UAE: 36-year-old mother gives birth despite cancer diagnosis during pregnancy

She had experienced excruciating abdominal pain from the initial stages of her pregnancy but dismissed it as the physical strain of carrying a baby


Ashwani Kumar

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Top Stories

Published: Thu 21 Sep 2023, 1:03 PM

Last updated: Thu 21 Sep 2023, 10:03 PM

Rania Fuad Alsheikh was 26 weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed with colon cancer.

Enduring severe abdominal pain, fatigue, and loss of appetite among other health issues, she chose to undergo chemotherapy, giving herself and her unborn a fighting chance. Today, cradling her newborn in her arms, the Jordanian expat stands as an epitome of resilience, optimism and hope.

She had experienced excruciating abdominal pain from the initial stages of her pregnancy but dismissed it as the physical strain of carrying a baby. But as her pain intensified, she sought medical help at a healthcare facility. However, she was told that pain was a regular part of pregnancy. As the weeks progressed, her condition deteriorated, leaving her weak, bedridden, and anxious for answers.

“When I learned I was going to be a mother for the second time, I was thrilled. But as my pregnancy progressed, I began to suffer from severe pain and heaviness in my stomach. By the sixth month of pregnancy, I developed fatigue due to which I couldn’t get up from the bed and had a lack of hunger. By then I was feeling incapacitated with pain and vomiting and was rushed to the emergency room at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi,” Rania said.

At the hospital, Dr Fady Georges Hachem, consultant, obstetrics and gynaecology, insisted on doing more investigative tests to determine what was causing pain. It was then that Rania was diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer. While the diagnosis was an unexpected setback, the expectant mother displayed great courage and relied on her faith to overcome this tough situation.

“I thanked the Almighty because we finally knew what was causing the pain. Even though I did not expect a cancer diagnosis, I did not feel sad as I believe everything that comes from God is good. All I wanted was for my baby to be healthy,” Rania recalled.

Skilled medical experts intervene

Dr Mohanad Diab, consultant, medical oncology, who was asked to consult on the patient, recollected her being bedridden and too weak to talk when he first met her in April. The biopsies revealed an aggressive form of colon cancer called mucinous adenocarcinoma. While the patient was in poor shape, further tests showed the baby’s condition to be unstable. Realising the urgency of the situation, an interdisciplinary team at the hospital comprising Dr Diab, Dr Hachem, Dr Hameed Raina, a specialist gastroenterologist, and hepatologist, and Dr Toufic Ata, consultant laparoscopic bariatric and general surgery, came up with a comprehensive treatment to safeguard the health of both mother and baby.

“We had two options in front of us. The first was to not administer chemotherapy because she was pregnant. But her condition was so poor that if we chose this, she was at risk of dying in a matter of days. Trying chemotherapy on the pregnant patient was the other option,” said Dr Diab.

The team set up a tumour board discussion at the hospital to determine how similar cases of pregnant women with chemotherapy at 26 weeks of gestation were treated.

Chemotherapy during pregnancy

“While she was 26 weeks pregnant, we started treatment with the chemotherapy regimen to improve outcomes for both the mother and baby. Miraculously, three days after the chemotherapy, the patient was able to stand up. Prior to administering treatment, she was unable to eat a morsel of food. But after the chemo, she was able to eat normally,” said Dr Diab, adding that she was discharged one week after the first chemotherapy session. She continued to have weekly medical appointments during which the team monitored her and the baby till delivery.

Rania was filled with gratitude when she recalled how her mother, sisters and husband supported her during that vulnerable period. As the pain diminished and her energy levels increased, Rania carried on with her regular activities and spent time with her family, including her four-year-old son Mohammed. The support of her family and the treatment gave her hope in those trying times.

On June 8, in the 35th week of her pregnancy, Rania had completed five chemotherapy sessions and underwent a caesarean section, bringing her baby boy into the world.

“It was an emotional moment for all of us in the operating room when we took the baby out and placed him in Rania’s arms. The sight of the healthy baby boy weighing 2.32 kg gave us joy and relief. I commend her brave decision to undergo chemotherapy during pregnancy, which undoubtedly gave her and her baby the best chance,” Dr Hachem noted.

Looking to the future with hope

Rania, who is over the moon after the birth of little Fahed, is filled with hope for the future.

“I thank the Almighty and cherish each moment I get to spend with my little one. I am grateful to Dr Hachem and Dr Diab, who were compassionate human beings. I also thank Dr Hameed and Dr Toufic for boosting my confidence and helping me in my treatment,” said Rania, who also wrote a thank you note on the hospital’s wall.

As words of caution for expectant mothers, she added: “If you feel any pain during pregnancy, you must consult doctors because you are responsible not only for yourself but also the soul inside you.”

Dr Diab underlined that as Rania recuperates from the delivery and continues her cancer treatment, her story serves as an inspiration for others.

“It is extremely rare to be diagnosed with cancer when pregnant and more so to undergo chemotherapy and give birth to a healthy baby. Rania’s courage and resilience are an inspiration. By continuing the chemotherapy regimen, I am confident she will make a speedy recovery,” Dr Diab pointed out.


More news from UAE