Abu Dhabi: Rania Fuad Alsheikh, a 36-year-old Jordanian expat, was thrilled when she learnt she was going to be a mother for the second time. But as her pregnancy progressed, she started complaining of severe pain and heaviness in the stomach.
By the time she reached the sixth month of her term, her condition worsened and she could not get herself out of the bed. The pain was unbearable, and despite doctors telling her earlier that the pain was pregnancy-related, the symptoms now, including lack of hunger and vomitting, necessitated a visit to the Emergency.
At the Burjeel Hospital, Abu Dhabi, the doctors who saw her were clear that she needed a thorough investigation to get to the root cause of the pregnancy. Dr. Fady Georges Hachem, Consultant, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, prescribed a series of tests, and much to the shock of Rania and her family, she was diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer. It was a huge setback, but Rania was determined to overcome it.
Hope springs eternal
“I thanked the Almighty because we finally knew what was causing the pain. Even though I did not expect a cancer diagnosis, I did not feel sad as I believe everything that comes from God is good. All I wanted was for my baby to be healthy,” she said.
At this point of time, she could barely talk. As Dr. Mohanad Diab, Consultant, Medical Oncology, recalled, she was too weak to talk when he first met her in April. The biopsies revealed an aggressive form of colon cancer called mucinous adenocarcinoma. Further tests showed the baby’s condition was also unstable. A multidisciplinary team was immediately mobilised at the hospital to cater to this critical case.
“We had two options in front of us. The first was to not administer chemotherapy because she was pregnant. But her condition was so poor that if we chose this, she was at risk of dying in a matter of days. Trying chemotherapy on the pregnant patient was the other option,” said Dr. Diab.
The team set up a tumour board discussion at the hospital to determine if, across the world, there were any similar cases of a pregnant woman in week 25 of her gestation being treated with chemotherapy.
Chemo at 26 weeks
“While Rania was 26 weeks pregnant, we started treatment with the chemotherapy regimen to improve outcomes for both the mother and baby. Miraculously, three days after the chemotherapy, the patient was able to stand up. Prior to administering treatment, she was unable to eat a morsel of food. But after the chemo, she was able to eat normally,” said Dr. Diab, adding that she was discharged one week after the first chemotherapy session. She continued to have weekly medical appointments during which the team monitored her and the baby till delivery.
Rania, who felt more energetic, had stopped complaining about the pain. The support of the doctors and her family, especially her mother, sisters and husband, made all the difference. The sight of her first born, four-year-old Mohammed, made her mpore dtermined to battle the oddas.
On June 8, while Rania was in the 35th week of her pregnancy, she completed five chemotherapy sessions and underwent a Cesarean section, delivering a healthy baby boy.
“It was an emotional moment for all of us in the operating room when we took the baby out and placed him in Rania’s arms. The sight of the healthy baby boy, weighing 2.32kg, gave us joy and relief. I commend her brave decision to undergo chemotherapy during pregnancy, which undoubtedly gave her and her baby the best chance,” said Dr. Hachem.
Rania, who can’t thank Allah enough for Fahed, prays and hopes for a bright future. “I thank the Almighty and cherish each moment I get to spend with my little one.”
If any woman feels any pain during pregnancy, they must consult the doctors because they are responsible not only for themselves but also the soul inside them, she cautions.
Rania, who has to continue with her cancer treatment, is a great inspiration for others, said Dr. Diab.
“It is extremely rare to be diagnosed with cancer when pregnant and more so to undergo chemotherapy and give birth to a healthy baby. Rania’s courage and resilience are an inspiration. By continuing the chemotherapy regimen, I am confident she will make a speedy recovery,” he added.