Pregnant with Cancer

For Elizabeth Dowd, being pregnant with her third child was a joyous time. When she could feel the baby move, she prepared her older children for the new addition and decorated the nursery.

But her plans quickly changed.

While in her second trimester, Dowd became ill with severe flu-like symptoms, which felt very different from the typical pregnancy sickness some women experience.

Plus, her glands were swollen and she had a lump on her neck, symptoms she knew all too well.

For 14 years, her older brother, and only sibling, Jonathan, battled non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma before passing away of cancer-related illnesses in 2002 at the age of 34. His first symptoms included a sore neck and a lump under his armpit.

Based on her family’s experience, Dowd had a gut feeling something serious was wrong. She went to her primary care doctor, and after some persistence, doctor’s agreed to biopsy the lump.

Doctors confirmed her worst fear: she was pregnant and had cancer.

Six-and-half months into her pregnancy, she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the same disease that took her brother’s life.

After several appointments with her primary care physician, obstetrician and oncologist, doctors determined immediate treatments would not be critical. Dowd would be monitored closely during the remainder of her pregnancy, and as long as the cancer didn’t progress, doctors would perform more in-depth testing after her baby was born.

Dowd carried her baby to term and Nicholas was born September 20, 2009. He is healthy and developing well.

“I never expected to become a cancer patient myself, but I feel like I won the lottery because I am in good health” she says. “It’s amazing to see the advances made in cancer research. My brother and I had radically different experiences.” Dowd points out her brother had a more aggressive form of cancer and required chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant.

To date, Dowd has not needed surgery or treatments. She is an example of someone living with cancer. “I am fortunate because my health today appears to be holding steady. I expect that I will need treatment in the future.” Since giving birth, Dowd has gone for routine bloodwork and is monitored closely.

The Newton resident, now 41, plans to ride in her fourth Pan-Mass Challenge next month with her husband, John. They are co-leaders of Team Longevity.

Team Longevity: Nicole Esposito Connolly, Kathryn Carlson, Lisa Emsbo-Mattingly, Elizabeth Dowd (holding the bike), her husband, John Dowd, and Greg Gryllakis

To contribute to Dowd’s PMC 2011 fundraising campaign, click here.

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