Wednesday, December 14, 2022
A story of faith and fertility this holiday season
Katie May, 34, of Macomb Township, describes her 2-year-old son Nico as “full of life” – a life she wasn’t sure she’d be able to give after being diagnosed with endometrial cancer.
“Because of my history, we were told that it was very unlikely for me to get pregnant without any fertility treatment or help,” May said. “But I just thought, God-willing, if we’re meant to have a baby, we will.”
After lots of prayer, faith and devotional readings, May learned she was pregnant in October 2019, not even a year after hearing the words “cancer-free.”
“I was already blessed with being healthy,” May said. “And then to get pregnant – it was just an absolute miracle. I truly believe when you are going through hard times: the harder you fall, the bigger the breakthrough.”
Back in April 2018, on vacation with her husband, May said she felt something squishy on her right hip. She said her intuition told her something wasn’t right, and it was enough to bring her into the doctors.
In June, doctors ran some tests, including a hysteroscopy, which is an exam of the inside of the cervix and uterus. May said her gynecologist at the time believed there was a fibroid in her birthing canal that should be removed if she planned to get pregnant.
“I didn’t have peace with waiting for that surgery,” May said. “I kind of still had that intuition, so I scheduled it for right away. When they went in, they didn’t find any fibroids, but they removed a polyp.”
A week later, May got a call. The biopsy of the polyp came back as complex hyperplasia atypia – an overgrowth of abnormal cells that causes a precancerous condition. Without treatment, an individual’s risk of endometrial or uterine cancer increases.
“It felt like for a moment that my whole world was crashing down,” May said. “I had so many questions, and so did the doctors. I was like a puzzle to them. I didn’t fit the criteria or have any of the symptoms.”
Early signs of endometrial cancer include unusual vaginal bleeding, spotting, other discharge, pelvic pain, a mass or weight loss. Obesity, diabetes and hypertension are also considered risk factors for endometrial cancer.
From there, May was referred to Dr. Zaid Al-Wahab, an obstetrician-gynecologist and gynecologic surgery specialist with Corewell Health William Beaumont University Hospital, the new name for Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak. She started taking a hormone replacement therapy pill to regulate the lining of her uterus.
Fast-forward to September 2018: May had a dilation and curettage (D&C) procedure to remove tissue from inside her uterus.
“After the surgery, I got the news that the complex hyperplasia atypia progressed to stage one of endometrial cancer,” May said.
“Cancer of the uterus is very rare for a woman her age and medical condition,” Dr. Al-Wahab said. “Usually, this cancer is treated by a hysterectomy to remove the uterus, but instead we started hormonal therapy in hopes of her being able to get pregnant someday.”
Doctors then decided to double the dosage of May’s medication and scheduled another surgery for December.
“I had to do a hysteroscopy, which involves using a camera inserted inside the uterus, to remove the malignant tumor without removing the uterus,” Dr. Al-Wahab said.
“I went in on December 17 for surgery,” May said. “Dr. Al-Wahab called me the next day, and I can barely remember anything he said other than: ‘You’re cancer-free!’”
In the United States, cancer of the endometrium, the lining of the uterus, is the most common cancer of the female reproductive organs. According to the American Cancer Society, endometrial cancer affects mainly post-menopausal women. The average age of women diagnosed with endometrial cancer is 60. It's considered uncommon in women, like May, who are under the age of 45.
A miracle baby
By January 2019, May was off her medication, and she and her husband were ready to start a family.
“Doctors told me that I was probably going to need medicine or fertility treatments to help increase my chances,” May said. “They said it was unlikely that I would get pregnant otherwise, but I kept my faith.”
That unwavering faith led to a positive pregnancy test in October 2019.
“The first couple months we were trying, it wasn’t happening, and I would get really upset,” May said. “But I just kept reassuring myself.”
May said this whole experience – with cancer and fertility – brought her closer to God and taught her to trust in His timing.
“I got a daily devotion one morning about perfect timing, and lo and behold, it was the same day I told my best friend I was pregnant, and she told me she was too,” May said. “It still gives me goosebumps. We had the same due date, and I knew that God had that plan for us all along.”
May was considered high-risk during her pregnancy but delivered a healthy baby boy named Nico via C-section on July 8, 2020.
“Katie getting pregnant naturally after having endometrial cancer alone is a miracle, and then having him without any complications – a true blessing,” Dr. Al-Wahab said.
For women trying to conceive after a cancer diagnosis, May shares this piece of advice: “Take it little by little, keep your family and friends close, and most importantly, keep the faith.”
Dr. Al-Wahab said his advice for women who are diagnosed with cancer is to look for fertility preservation if available while treating their cancer.
If you notice possible signs of uterine or endometrial cancer, talk to your doctor. That can lead to a conversation about symptoms, risk factors and family history. Your doctor will then likely perform a physical and pelvic exam, and if warranted, there are several tests that can confirm a diagnosis.