LaNell's story: I found out I had vulvar cancer while pregnant
Updated: Sep 27, 2019
One week after she was diagnosed with vulvar cancer at 31, LaNell found out that she was pregnant. Today, the proud mamma opens up about her story and just how important second opinions truly are when it comes to your health. We also help you recognise the warning signs of vulvar cancer.
How was vulvar cancer diagnosed?
In December 2016, I found a lump in my left Labia Majora when I went for my annual check up. I asked my OBGYN to take a look at it.
My doctor told me my lump was only a swollen lymph node and would go away in a couple months, as long as it didn’t get any bigger or hurt it was nothing to worry about.
Fast forward to January 2018, I saw a different OBGYN and asked for a second opinion. He thought it was a cyst and started a procedure to drain it. Upon making his incision he realised that it was tissue and not fluid so he sent it off to pathology.
How soon after your diagnosis did you find out you were pregnant?
On 31 January 2018 I was diagnosed with a “Proximal-type” Epithelioid Sarcoma of the Vulva. A week later, on February 8th, I found out I was expecting my first child.
What happened next?
I had a pelvic MRI that showed my sarcoma was contained in my labia. My Gynaecologist Oncologist gave me an ultimatum: continue my pregnancy and have a surgery to remove the cancer or terminate my pregnancy and have more scans to see if the cancer had spread.
Option A- Continue with my pregnancy and have a Radical Hemivulvectomy (remove all of the outer genitalia from the affected side closing with a flap taken from my inner thigh) and biopsy my lymph nodes in my groin to see if the cancer had spread, if so they would wait until after I delivered to start radiation and/or chemo. There was no telling how much it could spread in that time and I could lose sexual function and the ability to have a vaginal birth.
Option B- Terminate my pregnancy so that I could have more scans just to see if it had spread. (Please keep in mind we had been trying to get pregnant for over a year.)
I was not comfortable with either option that this doctor had provided so I got a second opinion.
At Duke Cancer Center they agreed to do an additional abdominal MRI and a chest CT to see if the cancer had spread. If it had spread, I would terminate my pregnancy and begin treatment. If there were no signs of the cancer spreading, then I would undergo surgery to remove the sarcoma with 2cm margins and 2cm deep.
How did it turn out for you and your baby?
In March 2018, my team was able to remove my cancer and in October I delivered a healthy baby boy vaginally.
On 9 March 2018, I underwent my surgery (Modified Radical Vulvectomy). My team removed the whole sarcoma with clear margins negative for malignancy! I was monitored closely throughout the rest of my pregnancy. On 11 October, I had my baby, and on 6 December 2018, I had more scans. Luckily everything appeared to be clear.
What words of wisdom would you have for women?
I sit here today with my 11 month old son but I encourage each of you that if you notice something different in your body don’t blow it off or just assume that your doctor knows everything. Your life is worth a second opinion and sometimes you need more than just one second opinion.
Know the warning signs of vulvar cancer
Common signs and symptoms to watch for are:
Persistent itching, pain, soreness or burning in the vulvar area
A path of skin that is a different colour or texture than the rest of the vulva area
Lump or growth in or on the vulva area or groin (swollen lymph node).
Having those symptoms doesn’t always mean you have vulvar cancer and you may have cancer and not experienced any symptoms. So, make sure to attend your annual well woman visit!
Thank you LaNell for sharing your story and insights. We look forward to seeing you all in the Girls Rocking Cancer Community on Facebook or Instagram. You can also reach out to LaNell on Instagram @mrsljones86
LaNell and Mel