‘What? We had a twin?!’ I had two eggs. One my healthy twin, the other forming into cancer.’: Brave mom survives rare choriocarcinoma, now advocates for others

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Disclaimer: This story contains graphic medical details that may be upsetting to some.

“Rare pregnancy cancer, you ask? What is that, exactly? Is this even a thing? My fourth pregnancy was going fairly well; as a matter of fact, it was going so well, unlike my other three, that I was beginning to get uneasy. My late husband and I were experienced parents, having three children already, been married for nearly fifteen years at that point. I had felt better with this last pregnancy so much that it was quite marvelous. Each moment I soaked up, enjoyed being pregnant, that is until the itching begun. No biggie, a yeast infection, easy treatment. Nope. The test came back as negative. My doctor told me it was likely due to my rise in hormones (pregnancy hormone B-hCG). My incredible feeling pregnancy had begun to turn into a slow, downhill spiraling nightmare. The problem – the nightmare was yet to be known along with its full potential.

Expecting mother smiles big while showing off her pregnancy bump in a sundress
Courtesy of Cindy Lupica

After weeks of anti-itching cream and wonderful warm, soaking baths, the itching dissolved. This was great! No more worries of any kind. Wrong. Contractions. These were the real thing, not those practice ones. With continual prenatal exams, ones in-between to address my concerns, nothing was found. After being told to take it easy, switching to a prenatal workout, I returned to my doctors office yet again. Noting was found wrong yet again, so I was told to take it easier. This was most definitely confusing for me since I was expecting something to be setting these contractions off. These continuing contractions set off my greatest fear: not making it in time to the hospital for the actual delivery. At the time, we had lived desolate, about thirty minutes from the nearest hospital. The worst part was the stretch to get there was a desert dry lake; a long, two-way highway with nothing but dirt, wind, and some desert shrub/trees. Imagine a horror movie there, giving birth in the middle of a hot desert.

Unfortunately, this is what happened, for the most part. We did not make it to the hospital. My late husband, on top of the sudden labor contractions, procrastinated, and by the time we hit the highway, three miles from our house, my water broke in our vehicle. Terrifying! Not only the first time my water broke naturally, but in our truck, unexpectedly, and miles still from the hospital! Already on the phone, my doctor knew what was going on and waited for us at the hospital. Calling 911, we were met in the middle of the dry lakes, which at this point, it did not matter. We were at the middle point between two cities, so no matter which one came first, the hospital was not any closer. The ambulance actually drove slower than my late husband had been prior to calling. In route, in the back of the ambulance, I used my yoga breathing to hold delivering her since the medic with me knew I had had prior issues with the placenta. But, as the one main street signal near the hospital, he gave me permission to push and with one easy one, she was born with his hands there to grab her, wrap her and lay her on my chest as we pulled into the main parking lot.

Woman takes photo of sign that reads "roadside baby delivery" after giving birth in her car
Courtesy of Cindy Lupica

Delivery of the placenta was done by my doctor in the hospital room as he lifted it up, inspected it, slowly turning it around and around, verbally saying aloud it was fully in tact and healthy. This was extremely important later on in my story. My newborn ended up going to NICU for an unknown infection, later to be released as healthy. I was anemic since the amount of blood loss was unknown because the medic was fairly new and failed to collect and report. I felt like crap, to be honest. My doctor was generous to allow me to stay with my newborn and released us together. Earlier, I had an episode where I nearly passed out and a few nurses had to hold me up from falling as I was being assisted to the bathroom. This, along with the other things, were triggers to me that something was wrong, although not known until four months after giving birth.

Mom of 4 holds newborn baby after giving birth in the ambulance on the way to the hospital
Courtesy of Cindy Lupica

Postpartum period was not any better, as a matter of fact, my situation grew worse with intermittent bleeding. During this time, I was not feeling well – very weak, off color and feeling odd. I had exams and nothing was found as to the bleeding. It was explained I was an older mom this time around, even though I was exclusively breastfeeding, I had never bled for 8 weeks after giving birth. The bleeding did stop but for only a few weeks, picking back up again until I had my first hemorrhage one early morning, following a thick, round and flat clot the following afternoon. On the ultrasound, my doctor, my late husband, and I saw the odd image – a grapevine image on my right side. What on earth was this doing hanging off my uterus?

