Woman Battles Breast Cancer while Pregnant PKG

A mother of two talks about her remarkable battle with breast cancer while also pregnant.

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CLEVELAND – Life has new meaning these days for Stephanie Rifici-Thorkelson.

The 35-year-old was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in 2020 after discovering a lump on her left breast while breastfeeding her son Luka.

“It was about 13 months into breastfeeding I noticed this lump and it didn’t go away,” said Stephanie.

Right before she got the news, she also found out she was pregnant with her second child.

“It was just like wow because we had been trying to get pregnant and then all this news within a week’s time,” she recalled.

Stephanie said she was determined to keep her baby as she underwent treatment, which her husband Evan fully supported, so they teamed up with doctors at Cleveland Clinic to devise a plan.

“Triple negative breast cancer is one of the more aggressive breast cancers out there and so the treatment for that, in addition to surgery, is also chemotherapy,” said Stephanie Valente, DO, Director Western Region Breast and Fairview Hospital Breast Programs for Cleveland Clinic.

To help protect Stephanie’s baby, doctors had to time everything just right, including when she’d get surgery and chemotherapy. Fortunately, everything went well.

“They monitored her and the baby during surgery. They monitored closely during chemotherapy. She was able to have a healthy delivery and then received radiation afterwards,” said Dr. Valente.

Stephanie is now in remission and back to work as a flight attendant. And her baby boy Leo is getting bigger by the day.

“We’re just so happy, we’re so blessed,” she said with a smile.

According to research, breast cancer is the most common cancer in pregnant and postpartum women and occurs in about one in every 3,000 pregnant women.

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