My mother developed breast cancer during her pregnancy, despite having a mastectomy

Breast cancer survivor Kate Pistilli, her husband Giuseppe and their eldest daughter are pregnant with their second child. (supports)

A mum was ‘horrified’ when she discovered she had breast cancer for the second time while pregnant, despite having already had a double mastectomy.

Kate Pistilli (34) decided to have both breasts removed after she was first diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of just 28.

The last thing the mother of two expected to find was another lump and a re-diagnosis of breast cancer while she was carrying her second daughter, now one year old, and caring for her oldest.

Kate Pistilli found out she had breast cancer once again while caring for her oldest daughter and pregnant with her second. (supports)

Pistilli, a social worker from Cambridge, says the cancer was highly unlikely to return after the life-changing treatment and that she felt “robbed” of her pregnancy when she received another “horrendous” diagnosis.

“I was four months pregnant with my second daughter when I discovered the lump, and I was six months pregnant when I was finally diagnosed,” she says.

“It was terrifying. I gave birth to my oldest daughter, who was one year old at the time, and was pregnant with another child.

“I had already had both breasts removed when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015.”

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Kate Pistilli’s double mastectomy did not prevent her from developing breast cancer again – during her pregnancy. (supports)

Recalling the first time she discovered a lump, she says: “I was 28 and cuddling with my boyfriend Giuseppe, who is now my husband, when he discovered a lump in my breast.

“There is a history of breast cancer in my family, so I went to get checked out.

“I didn’t think much of it because I was only 28 and I never imagined I would have cancer.

“But it was.

“I was completely devastated.”

Kate Pistilli and her husband Giuseppe got married in 2018. (Meets needs)

After her initial diagnosis, Pistilli opted for a month of in vitro fertilization therapy to freeze her eggs in case the cancer treatment also affected her fertility.

She then had to undergo an 11-hour surgery during which surgeons performed a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction.

Her test of strength did not end there. “After the surgery, I started six months of chemotherapy,” she explains.

“It wasn’t a pleasant time. All my hair fell out and I was constantly in and out of the hospital.

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“I felt like my body was broken and my femininity was taken away. I had no hair or eyelashes and had to have my breasts removed.

“I also underwent various therapies aimed at the specific type of cancer I had, e.g. tamoxifen.” It is a hormone therapy drug that blocks estrogen from reaching cancer cells.

“However, this meant that at the age of 28 I was going through (sort of) menopause during chemotherapy,” she added.

“The treatment was successful and I got married in 2018.”

Kate Pistilli during her stay in hospital due to the removal of a tumor in the sixth month of pregnancy. (supports)

Pistilli knew she wanted to try for a baby, so she stopped taking Tamoxifen just in time for her honeymoon.

“As soon as we were trying to have a baby, I got pregnant. It was a miracle! I thought I would have a hard time getting pregnant after everything my body had been through.” Little did she know that she was destined for another surprise.

“In 2019, I gave birth to our oldest daughter and, to our surprise, nine months later I became pregnant again.”

But in April 2020, when she was four months pregnant for the second time at the height of the pandemic, she discovered what she thought was impossible – another lump.

Kate Pistilli was “terrified” when she discovered she had cancer during pregnancy, after having surgery to remove both breasts. (supports)

“I had to have a lumpectomy to check the lump, but when I was six months pregnant it turned out to be cancer,” she recalled.

“It was the worst thing that could have happened to me.

“Then, when I was pregnant, I had to have another surgery to remove the edges of the tumor.

“After the cancer was removed, I had to continue my pregnancy and wait until I gave birth to undergo radiotherapy.”

Pistilli had to go through unimaginable difficulties, balancing being a parent, pregnancy, cancer and life responsibilities all in one, while facing extremely conflicting emotions.

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A glimmer of hope: Kate Pistilli holds her daughter after giving birth. (supports)

“After the second tumor was detected, it was terrible. I couldn’t work because I couldn’t keep my head together, and at the same time I was trying to take care of my daughter while also raising another child,” she says.

“I felt robbed of my pregnancy, especially during the pandemic. I couldn’t even see my friends or family and had to break the news to them that I had cancer again via Facetime.

“I felt two extreme emotions at the same time. It was a feeling of happiness because I was pregnant and terror because, despite having both breasts removed, I had developed breast cancer again.”

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Kate Pistilli is now cancer free after experiencing the unthinkable. (supports)

After welcoming her second daughter, she began radiation therapy a week later for a month.

“Instead of cuddling my newborn, I went to the hospital every day for treatment. It was just wrong and unfair,” Pistilli says.

“The day after giving birth I had to have a full body scan to make sure the cancer had not spread. That was awful.

“Thankfully, in December 2020, I was told I was cancer-free.”

Despite everything she’s been through, Pistilli still looks for the positives.

“I believe that if I hadn’t had cancer before, I wouldn’t have noticed the second lump because I was pregnant and my breasts were changing all the time,” she says.

“The fact that I had implants made it easier for me to discover it.

“It was a tough journey.”

If you or someone you know is suffering, turn to Macmillan for help with cancer by calling 0808 808 00 00 (seven days a week, 8am-8pm), emailing support hotline or by using the online chat (open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. seven days a week).

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Additional reporting.