A pregnant New Jersey woman discovered she had melanoma and passed away just three weeks later. Her heartbreaking story, which hits close to home as I am currently expecting, is of course terrifying, but it serves as an important reminder that even during pregnancy, it's imperative to pay attention to your own health.
Thirty-year-old Danielle Janofsky went to the hospital with abdominal pain six months into her second pregnancy. Unthinkably, she would learn that cancer, which started as melanoma, had spread to her liver, kidney, stomach, and brain. She waited as long as she could—which turned out to be just a few weeks—before delivering her baby via C-section, as the family details on "Dani's" memorial GoFundMe page.
"She made the selfless and loving decision to deliver baby Jake on Friday February 24th thereby sacrificing herself so that her son could live. Jake was born 1 pound 11 ounces and is currently in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the University of Pennsylvania where he recently met his big sister Avery, age 4," the post reads. Little Jake has lung issues given how early he had to be delivered, and is on a ventilator.
Janofsky, who passed away just a week later, is also survived by her husband, Max.
It's important to note that the beautiful young mom was previously diagnosed with melanoma in 2015, but as Today.com reports, she was given a good prognosis after the offending mole on her shoulder was removed. It's also imperative that people understand that, even despite popular belief, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, a woman's chances of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of cancer, do not increase during pregnancy. However, according to Janet Prystowsky, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, a woman's hormones change during pregnancy, which may stimulate melanocytes (the cells that can become melanoma). And, she adds, moles may darken, grow, and/or change at any point in time, during pregnancy or not, so it's important to get them checked frequently.
Being pregnant may affect how your body fights off cancer, according to Dr. Prystowsky: "To avoid rejecting the fetus, the immune system dampens down a little, which may decrease one's innate immune surveillance to kill early cancer cells."
The AAD says that melanoma (presumably in the early stages) can in many cases be treated safely during pregnancy. In Janofsky's case, though, the cancer was very advanced, leaving immunotherapy as her only treatment option, which is not advisable during pregnancy.
As a pregnant woman, I can definitely vouch for the fact that I am super-focused on my pregnancy, and often think about putting off my own health concerns until after the baby is born. But as Dr. Prystowsky points out, melanoma is one of the few cancers that can actually pass through the placenta, so in this case, it's about both mom and baby's health.
Dr. Prystowsky encourages everyone to know the ABCDEs of skin cancer. When it comes to moles, red flags include:
Doctors can safely perform skin biopsies during pregnancy, she adds, if any of the ABCDEs are detected during a skin exam.
To help protect against skin cancer, Dr. Prytowsky advises pregnant women to wear zinc- or titanium-based sunscreen and other forms of sun protection (such as protective clothing and a hat) when outside. "For patients with known risk factors for melanoma, I recommend a pre-conception full skin exam to check for potential problem moles and then follow-up checks every three months until delivery."
Finally, Dr. Prytowsky says it's always best to see your dermatologist regularly, especially if you have a concern. "Any evolution of your moles is worth being concerned about," she says. "If you notice any of your moles changing, whether you a pregnant or not, you should contact your dermatologist."
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and soon-to-be mom of 4. Find her on Facebook where she chronicles her life momming under the influence. Of yoga.