Nineteen weeks pregnant with her and husband Rodger’s first child, the fear of a lifetime overwhelmed Sarah Canovai’s happy life.
“I was shocked. I never thought I’d hear those words at 26 years old,” says Sarah, who learned in September 2018 that the lump she found during a self-exam was invasive ductal carcinoma and triple negative breast cancer.
“We weren’t just talking about my life,” she says, “we were talking about my unborn child’s life.”
While invasive ductal carcinoma is the most common type of breast cancer, triple negative breast cancer is more complicated. It’s usually more aggressive, more resistant to common treatments and more likely to affect younger people.
Her primary care physician, Lisa Cassidy-Vu, MD, directed Sarah to specialists at the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Wake Forest Baptist Health. Within two weeks, she had met with all members of her care team, which included an oncologist, an oncology surgeon, a reconstruction surgeon, a genetic counselor and a high-risk obstetrician.
“That became the most important team I’ve ever been a part of,” Sarah says. “I am so blessed with how quickly they all worked together to get me started with treatment as soon as possible.”
Less than three weeks after her diagnosis, Sarah had surgery - a single mastectomy, a permanent implant and the removal of several lymph nodes - led by Marissa Howard-McNatt, MD.
After Sarah recovered, her treatment plan included four rounds of two chemotherapy medicines approved for use during pregnancy. She also underwent testing that determined there was no genetic cause of her cancer.
“I never felt like I had to choose between my life and my child’s life, and that was very important,” Sarah says. “Any question I had, I felt like it was always answered, and my doctors did an excellent job of explaining my options to me.
“Once I realized that treatment was an option, surgery was OK and chemo would be fine with where I was in my pregnancy, I felt a lot more comfortable because I knew my doctors were not only there for me but for my child as well.”
Sarah developed an “instant connection” with her oncologist, Alexandra Thomas, MD, whose expertise includes treating women who are pregnant while dealing with breast cancer.
“Her personality and how she handled everything were very calming,” Sarah says. “It allowed me to continue to be myself and not be scared to go through the process.”
After Roman arrived, Sarah endured more chemotherapy and nearly six weeks of radiation, which ended in early July. With treatments behind her and follow-up visits now scheduled in the coming months, she’s looking forward to a “new normal” as a mom. She credits her faith, husband, family, friends, all of her “prayer warriors” and her care team for helping her persevere.
“From the beginning, I felt like God was involved because I was diagnosed at the best possible time during my pregnancy,” she says. “I didn’t have to wait or put off any treatment. It just felt like everything lined up from beginning to end.
“To me, there was no question of where to go. There’s a state-of-the-art cancer center right here. That definitely showed the further I got in my treatment and in meeting with my doctors. I felt the care they had for me. They wanted what was in my best interest so hopefully we never have to go through this again.”