Cancer Featured Patient stories Pregnancy

Pap tests save lives: Colleen’s cancer and pregnancy story

Colleen during her pregnancy.
Colleen during her pregnancy.

First was the feeling of numbness, and then a million questions raced through her mind. “I’m 30, there’s no way, this can’t happen to me,” says Colleen.

She received a Pap test as part of her prenatal workup and was diagnosed with cervical cancer in early March 2020, at 24 weeks of pregnancy. It was the second blow for Colleen and her husband Travis, who learned just weeks before they lost one of the babies of their twin pregnancy.

“I remember hearing the diagnosis and thinking ‘how do I tell my husband, my family…,” says Colleen, who lives in St. Catharines with her husband Travis and their three-year-old son Tyler. “I couldn’t fathom having chemotherapy while pregnant. It was an intense time.”

Initially receiving care close to home at Juravinski Hospital, Colleen’s health care team referred her to Sunnybrook to address her cancer and explore ways she could try to carry her pregnancy to term.

“We approached recommendations for her care in a very thoughtful way, with a whole team to support her, including gynecologic oncologists, radiation oncologists and medical oncologists, in addition to a maternal fetal medicine specialist,” explains Dr. Rachel Kupets, gynecologic oncologist, who urges women to get their Pap tests, which can prevent cervical cancer.

Together with Dr. Kupets, the team landed on an approach to care for Colleen, which involved delivering her baby by Caesarian section and then performing a radical hysterectomy the same day. The treatment plan meant no chemotherapy.

Colleen, who was documenting her pregnancy and cancer journey on her blog, remembers writing “ONE SURGERY AND ONE RECOVERY. Hallelujah!!!”

The big day came on May 26, 2020. Colleen was greeted by Dr. Kupets and Dr. Howard Cohen, her maternal fetal specialist, in the operating room and remembers saying to them, “I’m scared, I’ve never had surgery of any kind.”

Because the birth and surgery were both happening in one of the hospital’s main operating rooms, Travis could not be present. Colleen brought in her phone and FaceTimed Travis during the delivery. Baby Cayden was born – a healthy little boy. Shortly after welcoming him, her surgery followed.

On June 17, 2020, Colleen was declared cancer free.

When asked about her advice for those facing a cancer diagnosis in pregnancy, she says, “There’s no sense in worrying about the unknown. You have to stay positive and take everything one day at a time.”

When asked about Colleen, Dr. Kupets smiles. “She was very courageous and handled each challenge with a lot of strength. I hope she’s enjoying her time with her children now.”

Left: Colleen and baby Cayden. Right: Colleen and family.

About the author


Marie Sanderson

Marie Sanderson is a Senior Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

Have a question about this post? Get in touch.