Dr. Diane Kane thought she had a handle on her patient’s abdominal pain. The woman was more than six months pregnant and hadn’t experienced this with her other children, but Kane told her all pregnancies are different. Still, the patient and her family members begged Kane to do some kind of test, so Kane did a CAT scan of her abdomen.
And that’s when she saw it: a 26-week fetus—and a tumor. “It looked like she had cancer perfused throughout her abdomen and pelvis,” says Kane. “There was the baby … and there was the cancer.”
A biopsy confirmed the diagnosis, and then it was up to Kane to deliver the news. “Telling people devastating news when I’ve only known them a few hours, at most, is one of the most difficult parts of my job,” she says. “But this patient and her family were so appreciative that I took her pain seriously and did something. At least they had an answer.”
Had the cancer not been detected, the woman’s organs could’ve become compromised, her body may have started to shut down, and that might have endangered the fetus, says Kane. The patient maintained her pregnancy for a while longer, but ended up delivering
early. Immediately after, she had surgery to remove the cancer.
But, by then, it was too late. A year later, the patient died. The baby is perfectly healthy, Kane says, but the mother’s death haunts her. Didn’t her actions save the child? Maybe, Kane says. “But it’s the ones that we don’t save who stay with us.”
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