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Dina Gillis - Patient Story

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"Their mouths fell open when they heard I had breast cancer - and was also pregnant."

— Dina Gillis, Breast Patient

The summer of 2008 should have been an exciting time for Gillis family. Dina, her husband Bill, and their 3-year old son, Christopher, were expecting an addition to their family - a new baby. But 16-weeks into her pregnancy, Dina felt a lump in her breast. She brought it to her obstetrician's attention, hoping it was related to her pregnancy. Instead, Dina was sent for an ultrasound which confirmed the lump and the need for a biopsy. Pregnant and 36, Dina learned she had Stage II breast cancer.

"I was in shock," recalled Dina, who watched her friend's mouths fall open when she told them the news. Breast cancer was the furthest thought from her mind. Dina had tested negative for the BRCA gene that elevates an individual's risk of getting this cancer and was only aware of one family member who was treated for breast cancer, her grandmother.

However, after being diagnosed she found out that her pregnancy may have played a part. "Due to my history with miscarriages, I was advised to take progesterone during the first trimester," shared Dina. "I was probably feeding the tumor, which we learned was hormone positive."

Dina's concern for her unborn baby was growing. "I wondered if I could postpone treatment until after I delivered, but the tumor was developing too quickly. I had a son to think about," admitted Dina. Although doctors assured the Gillis family that Dina could be safely treated and that the baby would be okay, they felt they needed more information.

Dina proceeded to do research through the Young Survival Coalition and was able to speak by phone with a woman who was also pregnant when she was diagnosed 10 years earlier. Dina was inspired by the woman's story and decided to get a second opinion. 

Dina and Bill decided to go to Fox Chase Cancer Center. That's where they met Lori Goldstein, MD, director of the breast evaluation center. "We sought advice from family and friends in New York and locally. Everyone said that Dr. Goldstein is one of the best oncologists on the East coast. We knew we were in good hands," Dina thought.

Dina underwent a lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy at the hospital where she was originally diagnosed. "My obstetrician participated in the surgery and monitored our baby the whole time," explained Dina. "Because I was pregnant, I could only have local anesthesia and was awake for the procedure." After she recovered, Dina returned to Fox Chase to begin chemotherapy.

Dr. Goldstein assured Dina that the drugs would not hurt her baby. "I was really nervous about having chemotherapy while pregnant, but Dr. Goldstein was very reassuring."

In the end, Dina's doctor ended up delivering her baby girl earlier than planned. "When I saw Allison's full head of hair, I felt better about the safety of my treatment. Allison is our hero, as well as a little miracle. If it weren't for her I don't think I would have found the lump. I was more in tune with my body because of being pregnant."

Dina, like any new mother, was focused on her children and preparing to return to work-only on top of that she had a cycle of chemotherapy to think about too. "When I look back on it, I'm just amazed at what we went through," recalled Dina, who believes she got through it for her husband and her children. "But being at Fox Chase was very comforting. Everyone was so nice and warm. They all seemed to know about my unusual circumstances and were very accommodating."

Once Dina completed her chemotherapy, she started a course of radiation therapy. Today, she is in the midst of a 5-year dose of Tamoxifen. Both designed to reduce her risk of recurrence.

"If you find a lump, do not ignore it," Dina urges. "My surgeon believes I might not have survived if I ignored my lump."

Dina is grateful for the medical care that she received. "I am enjoying motherhood. There is nothing more important than that."

In 2009, Dina and Bill celebrated their 10-year wedding anniversary. "It has definitely been a roller coaster, but we got through it and now we're enjoying the 'normal' things- like watching Christopher play soccer and getting a new chocolate lab puppy. "Christopher has been through a lot this year, between losing a dog, watching his mom fight cancer and welcoming a baby sister. I think a puppy is just what he needs!"

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