A difficult choice at a difficult time
When Shamiram Konstantin looks into the eyes of her little baby girl, Nohra Grace, she sees a miracle. It reminds her of the best news she had ever heard—the news that she was carrying a baby.
At the age of 24, Shamiram faced a bone marrow transplant for aplastic anemia, an autoimmune disease. The college student chalked up her symptoms, like excessive tiredness and breathlessness, to her busy schedule. It wasn’t until a bruise on her arm failed to go away that she sought medical help. Once diagnosed, multiple transfusions failed. Shamiram traveled around the country to seek advice from specialists and then returned home to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., to have the transplant.
“It was very frightening when they talked about chemotherapy before the transplant,” remembers Shamiram. “I was told there was a 50-50 chance it could affect my ability to have children. Being a mother has always been a huge priority for me.”
“Many young women face this difficult decision,” says Dr. Leonard Klein, a hematologist/oncologist and Director of Stem Cell Transplant at Lutheran General. “Chemotherapy treatment before a transplant or to treat breast and other types of cancer can affect fertility. In Shamiram’s case, she had time to preserve embryos. Unfortunately for some women, the speed of the disease and need for immediate treatment can make it impossible.”
Shamiram’s boyfriend of over four years, Tawar, now her husband, was by her side every step of the way, despite being told that there could be complications. Shamiram had the bone marrow transplant; her brother and sister were both perfect matches. Her brother was chosen to donate.
“The transplant was really exhausting for me, “says Shamiram. “I was weak and very sick. It was a very long process. The support of my parents, family and friends got me through it. I am forever grateful to each and every one of them.”
As the days went on, Shamiram grew stronger. She and Tawar married two years after her transplant. Three months after the wedding, Shamiram became ill and appeared to be suffering a setback. Instead, the nurse in her physician’s office gave her the news. She was pregnant. Despite preserving eggs and the odds against it, Shamiram was able to get pregnant on her own.
“It was a little overwhelming–we never expected to get pregnant so soon,” remembers Shamiram. “But, I was more than happy to trade nausea from chemotherapy for nausea during pregnancy.”
“Looking back, I remember how hard and scary it was to make pregnancy a priority during my bone marrow transplant ordeal,” says Shamiram. “I just want other women to know that when things are chaotic, think of yourself. Take a moment, don’t hide from your feelings and if you can, take the time you need to make decisions about your care.”
Dr. Klein offers similar advice. “Women should know their options regarding chemotherapy and pregnancy. Every woman and treatment regimen is different. Ask lots of questions. Most importantly, seek the advice of your oncologist. He or she can help you make the best decision for your individual needs.”
Baby Nohra is just over a year old. “I now have all the good things in life,” says Shamiram. “I hope it gives hope to other young women facing similar issues.”
About the Author
Evonne Woloshyn, health enews contributor, is director of public affairs at Advocate Children's Hospital. Evonne began her career as an anchor and reporter in broadcast news. Over the past 20 years, she has worked in health care marketing in both Ohio and Illinois. Evonne loves to travel, spend time with family and is an avid Pittsburgh Steelers fan!