In April 2017, Lucie Howe, 36 years old and 26 weeks pregnant with her third child, got just about the worst news an expectant mother could get – she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Of course, we were really worried for me and the baby,” she said.
Lucie, already a busy mother to a 7-year-old and 2-year-old, started broad-based chemotherapy right away during her second trimester of pregnancy. “It was so difficult to get through chemo treatments,” she said. “I was already dealing with pregnancy and its effects on my body.”
The treatment plan for Lucie included delivering her baby early by c-section and then starting more intense targeted chemotherapy after she delivered. The doctors didn’t want to give those while the baby was in utero.
After the baby
“You can imagine how exhausted I was just trying to get through,” said Lucie. “As soon as the baby was born, my mom, aunt and friends came to help take care of my kids while I had chemo,” she said.
But after chemo and radiation, there was still more hardship to endure for Lucie. When her baby boy was just two months old, she had to have a double mastectomy. “Recovery from the surgery was really tough, especially because I couldn’t pick up my baby or breastfeed,” said Howe.
“I had a crying infant, a 2-year old and 7-year old, and we all had to eat. My body was recovering from having the baby in addition to dealing with the after-effects of chemo,” she said. To say the new mom was overwhelmed is an understatement. Howe knew she needed multiple sources of support.
Lucie’s husband, Rodolfo Zamora, is a busy orthopedic surgeon at University of Louisville Hospital who often works with trauma patients. “He did what he could but it’s an intense job and he has to be present for his patients, too.”
“I listened to positive music and surrounded myself with happy people. I tried to do what I could to find the support that I needed, because you can’t go through that kind of thing alone.”
Lucie found a great support in Gilda’s Club Louisville where she met and networked with people who understood – people who had been where she was.
“At Gilda’s Club, we met other families who could relate. From an emotional perspective, it’s so important to have relationships with people who have been through cancer – and survived. You feel like your possibility for survival, for thriving, after cancer, is higher.”
Along with support groups and activities at the clubhouse, Gilda’s Club offers a respite from cancer through social outings. For example, tickets to events like baseball games and the theater are often donated, which go members to enjoy. “Going somewhere special helped to take our minds off the difficulty of the treatments. Sometimes you need a distraction – you need to feel like you’re not sick even if you are.”
Camp Gilda, a week-long summer camp offered for her 7-year-old was a lifesaver for her family, said Howe. “When the baby was born and I was going through treatment, it was so helpful to have him occupied with something productive while I was in the hospital,” she said.
Faith and responsibility
Lucie said her faith and family got her through her ordeal. “I think in some ways, it was a blessing to have small kids during my treatment. I couldn’t get caught up in a dark place mentally because I always had to be feeding a baby. I had so many things to do. I didn’t have time for cancer.”
Today, Lucie’s cancer is in remission and her family is doing well. Her three boys, Gabriel, 8; Lucas, 3: and Vincent, 17 months are healthy. “I don’t think anyone gets through cancer unscathed,” said Lucie. “It is a big thing, and you’ll be a survivor for the rest of your life, but I feel like I’m doing as well as I can be.” The mom of three, a Spanish teacher, said she and her husband love Louisville and their jobs, and recently bought a house close to their children’s school.
“I am loving life. If anything, it’s taught me that life is short so you better be doing what you want to be doing. Enjoy every day – don’t complain about little things.” she said.
Howe is grateful for Gilda’s Club. “It’s a really welcoming place. I’m so glad Gilda’s was there for us – and is still there for us. I’m not sure what we would have done without them. They’ve been like a second family to us.”