In the blink of an eye, Michelle Velez went from expecting a baby to undergoing chemotherapy.
In an emotional Facebook post shared last week, the Las Vegas-based news anchor told her fans she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer caused by an abnormal pregnancy.
“It’s extremely complicated so I’ll try my best to make it easy to understand.
“What I had was called a molar pregnancy,” she wrote. “It’s a pregnancy that is not viable — meaning a fetus never formed — but instead of miscarrying, the pregnancy continued to grow and produce invasive tissue.”
Velez goes on to explain in extremely rare cases, this invasive tissue can turn into cancer and spread to other organs in the body.
“That is what happened to me. No good reason … just unfortunate, dumb luck,” she said.
View this post on Instagram
I’m not exactly sure how to do this so I’m just going to give it to you straight. As many of you know I have been having some health issues the past few months. Honestly, we didn’t exactly know what was wrong until now. Last week, I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that was caused by an abnormal pregnancy. It’s extremely complicated so I’ll try to make it as easy to understand as possible. Before I do – I want you to know that my kind of cancer is treatable. We have every reason to believe I will recover free and clear – Just getting to that point is going to be tough. What I had was called a molar pregnancy. It’s a pregnancy that is not viable – meaning a fetus never formed -but instead of miscarrying, the pregnancy continued to grow and produced invasive placental tissue. Since the placenta is still there, the body mimics a pregnancy and spikes the pregnancy hormone (HCG) to astronomical levels. Essentially it was as if I was pregnant with 5 babies at once. It made me extremely sick and caused excessive bleeding. Normally this can be treated with a surgical procedure to clear the tissue and then we just monitor the HCG levels until they reach zero. However.. In some very rare cases that tissue can turn into cancer.. and spread to other organs in the body. That is what happened to me. No good reason, just unfortunate dumb luck. . . Again, The great news is this type of cancer is treatable and my doctors have every reason to believe I will be free and clear at the end of this. The bad news is I have to go through aggressive chemo to kill it. Yes I will probably lose my hair and experience other side effects of chemo. I have already made it through my first two treatments this week. Total number of rounds all depends on how long it takes the HCG levels to get to zero. . . I can’t really put into words what it is like to find out you have cancer.. devastating.. shocking and terrifying for starters – but there’s so much more to this I never understood. I plan to be as open and transparent about this journey as I can – because it’s the only way I know how to be. (Continued in comments)
A molar pregnancy is extremely rare, and it’s even rarer for one to cause the formation of cancerous cells, says Dr. Georgina Wilcock, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the Scarborough Health Network and a professor at the University of Toronto.
“Figures are different in different parts of the world. It may be as low as 160 per 100,000. It may be as high as 1,000 in 400,000,” Wilcock told Global News.
“Let’s say it’s one in 1,000 will get a molar pregnancy. Of those, maybe one to five will form some sort of gestational trophoblastic disease.”
The American Cancer Society calls these conditions a “group of rare tumours that involve abnormal growth of cells inside a woman’s uterus.”
The data support these claims. According to MyHealth Alberta, approximately one in 1,500 women with early pregnancy symptoms has a molar pregnancy.
What is a molar pregnancy?
A molar pregnancy occurs when the trophoblasts — the cells that normally develop into the placenta — grow abnormally because the egg has been fertilized abnormally.
There are two kinds of molar pregnancies: complete and partial.
“In a complete molar pregnancy, a fetus never develops. All that develops is placental-type tissue, but even that placental-type tissue is abnormal,” said Wilcock.
“It looks almost like tiny little bubbles of tissue — some people refer to it even as looking like grapes.”
In a partial molar pregnancy, there is often normal placental tissue forming simultaneously with abnormal placental tissue.
A fetus may form, but it’s unable to survive and usually miscarried early on.
Signs and symptoms
In Wilcock’s experience, the symptoms — or lack thereof — are what can make molar pregnancies especially devastating.
“The poor patient thinks they’re pregnant,” said Wilcock.
“Not only do they think they’re pregnant, not only does it mimic a pregnancy, but often, it produces the pregnancy hormone hCG … in very high amounts — like more than a normal pregnancy would.”
Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is a hormone produced by the placenta once an embryo implants in the uterus. It’s also what a pregnancy test detects in urine when you’re pregnant.
This can make normal pregnancy symptoms, like morning sickness, more intense than a typical pregnancy. A patient’s hCG levels can become so high that it can have adverse effects on things like your thyroid, too.
“Their thyroid can become abnormal… and they can present with a fast heart rate, a feeling of anxiety, et cetera,” Wilcock said.
“It grows very fast … their uterus will seem to be bigger there could be signs of bleeding.”
Some women have a higher risk of developing a molar pregnancy.
“Definitely having had a prior molar pregnancy, you’re more at risk,” Wilcock said.
“The extremes of maternal age” can also make you vulnerable to the abnormality. According to the Mayo Clinic, this pertains to women above the age of 35 and younger than 20.
A molar pregnancy can have serious complications and requires early treatment, the Clinic added.
The good news is an ultrasound can determine if you have a molar pregnancy almost immediately.
“The ultrasound is very classic. There’s no fetus,” said Wilcock.
It’s not uncommon for molar pregnancies to end on their own. However, if they don’t, your doctor can perform what’s known as a “D and C,” said Wilcock. This is a procedure known as “suction curettage, dilation and evacuation.”
The American Pregnancy Association reports that approximately 90 per cent of women who have a molar pregnancy removed require no further treatment.
However, as in Velez’s case, some women need chemotherapy to treat the cancerous form of gestational trophoblastic neoplasia. The mom of two has since begun an aggressive dose, documenting the journey on Instagram along the way.
“I plan to be as open and transparent about this journey as I can — because it’s the only way I know how to be,” said Velez.
View this post on Instagram
I’ve made it through my first round of chemo.. so that’s three days of treatments so far.. and I still get nervous every time I walk in. Cried on the first day.. naturally. The chemo makes me really cold.. and they put Benadryl in the IV so it knocks me out too. I hate that feeling. Every day I go in for treatment.. I have this inner battle with myself. On one hand I hate knowing all this harsh stuff is going inside me.. taking a toll on my body – but on the other hand – it’s also the only thing saving my life. A real mind mess if you ask me. Now we get to wait and see what the side effects are like. How will I feel? Will it take all my hair? Will I still have eyelashes or brows at least? Please God leave me my brows.. I have a thing about brows. If you know me.. you know that 😟 Not most important but still on my mind. Also.. I really miss my kids. We’re not sure when they’re coming back yet – all depends on whether I can get stable enough to have them here. I’m praying this is the last week for that. Praying for a lot right now. Your prayers are helping too so thank you from the bottom of my ♥️ Tonight.. I will get my second warrior hug from my mamma to celebrate #round1down 💪🏼 #molarpregnancy #GTD #choriocarcinoma #cancerdiagnosis #chemo #chemosucks #cancersucks #gestationaltrophoblasticdisease #pregnancycancer #placentacancer
Can you get pregnant again afterwards?
Most doctors will recommend that you don’t get pregnant for one year following a molar pregnancy.
This allows them to monitor your hCG levels, which can show whether there were any left-behind abnormal placental cells from your molar pregnancy still growing (and not a new pregnancy with a viable fetus.)
“Once are down to zero, you follow for a solid year at zero,” said Wilcock. “That way, if it goes up, you know there’s potential that this could be some sort of invasive disease.”
© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.