Young Mom Beats Rare Cancer and Fulfills Her Wish to Have Another Baby
When Theresa McGrath started experiencing extreme fatigue, rapid bruising and worsening vision, her primary care physician suggested that she see a specialist to review her blood tests. While waiting for her appointment date to arrive, she bumped her leg at the gym and watched the bruise quickly double in size within a matter of minutes, which prompted Theresa to make an emergency appointment with PIH Health Hematologist/Oncologist, Lisa Wang MD.
“When Theresa came into my office, she was in rapid decline—it was a true emergency,” said Dr. Wang. “I suspected she may have acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL), a rare form of blood cancer, but I needed a confirmed diagnosis. I immediately admitted her to the hospital for a bone marrow biopsy.”
For Theresa, this was a major curve ball.
“If it was cancer, I would be in the hospital for the next 30 days,” Theresa said. “I was shocked—I was only 29 at the time, with a husband and two daughters at home.”
The results came back, confirming that Theresa had APL. Dr. Wang wanted to start chemotherapy immediately, but knowing Theresa’s desire to have another child, she wanted to protect Theresa’s reproductive system before treatment began.
“We decided to put Theresa into a chemical menopause— essentially putting her ovaries into hibernation—in hopes of shielding her system during her toxic chemotherapy. Chemotherapy destroys cancer cells but it can also reduce a woman’s chances of having a child,” said Dr. Wang.
In the hospital while she was recovering from intensive chemotherapy, her blood count dropped and she developed an infection. Theresa was given antibiotics and transfusions, but her body was rejecting the platelets, so Dr. Wang prescribed an immunotherapy called Rituxan, which stopped the bleeding. This allowed her to recover from complications of chemotherapy.
To ensure she stayed in remission, she was placed on maintenance chemotherapy with arsenic trioxide, which was a new therapy at that time, followed by oral chemotherapy. When treatment ended, Theresa’s reproductive system began functioning once again and within a few weeks, she was pregnant. Since she had just finished intensive cancer treatment, she was referred to a high-risk obstetrician at PIH Health to care for her and her unborn child.
Her obstetrician identified that a rare genetic mutation may have caused the platelet rejection during Theresa’s cancer treatment. Theresa was tested for that mutation and it came back positive, which can be dangerous for mother and baby during a natural birth. Armed with this information, PIH Health Obstetrician Brent Gray MD, scheduled a C-section to ensure a successful birth. Theresa’s baby girl was born in March 2018.
“We had such a great team that identified this issue and helped ensure a safe pregnancy for Theresa,” said Dr. Wang. “She had a healthy delivery—with zero bleeding complications. Today, Theresa remains in remission and in good health.”
“I had such a wonderful experience with the whole PIH Health team,” said Theresa. “Dr. Wang really knows her medicine, and had the expertise to help me through the toughest time of my life. I couldn’t be more grateful.”
To learn more about cancer treatments at PIH Health, visit PIHHealth.org/Oncology.