Brandy Gum was excited to celebrate Mother’s Day in 2014. She has just become a mother to her second child and looked forward to spending the day with her family of four. Instead, she would receive news that question her future and the future of their family forever.
Three months earlier, 36 weeks into her second pregnancy, Brandy was putting her oldest son Hudson to bed. She remembers tucking him in his train themed bed sheets and flipping the switch on the light night in the bedroom. As she hugged him goodnight, she remembered her forearm brush against the side of her breast. “I felt a bump,” said Brandy. “It was pretty big the first time I noticed it.”
The bump was about the size of a small bouncy ball you would find as a prize at Chucky Cheeses. “It didn’t hurt at all,” she said. “It almost had the same rubbery feeling as a bouncy ball too.” Brandy called her OB the very next day and managed to get in for a physical exam and an ultrasound. From there she was told that because she was getting ready for lactation, she shouldn’t worry about it and to come back in six months.
Brandy gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby boy, Foster, at 38 weeks. She began breastfeeding with no problems. After six weeks postpartum, she realized that her lump was not changing or subsiding like it might after you get into the routine of nursing.
“I decided to see a specialist where they did an ultrasound, followed up with a biopsy.”
It was May 9, 48 hours before Mother’s Day, when Brandy got the call. “They told me I had cancer,” she said. She was diagnosed with pregnancy associated breast cancer (PABC). “It was devastating.
Brandy have never heard of PABC before. She often heard that women under 40 should not be worried about a breast cancer diagnosis. As moms do, Brandy began thinking and worrying about what PABC meant for her, her boys and her husband. Will she be able to watch her two sons graduate from high school? Will she be able to celebrate another Mother’s Day? What should she do and who should she call about treatment.
PABC is the second most common malignancy affecting pregnancy according to the National Center of Biotechnology Information. It’s defined as breast cancer diagnosed during pregnancy or in the first postpartum year and affects 1 in every 3,000 women.
Ten days after her diagnosis, Brandy attended her first appointment to meet all three doctors who would be part of her treatment plan. Her oncologist, surgeon and radiation oncologist greeted her and put her mind at ease. “They gave me a full picture of the plan,” she said. Because she was still lactating, they decided to start with 16 rounds of chemotherapy over six months, followed up with a double mastectomy. “I am ready to punch it (cancer) in the face,” she told them.
On her way home, Brandy and her husband talked about how they should share this with her 2-year-old son.
“I’m not a vain person, so I didn’t care about my hair falling out,” said Brandy. “But I didn’t want Hudson to be scared.” Brandy found a book called, Mommy and the Polka Dot Boo Boo, that describes in 2-year-old terms, how cancer will affect mommy. She sat him down and read the book to him. “He didn’t quite understand, but he wasn’t scared, which made me less scared too,” she said.
The two of them bonded over her diagnosis, and even had a little fun by taking Hudson to the local party store and picking out fun wigs to wear. “Blue and purple wigs made him happy,” she said. So she wore them with pride. His entire Pre-K class also rallied around their family, wearing special t-shirts with the words “Team Brandy” printed on them. “They would wear them to school, especially on important days like my last chemo day, surgery day and last radiation day,” said Brandy. “Hudson knew his friends were pulling for mommy.”
After her chemo treatments, and her double mastectomy, Brandy was told that she showed no signs of disease. Although she does have to take the aromitase inhibitors for 10 years, there is definitely hope that it will never come back! “It was a sign of relief,” she said.
It’s been two years since Brandy was diagnosed. This year she was honored to serve as the official spokesperson for Komen Houston and participated in the annual Komen Race in Houston on Oct. 1, 2016. “I am happy to report that I am still cancer-free,” she said. “It’s become my mission to be a voice for other young women and mothers to trust their gut and that they are not too young to get breast cancer.”
Today she regularly attends the Young Survivors Coalition support group meetings and Houston’s First Baptist Church Can Hope Group on the 2nd Monday of every month. She believes God put her through this to be the voice for other young breast cancer patients and to always trust their guts.