The Beginning of a New Phase of Life

Fanni, 37, was 28 weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed with cancer. “I felt like my world ended at that moment,” Fanni recounts. The health and safety of her baby were her main concern upon hearing the news. “I prayed, and God gave me the peace that I needed. I said okay, let it go, and let the doctors do their work. That's when I met the Astera team.”

In May 2023, Fanni became extremely ill. She was unable to walk, had uncontrolled vomiting, and could barely talk due to a chronic cough. She went to the emergency room and received an MRI and CAT scan, which detected she had stage 4 lung cancer that had metastasized to her brain. Miraculously, her baby was healthy. The hospital where Fanni was being treated connected her with an incredible team of doctors from Astera Cancer Care, including her oncologist, Dr. Ellen Ronnen. “It’s game-changing when you have a group of doctors who listen and help you like I found at Astera,” says Fanni.  

About 5 months prior to receiving her cancer diagnosis, Fanni was sick with a cold, which she says never went away. Following the start of this cold, she developed a cough. She went to her obstetrician and primary care doctor, and was treated for her cough and acid reflux. Unfortunately, her symptoms didn’t improve. In April, she went to the emergency room and was diagnosed with pneumonia. She received a chest CT scan, which showed a small mass in her chest. The doctors didn’t think it was cancerous, but weren't sure what it was. Fanni didn’t get a biopsy since she was pregnant. “The pregnancy made everything more complicated because they couldn't do the tests right away,” she says. 

Then again, three weeks later, Fanni found herself with a chronic cough, but this time, was unable to walk or eat. “I knew something was wrong,” Fanni says. She went to her doctor, who advised her to go to the emergency room and noted that her symptoms were related to something in her brain. “I couldn't move my left leg and had weakness on my left side,” she says.

Her cough persisted, she had difficulty breathing, and felt lumps in her neck. “My symptoms progressed very rapidly. One day I felt a small lump and one week later, they felt much larger,” she says. 

Fanni received a brain radiation treatment and started palliative care immediately. She also underwent one round of chemotherapy, and then was given a medication called TAGRISSO, which is a prescription medicine approved as a first-in-line treatment for stage 4 NSCLC with certain EGFR mutations. Her oncologist, Dr. Ronnen, referred her to Nurse Practitioner Tina Basenese, a Palliative care provider at Astera, for palliative & supportive care. Tina Basenese, APN helped Fanni manage her chronic cough, fatigue, and anxiety symptoms. “The palliative care helped me to enjoy the last part of my pregnancy and my son’s birth,” Fanni says. Basenese also helped Fanni with pain management and insomnia after her son was born. Her symptoms significantly improved throughout her palliative care treatment. “Tina is always positive and makes me feel like I can continue with this. Palliative care helped me manage my symptoms so I could live a better life and enjoy my life outside of cancer,” she says. 

Less than a month after Fanni started treatment, her son Daniel was born at 34 weeks. Her doctors asked her to deliver early since her treatment caused her to lose amniotic fluid surrounding the baby. Fanni had a C-section the same day she received the news and says, “I was so happy to see my son. He was born at 3 pounds, 13 ounces. ” Her son spent three weeks in the NICU since he was born premature and wasn’t eating on his own, although he was healthy overall.

After Daniel was born, Fanni’s cancer started to shrink, her cough improved, and the lumps on her neck disappeared. Although Fanni still has stage 4 cancer, she has responded very well to the TAGRISSO, continues to take this medication daily, and gets better each day. 

Fanni was working as a nurse at a community outpatient clinic when she received her diagnosis. “I loved working here and helping my Spanish community,” she says. She stopped working to focus on her recovery and raise her son. Family has been a huge source of support for Fanni throughout her cancer journey. “I have a very supportive husband,” she says. Fanni’s belief in God and praying has also brought her peace. 

This experience has changed Fanni’s perspective on life. “Now I’m focusing every day on enjoying life—enjoying time with my baby, husband, and family. I’m grateful to God and the people who have been there by my side—the doctors and the nurses. There have been little things I’ve taken for granted in the past, but now I enjoy every little thing. I continue to pray to God every day. Life is beautiful, even though I have this condition,” she says.   

Seeing her son grow up is a huge source of inspiration for Fanni. She remains positive and dedicated to living. She takes each day as it comes and is optimistic about advancements in the medical field. “I won’t give up. It’s not the end. It’s the beginning of a new phase of your life.” she fearlessly says.

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