Health

Maternity and cancer: the story of Federica and her two children born after (and despite) the disease

In collaboration with the

Prof. Matteo Lambertini

Oncologist and AIRC researcher at the IRCCS Policlinico San Martino in Genoa

Having gods sons despite the care for a cancer. And discovering that you have cancer after having two children. The story of Federica Grioni, 48, originally from Bergamo, has a common thread that emerges from her first words: you should never give up. “We must at least try, accept that even in that reversal of perspectives that we are experiencing, there may be something beautiful“. In his case, beauty has the face of Maria Vittoria11 years old, and Thomas10. In addition of course to Alfredo, today her husband, who remained with her throughout the journey. There is no better way to celebrate mother’s Day, perhaps, that celebrating a new life that comes after a disease as impactful as breast cancer.

It is 2006 when Federica notices a small speck, almost a stretch mark, at the height of the breast. By touching, she also warns a lump and decides to have an ultrasound scan right away during a break from the office. In those years she in fact worked for an advertising agency in Milan, the city where she went to live and where she built an independent life. Alfredo, on the other hand, still lives in Rome. “At 33 I didn’t even think about the possibility of having a tumor or the need to have checks“, she remembers. But when the doctor sees the test report, he advises her to be examined by a breast specialist in a specialized center. Thus she arrives at the IEO (European Cancer Institute), where they immediately practice a needle aspiration and at the end. communicate: you have to operate. “He told me about this lump that had to be removed, but at that point I understood that it was a cancer. Meanwhile, the doctor asked me who I wanted to have the operation, a surprising question. I always give a lot of value to the human component of a relationship and I replied that I would have liked it had been a capable person, but also with a lot of humanity.“.

When she opens the door of the office to which they direct her, Federica is in front of her Umberto Veronesi. “I remember that he was a person with a great charisma, it almost seemed to emanate it from the body“. He reassures her, tells her that after the surgery everything will be fine. They practice them a quadrectomy with axillary emptying to remove sentinel lymph nodes as well. 13 days of radiotherapy follow e 4 cycles of chemotherapy. “You must have the strength to go on, for the simple fact that you cannot back down, you cannot postpone until tomorrow. You go through so many moods, because you know chemo is good for you, but at the same time you’re not well. Then hair. Of course I’m not the most important thing, but when the time comes you think, ‘Here, I have to face this too“.

Chemotherapy can undermine ovarian function and put fertility at risk

Also in those days comes the recommendation of the doctors who follow her: for 5 years she couldn’t try to have children. In fact, the priority is to complete the healing process, which also includes medicines that block the menstrual cycle, inducing them a pharmacological menopause. “It was a very difficult aspect to accept, also because I was at the very age when one begins to think about a family“. But again, Federica chooses to see the good in that situation and together with Afredo they decide to travel and enjoy more time together.

Then, in 2010, the good news: Federica can stop medications with a year and a half in advance and immediately her menstruation returns. After some time, she and Alfredo try to have children. In between attempts, he decides to follow a friend in a pilgrimage to Lourdes to thank that the treatment of the fiancée had gone well. It is the friend who tells him: “When you return home, you will see that Federica will be pregnant with a baby girl. I heard it clearly“.

Two days after Alfredo’s return, she takes a pregnancy test: it’s positive. The subsequent villocentesis confirms that it is a female. And so Maria Vittoria arrives, whose name testifies to her success against illness and gratitude towards Our Lady. “When I was still in the hospital, I remember walking out of the room and I just asked for His help to be able to face all this. And it has arrived“. Six months after the birth of Maria Vittoria, a second positive test: they are about to welcome Tommaso too.”I would have liked to have had the third, but after a consultation with my gynecologist I decided to stop and resume treatment“.

In addition to pharmacological menopause, the repercussions of chemotherapy, which it can have, must be considered a negative effect on ovarian function and undermine the possibility of future pregnancies. Today, however, there are at least two techniques that make it possible to circumvent this risk effectively. The first is cryopreservation of oocytes: after a period of hormonal stimulation of two weeks, the eggs are taken and frozen. All this before starting the treatment, so that, if the patient was no longer able to get pregnant, she could proceed with an in vitro fertilization.

The second is called instead cryopreservation of ovarian tissue: “It does not require any stimulation and therefore you do not have to wait two weeks -, explains Professor Matteo Lambertini, oncologist and researcher at the Policlinico San Martino in Genoa. – It is a more invasive method, because actual surgery is required to remove small fragments from both ovaries. The advantage, however, is that once done, you can already start with chemo. It is therefore reserved for patients for whom it exists some urgency to undertake the treatment path“.

Finally, there is a third way, which provides the administration of the hormone GnRh during chemotherapy, in order to rest the ovaries and make them less sensitive to the toxic effect of drugs. It is not a true fertility preservation technique, but it reduces the risk of a therapy-induced menopause and therefore also of having to suffer all the side effects.

Professor Lambertini is coordinating a research project, funded by the AIRC Foundation, which aims to understand whether target therapiesamong which we find for example immunotherapy, may have an impact on the patient’s fertility.

Today Federica is fine, even if a few years ago unfortunately the tumor has returned. She found out about it in 2017, while she was in New York on business. Except that unlike her before, she wasn’t alone anymore. She was now a mother and had a responsibility to her two children. “It was a tough moment, because I felt how much this could impact their lives as well. I told my husband what if she went wrong I wish he’d get married again. She weighed on me, of course, but I felt it was something I had to do as a mom, just for our children“.

Cancer this time is not to be operated on. Therapy is then used to make him go into remission e make it chronic. So today Federica he learned to live with it and how to tell it to children. “They are older now, they have seen some old photos, they know I have to get some shots, so they started to understand. Gradually it also entered their lives and it is no longer a secret“.

Throughout the day today, AIRC volunteers will be in the squares with the Azalea della Ricerca, in order to raise funds to continue financing projects such as that of Professor Lambertini.

Credits photos: photo by Federica Grioni

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