Lynden woman battled breast cancer while pregnant

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDOctober 6, 2013 

ROORDA CANCER

Stacy Roorda, top, places baby chicks on her oldest daughter Hannah, as Zoe laughs and Jazmine gathers loose chicks as they play in the back yard at home on Friday, Oct. 4, 2013 in Lynden. While pregnant with her youngest daughter Jazmine, 6, Roorda found out she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent treatment.

ANDY BRONSON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

LYNDEN - Few things seem scarier than getting a call from the doctor and finding out you have cancer. But for Stacy Roorda, it was a call a few weeks after she learned she had stage III breast cancer that truly frightened her.

"Is there a chance you could be pregnant?" her doctor asked after some blood tests came back with elevated hormone levels.

Yes, there was.

"I was more shocked to find out I was pregnant than to find out I had cancer," Roorda, now 43, said. "I thought, 'I can deal with breast cancer; I can fight it, we're strong women in my family.' But when I found out I was pregnant with my third kid I was like, 'Wait a minute.'"

Stacy and her husband Matt didn't feel there was a decision to be made. The Lynden residents transferred her care to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, where the doctors would be able to create a treatment plan that didn't include terminating the pregnancy.

"Our doctor looked at us like we were crazy when we said we didn't want to terminate," Stacy Roorda said. "I don't think anyone had ever questioned him before."

Roorda said the doctor told her that on a scale of 0 to 9, the severity of her prognosis was a 7. The type of breast cancer Roorda was diagnosed with is estrogen positive, meaning the hormone feeds the cancer. Pregnancy would increase levels of estrogen in Roorda's body, making it more difficult to fight the cancer.

"I remember walking to my car afterward and I got this image in my head of a three-point seatbelt," Roorda said. "The message was very clear. God was telling me, 'Buckle in for a bumpy ride.'"

Though Roorda was not raised with a strong religious background, she now regularly attends church and says Christianity is a huge part of what helped her get through treatment and her pregnancy.

Because she wanted to keep the baby, Roorda needed to receive an older, less common form of chemotherapy. Doctors and nurses sometimes refer to it as the "red devil."

Surgeons placed a port in Roorda's chest for the chemo to be administered because the chemicals can cause harm if it leaks out of veins used for the procedure, Roorda said.

Despite all that, Roorda said she was able to remain calm through five rounds of chemo.

"In the Bible it says that God will give you a sense of peace that surpasses all understanding," Roorda said. "I was at peace. It was scary, but I knew the molecules were too big to go through the placenta and harm my baby."

After the second round of chemotherapy, Roorda's hair started falling out. She let her oldest daughter, Hannah, then 5, give her a haircut, while she held daughter Zoe, then 3, in her arms.

In a March 2007 update to friends and family, Roorda wrote, "I told Hannah it has nothing to do with being pregnant, but she has it in her mind that is why I'm bald. Hopefully that will stick with her until she gets married!"

From the week Roorda was diagnosed, she had a strong support system made up of family and friends, including her sister, who took a year off from her own job to help care for Roorda's children while she was sick and pregnant. But what was more surprising to Roorda was how much her support group was also made up of complete strangers.

"Within an hour my friend up here in Lynden had organized two months of meals for me, for my family," Roorda said. "These were people who didn't know me, or had never met me. That's the beauty of living in a smaller town."

Roorda was put on the prayer lists of many local churches, which she feels helped her recover.

"As a human being you can only go so far, you can only be so strong," Roorda said. "Asking Him to be in the room with us, that's what got us through it."

Though the doctors planned to give Roorda chemotherapy until she received surgery to remove affected lymph nodes, after the fifth round, tests showed the baby was anemic, so they stopped treatments.

The lumpectomy was planned for the 32-week point in Roorda's pregnancy so her baby would have the best chance in the case anesthesia induced labor. Doctors gave Roorda medication to help the fetus' lungs mature more quickly just in case.

The night before her surgery, Roorda felt like her back needed to crack, and she told a doctor she had severe back pain.

"I hadn't complained once about pain during chemo or any of the treatment, so they knew something was wrong," Roorda said. "They did some scans before I went into surgery and found that the cancer had spread to my bones."

Because the cancer had spread, and might have the chance of affecting Roorda's baby, the doctors performed the lumpectomy right away; 24 hours later they induced labor.

Though Roorda had warned the nurses she had given birth very quickly before, they weren't expecting that only 25 minutes after giving Roorda an epidural and breaking her water, baby Jazmine Stacy would be born.

At 3 pounds, 8 ounces and 17 inches long, Jazzy was supposed to remain in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for eight weeks, or until she would have been to full term. After three weeks, Jazmine was stable enough to be moved to St. Joseph's hospital, and after only two weeks there, she was able to regulate her own body temperature, and suck, swallow and breathe at the same time.

"The doctors called us and said, 'You have to come get her and take her home,'" Roorda said.

Now 6 years old, Jazmine is "wild, strong willed, and stubborn," Roorda said. "And what a great smile she has."

Roorda's struggle is not over yet - she had to be thrown into menopause and continues to take medication to stop her hormone production. She had her ovaries removed, and may decide to have a mastectomy in the future. The biggest concern from here on out is the metastatic breast cancer in Roorda's vertebrae.

"People live with a lot worse," Roorda said.

She will continue to go in every three months for checkups and work with doctors if further treatment is required.

She continues fighting with the same mentality she had when she first wrote in a January 2007 note to friends and family: "I'm not going to be a cancer survivor, it''s the cancer that won't survive me."

ABOUT THIS SERIES

The American Cancer Society is celebrating 100 years of fighting cancer this year. The Bellingham Herald asked local cancer survivors and volunteers to share their stories this month to highlight the progress that has been made in fighting these diseases.

This is the first story in this series. The next installment publishes Monday, Oct. 7, with more stories to come throughout October.

The closest office of the American Cancer Society is in Everett, at 3120 McDougall Ave., Suite 100. Call 425-741-8949 for more information. Or go online to cancer.org.

Relay for Life, the signature fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, takes place in three locations in Whatcom County from May to July: Western Washington University, Lynden and downtown Bellingham. For more information or to sign up, go to relayforlife.org.

Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at 360-756-2803 or samantha.wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com.

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