After Breast Cancer Treatment while Pregnant, Nurse and Son Are Thriving

Tricia Severns, NP, a nurse practitioner at Dana-Farber, found out that she was pregnant just five days after her breast cancer diagnosis. But with the guidance of experts in the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers at Dana-Farber, Severns was able to carry and deliver a baby boy—and both Tricia and her son are happy and healthy today.

It was around Halloween 2010 when Severns, then 37, realized she had a breast lump. She initially thought it was something that would go away, but when it didn’t, she went to the doctor. A biopsy showed that she had stage II breast cancer.

It was perturbing news, Severns says, but there was a silver lining: “I knew there were excellent outcomes,” she recalls. Her work as a stem cell transplant nurse also helped her through.

“You know the right questions to ask and when to put one foot in front of the other,” Severns says. “I saw it as a giant speed bump on the road of life.”

Tricia Severns, NP.
Tricia Severns, NP.

Severns’ care team, led by Ann Partridge, MD, MPH, co-founder and director of the Young and Strong Program for Young Women with Breast Cancer, started devising a treatment plan. The team initially advised that it was not recommended for her to get pregnant for at least five years—news that devastated Severns. She and her husband, Mark, who had only been married for two years, had been trying to get pregnant.

“The cancer diagnosis didn’t hit me nearly as hard as that news,” Severns says. “Getting pregnant was the plan we had made together.”

But then, life intervened. Five days after her diagnosis, Severns found out that she was pregnant. This presented a unique challenge: While there is no evidence that breast cancer itself can harm a woman’s baby, when treating pregnant women who have breast cancer, doctors need to protect the growing fetus while curing or controlling the cancer.

But Partridge, a renowned leader in treating pregnant women with breast cancer, was up to the task. After working with her care team on a treatment plan, Severns started chemotherapy when she was 14 weeks pregnant and finished when she was at 37 weeks. She also underwent a lymph node biopsy and a lumpectomy.

Throughout that time, Severns only missed one day of work at Dana-Farber. And eventually her son, Matthew, was born healthy.

The Severns family.
The Severns family.

“Dealing with breast cancer while pregnant poses emotional and medical concerns for a patient and her loved ones, and it can be both a scary and happy time,” says Partridge. “Fortunately, Tricia not only managed it all extraordinarily well, but her treatment was also safe and effective for both her and her son.”

After Matthew arrived, Severns underwent a double mastectomy, radiation and a breast reconstruction—and today, she is in remission. She takes tamoxifen, a hormone-blocking drug and type of adjuvant therapy, and comes in for check-ups every six months. Her latest one “went great,” she says.

Today, life for Severns’s family is “decidedly routine”—and that’s how she likes it. She continues to work four days a week at Dana-Farber and loves to see curative treatments in action helping patients like herself. Mark works from home and gets to pick up Matthew, now seven years old, from school every day.

And importantly, they make sure to have family dinner every night.