Jenny Leon with her daughter, Lyla, on the day of Lyla’s birth. (COURTESY MT. SINAI HEALTH SYSTEM)

Jenny Leon, 35-year-old Montclair mother of two, was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer during her 33-week of pregnancy with her daughter, Lyla. 

She had always been vigilant about monitoring every lump and bump on her body, but she never thought it would actually be breast cancer. 

Depending on when a cancer diagnosis is made, some pregnant women with breast cancer are faced with making the impossible choice between saving their own lives or their babies’. 

But Leon’s diagnosis was toward the end of her pregnancy, so her care team at Mount Sinai induced her early – at 37 weeks – in order to proceed with her surgery and oncologic treatment. Two and a half weeks after her induction with Lyla, Leon underwent a double mastectomy and reconstruction with Mount Sinai’s Dr. Alice Yao.

Leon had two requests for Yao: She wanted her double mastectomy and reconstruction to happen as soon as possible and as quickly as possible, so that she could get home and spend time with her babies, and not have to make several trips back and forth to a doctor’s office for follow up appointments. She also wanted her implant placement to be above the muscle, instead of below it, so that she could hold her babies right away without any pain.

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Yao was able to make two special accommodations for Leon and her newborn: Yao did a direct one-stage implant reconstruction so that Leon could be done with surgery in one shot and get back to her babies at home.  The more traditional and most common approach to breast reconstruction is to insert tissue expanders, where half-filled temporary implants are put in. Once healed, fluid is injected into the implants, and they come up slowly over many weeks. This approach means the patient has to come into the doctor’s office every two weeks for three months, which makes it very time-consuming. Eventually, the patient comes in for another surgery to get the final implants put in.

Yao did a pre-pectoral implant placement, meaning it was above the muscle, so that Leon could use her arms right away and hold and carry her babies.  The more traditional approach is a subpectoral implant placement, below the muscle. Only some patients get offered above the muscle — they have to be very young, healthy, have good skin and not have advanced cancer.

The direct-to-implant and pre-pectoral implant placement surgery was a success, and Leon was able to get home and spend time with her family right away. Next month, she celebrates two years since her last chemotherapy treatment. She’s doing well, and so are her two toddlers.

Breast cancer during pregnancy is rare. Research shows that breast cancer is reported in 1 in every 3,000 pregnancies. Most women are between 32 and 38 years old at diagnosis. Triple negative breast cancer is fairly common; however, it’s typically more severe and often needs chemotherapy.

Leon has written about her journey with breast cancer, with her work being featured in HuffPost Canada, Newsday, Motherwell and several other outlets. Her work is at linktr.ee/jennyrosenyc.

— Information provided by Mount Sinai Health System