My name is Peggy, I’m 46 years old and live in Prince George, British Columbia. I am a choriocarcinoma survivor of nearly 18 years, and this is my story.
My daughter, Carolyn, was born in June 1984, and before I could turn around it seems, I was pregnant with my second child, Daniel, who was born in August 1985. The two pregnancies had been very different. I sailed through my first pregnancy, but many strange things happened with the second—beginning with the pregnancy tests. They were coming back negative/ positive/ negative/ positive. Finally we received the news that the test was indeed positive and that I was 9 weeks pregnant. However, every time I went in for a prenatal appointment the dates changed. It all seemed very confused compared with what I had experienced the first time. I developed vertigo about midway through the pregnancy, which caused me no end of grief. There were many unusual aches and pains, but when the big day arrived, the delivery was a snap: 45 minutes, start to finish. I didn’t even muss my hair! My 8-lb son, however, had a variety of problems. He wasn’t breathing well, his little foot was twisted, he had a scar under his tongue, and he had a wedge-shaped section of one of his grey-blue eyes that was hazel colored. These were things that could be dealt with but were just a little strange.
When Danny was exactly 2 months old, I began to hemorrhage. My husband took me to emergency and my wonderful doctor, Dr. Taylor, suspected immediately that I had choriocarcinoma, although he did not mention it to me at the time. He tried to pass it off as a normal postpartum hemorrhage, but I knew it had been too long for that to be the case. I was bleeding so heavily that I was grossing out the emergency room nurses—how bad is that?! Dr. Taylor had seen one case of choriocarcinoma in his 30+ year career. He alerted the gynecologist, who performed a D&C later that day. Sure enough, the pathologist’s report confirmed his suspicions. I was told about the disease, about how rapidly it can spread and that I would have to go to Vancouver for further tests and for treatment. Vancouver is about 800 km from my home in Prince George—a 1-hour flight. I was told to expect the tests to show that the cancer had spread to my brain, my chest, and possibly my liver but not to be alarmed because of how well this particular form responded to chemotherapy. It was too late for me to not be alarmed!
In the Cancer Control Agency in Vancouver (now known as BC Cancer Agency), I was subjected to a variety of tests. I got the bad news that my beta hcg count was above 30,000 when it should have been less than 5. I got the very welcome news that the cancer was not anywhere else in my body. I was able to begin the chemotherapy regimen immediately, within a week of the hemorrhage. Each treatment consisted of 1 day of methotrexate and 3 days of dactinomycin, all of which had to be done on an inpatient basis in Vancouver, which meant that I had to fly there and back every second week for 3 months, leaving my husband at home to cope with the two babies (2 months and 16 months). The first dose of methotrexate I received damaged my liver, so thereafter I had to take a “rescue” drug every 6 hours for several days.
I was fortunate in that the treatment was very quickly successful. The beta hcg numbers trended down immediately and quite quickly. I ended up having six bouts of chemo and no surgery. I lost some hair, but because I had lots to start with, nobody really noticed. I did lose a lot of weight and I was horribly ill during my treatments. None of the antinausea medication seemed to have any effect, but I understand that they’ve come a long way in this type of medication since I received it. After the final treatment I got mouth sores that nearly drove me around the bend. I think the worst side effect, though, was a sadness that stuck with me for quite awhile. I can remember looking down at the people walking on the street below my hospital room, living their lives, and feeling angry because they had no appreciation for the simple fact that they were well. I also had very little sympathy for people complaining about things that seemed so pathetically unimportant to me. I got past that pity party soon enough, and my disposition is better now than it ever was before. I often joke that cancer can be a good thing if you can just live through it.
It was an extremely difficult time and one that has changed me forever—for the better, I think. I don’t dwell on it, but it’s never far from my mind. Hence seeking out this group as a 17+ year survivor! I heard a quote once: “Cancer is but a thread in the tapestry that is my life, not the frame on which it is hung.”