At her 7-month prenatal checkup in Minneapolis, MN, in November 2018, Sarah Hanan was focused on passing her glucose screening so gestational diabetes could be crossed off her list of expectant-mom worries.
“I passed that test with flying colors,” 30-year-old Sarah said. “I was so pumped and excited.” Almost as an afterthought, she asked her doctor about a “harder spot” on her right breast, something new that Sarah and her husband, Ben, thought might be related to pregnancy changes.
With peace-of-mind the expected outcome, the OB sent Sarah for a breast ultrasound. Neither physician nor the parents-to-be imagined an immediate biopsy or a devastating diagnosis the next day. “I have been dreading calling you all day long,” Sarah remembers her doctor saying. “But I just need to tell you that you have breast cancer.”
What unfolded over the next 67 days—between Sarah’s diagnosis and safe delivery into the world of 6 pound 2 ounce Noah Benjamin Hanan—is something no family should go through. But when her world stopped, as Sarah described the cancer news, she found a source of peace.
“At the exact same moment my doctor told me I had cancer, God’s words came to my mind,” Sarah said. “He told me, plain as day, ‘You are going to kick cancer in the butt, and you are going to give birth to a healthy baby boy.'”
Knowing God was still in control when she no longer could be provided a sense of peace for Sarah, and she held onto it for dear life.
With her cancer an aggressive type—Stage 2A, Grade 3 with a TP53 gene mutation—Sarah’s best chance for survival meant starting chemo right away. “Other women had gone through chemo being pregnant, and still given birth to healthy babies,” Sarah said. “But knowing that didn’t take away 100% of the risks or all the crazy emotions that go with it.”
After she and Ben agreed to treatment during pregnancy, to lower the risk that Sarah would not live to see their son grow up, she asked God to protect him in-utero. “Please strengthen that placenta so chemo doesn’t get in,” she prayed. “Let Noah still grow strong.”
When Noah arrived at 38 weeks, he was strong, healthy and beautiful. He even had a bit more hair than his mother, who was bald after two rounds of chemo.
So grateful to have Noah safely in her arms, Sarah thought that resuming chemo a week later might be easier. But it wasn’t. “I had a healthy baby boy, but I was a sick mom,” she said. “I had a great reason to continue fighting, but there were definitely moments I wasn’t sure I could go on.”
Not being able to breastfeed Noah was heartbreaking for Sarah, as was being separated from him when chemo complications put her in the hospital—and that happened every time. The new little family had only a four-week break between the end of chemo and Sarah’s double mastectomy; after it, she couldn’t lift Noah for six weeks.
That’s when Sarah came close to breaking. Even when Ben looked her in the eyes and said, “Sarah, it’s going to be OK,” she was questioning the “kick cancer in the butt” part of God’s plan.
“There were some days I just wanted to give up,” Sarah said. “Experiencing pregnancy, cancer and becoming a mom all at the same time … my cancer-counselor called it my ‘2019 Soup.'” But as she struggled, Sarah again heard God’s voice.
“He told me, ‘Your story isn’t finished yet,'” Sarah said. “He gave me this phrase to say whenever I felt like I wanted to escape the world instead of facing it.”
Today Sarah is cancer-free. She is physically healed after breast-reconstruction surgery and is working into her routine the close monitoring associated with having a TP53 gene mutation, which puts her at higher risk for a return of cancer.
“We are blessed to have such amazing doctors who don’t ignore any weird feelings or pain,” Sarah said. “But my heart skips a beat every time I have another test because I don’t want to hear the word ‘CANCER’ again.”
As she and Ben joyfully watch Baby Noah’s transformation into a toddler, they are trying hard to heal from what Sarah calls the “mental part” of cancer.
“Cancer played with my mind in ways I never prepared for,” she said. “But I have to just give those things over to God. He has a plan for me to be here. I have to raise this baby.”