Against All Odds: An Expecting Mother's Battle with Breast Cancer

Against All Odds: An Expecting Mother's Battle with Breast Cancer

Pink Warrior: Aleseia Saunders

Story by Liesel Schmidt | Photography by Jonathan Thorpe

Special thanks to Bowlero Arlington

A new year was only hours away from starting when Aleseia Saunders received the news that she was cancer-free on December 31, 2014. “It was absolutely the best news I could receive on New Year’s Eve,” she says. “I was entering the new year with an actual new chapter in my life. I could focus on myself and my eight-month-old and actually begin to be an engaged mother. All I wanted to do was celebrate with my family and friends! My ‘village’ was very important during that time.”

Indeed, it was, because, as Saunders went through the rigors of aggressive treatments to battle her cancer, she fought not only for her life, but for the life of the baby girl she was carrying. “Prior to being diagnosed in August of 2013, I felt a lump in my right breast but shrugged it off as being a cyst,” Saunders explains. “During that same time, I discovered that I was pregnant with my first child. I went to the OB/GYN to confirm my pregnancy and he conducted a breast exam while I was in the office. He decided it was best for me to get an immediate biopsy at a nearby hospital. A week later, I received the call that I had breast cancer.”

“When I received the diagnosis, I immediately fell to the floor crying. All I could think about was my baby growing inside and if I was going to die.”

Over the next year, Saunders rode a rollercoaster of emotions as she fought against her stage 2B invasive ductal carcinoma. She was even advised to terminate the pregnancy and begin aggressive treatment due to her age and lack of family history. Ultimately, Saunders sought a second opinion and underwent genomic testing, which revealed the cancer to be contained within the tumor with a low risk of spreading. It was determined that she could continue her pregnancy and that a lumpectomy, radiation and hormonal therapy were the most effective treatment options, so Saunders underwent surgery and later received 39 rounds of radiation—the latter occurring within the first two months of delivering her daughter. “I was extremely fatigued and sore from the radiation, which made it difficult to care for a newborn,” she says.

She also began three years of hormonal therapy, which caused mood swings, cognitive issues, night sweats and hot flashes—all while coming off pregnancy hormones. “On top of that, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression,” she says. “It was an extremely tough time.”

As tough as it was, Saunders was never alone. “My drive, my faith and my village got me through my battle,” she says. “I was determined to live for my daughter. I also had so many people pray for me, pray over me and continuously check on me. I even had an aunt come live with me for a couple of months to help with my newborn while I underwent radiation.”

A decade after hearing those devastating words, Saunders has defeated a formidable foe and is showing her children—now numbering three—what being a survivor means. “It means that I’m unstoppable and fearless,” she contends. “I feel that my level of resiliency is unmeasurable and I can conquer anything. I live my life with a purpose now instead of just existing. I live in the moment and prioritize myself because this entire battle has shown me that today isn’t promised.”

Saunders is an advocate for the breast cancer community, juggling her advocacy with a full-time Federal job and with being a full-time mom. “I’m a busy woman,” she says, “but wouldn’t trade it for anything in the universe!”

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