I was diagnosed the next night, February 1, 2013, after being told by my doctor to go to a certain hospital ER where there are specialists who can handle my situation (likely leftover placental tissue which drew in more confusion because my doctor had declared verbally/showed me it was indeed intact and healthy). Baffled and scared, I had express-pumped enough breastmilk for my newborn the day we saw the alien image, expecting to be in and out with an outpatient surgery. It was just over 8 hours before we were given a diagnosis and after my repetitive statements that I was not going home to bleed to death. I did, however, nearly bleed to death that night before my diagnosis. It was a horrific, bloody scene.

Towards the end of the night, I needed to go to the bathroom, even though I had not had much to drink the entire day. I had already begun to ponder if this visit was going anywhere. How much longer would I be here? I was waiting for what? We were not sure. I made my way down this hall, where there were new moms and new babies, along with the ones in the hall awaiting their birth. I remember the bathroom being fairly large, and it was also all the way at the end of the turning hall. I never even made it to the toilet. Shutting the door, I felt something run down my left leg. I looked down. Red blood. It showed no signs of stopping anytime soon. Through my panic, I had to decide what to do next. Between the new moms and moms-to-be outside the door, I was stuck. Something was pressing: should I undress to push what was remaining out? No, I could not do that because, by this time I felt a huge ball, almost like a crowning baby. The enormous clot would stop the bleeding and hold it all in! That was the trick! My misguided thinking quickly ended when I came to realize if I did not get help quickly, I was going to bleed to death. Both of my legs were now running portals of a fountain of blood.

My blue and white striped maternity shorts were still halfway down to my thighs when I decided to pull them up and seek immediate help. This had to be done very carefully because I was now in a puddle of bright, red blood. I swear it looked like a horror scene. How on earth was I going to escape this room looking like that? The last thing I wanted to do was terrify all those new moms out there! I could not believe  this was happening. In tears, I threw my hands up and cried to the Lord, ‘Why me?’ as I quickly crouched down to the floor. A few seconds later, I felt the need to stand up and move quickly, to not remain in self-sorrow; this was happening for a reason. I was afraid to walk to the door with that enormous clot, but I did. I cracked it ever so slightly to see what I could see, exposing only my upper torso. Behold, there was a nurse walking by briskly. I apologized for stopping her, letting her know I needed help.

I hid behind the door, out of sight from the mothers-to-be in the hall. When she came in, her face literally dropped. She began to stutter that she would get help, for me to wait right there. She came back with two other women; one was a housekeeper. They had towels. White towels! ‘Wow am I ever going to mess those up,’ I remember thinking as they wrapped me up, trying to hide the blood, whisking me down the hall into my room where my husband was waiting. His face also dropped once he saw me as they quickly shut the door. I was still bleeding. It was forever flowing down, staining everywhere it went. The one doctor who had stayed with my case from the beginning of my check-in came into the room with the look of bafflement on her face. She did her best to remain collected as she grabbed one of those pink buckets to collect the continuous stream. There was already a mess forming on the edge of the half-bed and the floor. I had filled up two of those pink buckets, the doctor already prepared with a third at hand.

Rest assured, she suggested I was experiencing a heavy period. I had heard this more than once during my eight hour stay on top of them saying I was pregnant or I was miscarrying, none of which was true to my knowledge and facts. I remained persistent, refusing to go home. Upon my diagnosis, we had some doctors standing at the foot of my bed, explaining to us I had choriocarcinoma, an aggressive, fast growing placental cancer, a form of gestational trophoblastic disease (GTD). It was clearly explained I would need treatment asap, starting with running a series of tests that night. They also explained precisely how the cancer came about. Our daughter had a twin. What? A twin? We lost a twin? We had a twin?! They explained I had two eggs, one my healthy twin and the other egg was missing DNA/chromosomes, thus forming into the cancer from the abnormal cells. They said the chorio cancer was likely fully gestated between 17-29 weeks into my pregnancy (with my awareness, I begun to average it around 25 weeks). The itching occurred early on and contractions begun from about 25 weeks on. It was all beginning to make sense! Of course pregnancy hormone was high because this is what chorio does, it raises the pregnancy hormone called B-hCG.

