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Lauren Ricottone: Battling Cancer with a New Baby

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"Since my second surgery I have been cancer free, and now in addition to being a mom, wife, and nurse, I have become an advocate."

— Lauren Ricottone

​As a nurse, I thought I had a good handle on my health. But in 2015, I went for a colonoscopy because I’d been experiencing rectal bleeding, and instead of a diagnosis I got the surprise of a lifetime.

I had gone through all of the preparations for the procedure, including taking a routine pregnancy test. Just before the colonoscopy was set to begin, I found out I was pregnant with my first child. I didn’t have the colonoscopy that day, and instead focused on my pregnancy. The occasional bleeding continued through an otherwise healthy pregnancy. My obstetrician thought it could be hemorrhoids, and suggested I add more fiber to my diet.

On January 9, 2016, my husband Chris and I welcomed a healthy baby girl we named Charlie Elizabeth. But just two weeks after Charlie was born, the bleeding became too heavy to ignore and I became sick and very dizzy. Chris came home from work and took me to the emergency room. The doctors admitted me and wanted me to spend several days in the hospital, but I insisted on getting home to my newborn daughter. Not only did I miss her, but I was nursing. After two days I promised the doctors that if they sent me home I would have a colonoscopy as soon as possible.  

Just like the day I found out I was pregnant, I went to the appointment expecting I would get a diagnosis of hemorrhoids or colitis. Instead, I was diagnosed with stage 3B colorectal cancer. I was only 34.

Surgery, Chemotherapy, Survivorship

I knew about Fox Chase Cancer Center because of my work, and because someone close to me had been treated there successfully. Being treated at a major cancer center was important to me.

At Fox Chase I met with Dr. Sanjay Reddy, a surgical oncologist. He told me that my tumor was dangerously close to perforating my bowel, which I knew could have become fatal. The news was not good, but he has such a great bedside manner that I left feeling confident. I came to my appointment with 18 questions and he took the time to answer them all with me. He wasn’t overwhelmed by my questions, and even gave us his personal cell phone number in case we had any questions once we left. Dr. Reddy definitely went beyond the normal patient-physician rapport.

He performed a successful surgery to remove my tumor in March 2016 on Good Friday. Chris brought the baby to visit me on Easter Sunday. After six days recovering in the hospital, I was able to return home and prepare for chemotherapy with Dr. Michael Hall.

My chemotherapy lasted six months. Every two weeks I would go in for the treatment, and leave with a slow-release pump that would deliver the medicine over the next two days. I began a new job in an emergency room while I was on chemo, and my patients never realized it. The treatment was difficult at times, as I dealt with severe nausea and extreme exhaustion. Unfortunately I also needed to stop nursing the baby to avoid exposing her to the chemotherapy drugs.

Within a few months I got back to enjoying life. Especially traveling, shopping, and escaping to the mountains with Chris, Charlie, and our two dogs. We were at the point where many cancer patients say they’d like to be. I had gotten my life back. Except the whole thing happened again.

A New Baby and a New Cancer Diagnosis

In February 2017, about a month after we celebrated Charlie’s first birthday, I had a terrible stomach bug that sent me to the emergency room. It was there that I found out we were going to have another baby. I still can’t believe I got the news that way. It was all the more shocking, because I had been told that the chemotherapy would likely make me infertile. In fact, Chris and I had looked into freezing my eggs in advance of the treatment, but decided against it. Charlie’s little brother, Michael, was born six months later, after my second healthy pregnancy.
Lauren and Chris with Charlie and Michael

Unfortunately the deja vu didn’t end there. As a cancer survivor I had been getting regular scans before I found out I was pregnant. When Michael was a few weeks old I had my first scan in several months, and found out that the cancer had returned. Although my primary tumor was gone, it had spread to my lungs. Dr. Stacey Su, a thoracic surgeon at Fox Chase, operated very soon after that.

With a toddler and a newborn, and Chris and I both employed full time, we were already going to be busy and short on sleep. Dr. Su expected me to need several days in the hospital and about a month recovering at home after the lung resection. Luckily, I felt well enough to go home after only one day in the hospital, and was back to myself after a week. My mom was a huge help during this time, and Chris received an entire month of paid sick leave donated by his co-workers so he could be with me and the kids.

Since the lung surgery I have been cancer free, and now in addition to being a mom, wife, and nurse, I have become an advocate. Colorectal cancer has been rising among millennials, and that increased risk is not widely recognized yet. I am on a mission to let people know that they should take their symptoms seriously. Unusual bleeding might be hemorrhoids, or it might be much more serious. Getting a colonoscopy is important, because the risk is real.

I am grateful to all three of my doctors, and to the entire Fox Chase team for the care I received.

Learn more about colorectal cancer screening options at Fox Chase.

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