, been the hardest part of Jade’s experience. Cancer forced her to temporarily stop working, and she and her husband made the choice to move in with her parents.

“Life as we knew it was forever changed,” she said. “But during active treatment, I was focused on fighting for the baby and getting cured. Now, I’m still learning how to process this. For me, the mental and emotional toll of this disease has far exceeded the physical suffering. People don’t realize the ‘fight’ is never really over. It just changes.”

Jade said her experience with breast cancer brought her closer to her family.

“My daughters really carried me through,” she said. “Whenever I’m alone with my little one, I say to her: ‘You’re my joy, my hope, my strength, my courage, and my resilience.’ They keep me strong.”

As a physician, Jade has always appreciated research and how it has drastically improved outcomes for many women diagnosed with breast cancer. She now credits research with saving her own life and allowing her to give birth in spite of her diagnosis.

“Research is the reason that several new, highly effective HER2-targeted agents have been introduced in the past several years, and these made a fundamental difference in the treatment of my type of cancer,” she said. “It gives me hope for a future where my daughters will never have to suffer from this disease.”

Read more stories from BCRF’s Research Is the Reason storytelling initiative here.