Courtesy of Cindy Lupica

My mix of feelings was exhausting to say the least. I was floored, completely at a loss for words, taken down to the floor with everything I had and now living it. Where would I even begin to comprehend all of this? How would I begin? It was so much information to intake alongside the word of cancer and pregnancy loss. Having no other choice, I tried one last time to breastfeed my daughter, kissed her and my late husband, and said goodbye. Tests revealed the chorio cancer had indeed spread or metastasized to my right lung, the same side where we saw the grapevine image. Now it made even more sense! After many months, we were beginning to receive answers! These answers did not all come at once and the ones that did were replayed scenarios over and over to cement, understand, and translate to others, starting with family, friends, then onto others as I found myself seeking scarce connections and info, quickly becoming an awareness advocate. Because the cancer had gone through my uterine lining, the percentage of cure dropped, leaving the statistic that it can come back at anytime, anywhere.

Treatments begun only two days after diagnosis, one day after a PICC-line was inserted into my right arm. What started out as a single chemo agent weekly turned into a long process of a weekly five-agent chemo cocktail for nearly six months. This aggressive cocktail was excessively hard on my body and the journey even more so on my mental and emotional health. Every other week was inpatient chemo where I received three of the chemos (two weeks’ worth) typically from Monday through my release on Wednesday, Thursday if things went slow. The following week was outpatient, half-a-day, where I received the last two chemos. Before treatments even begun, due to my massive hemorrhage, and then towards the middle of treatments, I needed transfusions. I was neutropenic most of the time (low white cell counts) and had to be extremely careful around my family, especially my baby because as my one nurse said, I was toxic. This was terribly hard to be extra careful to not pass on any bodily fluids (sweat, tears, saliva, etc.) to my family. Life after treatments was also a challenge, trying to find my old self pre-cancer.

Mom of 4 battling rare choriocarcinoma cancer takes a nap with one of her babies
Courtesy of Cindy Lupica
Woman battling rare choriocarcinoma cancer stands with her husband as they both smile big
Courtesy of Cindy Lupica

Here I am seven years later, thriving as a cancer survivor, still learning my new normal, living with side effects from treatment and now a widow for three years. My daughter was four years old at the time. My husband went to work and never came home. His death was sudden. It was very difficult, another hit to our family, but we pressed through with faith and personal spiritual growth. My daughter is also healthy and growing up. She’s also a handful I might add, haha! She is so different than my other kids but a blessing equally. I often wonder what her twin would be like. I came to the conclusion: a male version of her. Oh yeah, through my faith and specific prayers, I was given the name of our twin on two separate occasions, revealing what the gender would have been. This was a true blessing, a closure for not only me but my late husband and our kids alike. It is a beautiful full circle for us as a family.

Courtesy of Cindy Lupica
Mom of 4 holds her young daughter as they both grin at the camera
Courtesy of Cindy Lupica

God knows what is best, has a plan and path for each of us. He has turned these tragic events for good. I continue on as a strong worldwide awareness advocate for choriocarcinoma and all of gestational trophoblastic disease forms, helping hundreds, likely now thousands of woman. I recently wrote a book entitled, Widowed After Cancer and Financial Loss: How One Woman Overcame Her Losses. This book goes in every detail of these subjects, an interactive autobiography study book available on all major platforms. Full color is found at Barnes and Noble. I am in the making of its audiobook, which will be available soon. You can also visit cindylupica.com to find other GTD survivors, learn more of it, view podcasts and see accomplishments. With continuing education, knowledge, and fellow survivors (even those who did not survive) being heard, we can make known this terrible pregnancy cancer and it disease to others. As I say: 1. Education is key. 2. Be your own advocate because no one else will.”

Mom of 4 celebrating surviving choriocarcinoma cancer for 7 years poses with one of her daughters with a big 7 and balloons
Courtesy of Cindy Lupica
Courtesy of Cindy Lupica

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Cindy Lupica of California. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her website. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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