Medicine & Science

Toxic taboo

Charnette had a secret.

She didn’t feel comfortable telling her fiancé, Thomas, before the wedding.

It wasn’t appropriate during the birth of their first child, Gabrielle.

It would have been awkward when her husband became a medical assistant for the local crisis pregnancy center.

It was too overwhelming when Charnette found out about her breast cancer.

But now that she is four weeks pregnant and living with cancer, she will tell everyone about her abortion.

At age 20, Charnette chose a surgery that left her with emotional and physical scars; some were immediate, like her struggle with depression and infertility. But Charnette believes that locked away in her breasts were cells that would later come to haunt her. Now at age 31, Charnette struggles to survive HER-2 positive cancer, and make sense of the nightmare that she and many others believe started with an abortion.

Studies are showing the strong possibility of the link between breast cancer and abortion. Dr. Joel Brind, president of the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute, concluded a meta-analysis of 33 sepa- rate studies, encompassing hundreds of thousands of women. He found that 27 of those studies show those who terminate pregnancies by abortion run a 30 percent greater risk of breast cancer. The same study reveals that American women who had an abortion before age 18 or after age 30 were at over a 100% increased risk.

This is not new evidence, says Dr. Brind, who cites the long history of research revealing the abortion-breast cancer connection. “A 1948 study in Japan found that there were three times as many pregnancies that ended in artificial abortion among women who had breast cancer. A 1981 study found 140% increased risk of breast cancer before the age of 33 for those who had induced abortions,” reports Dr. Brind.

Even a recent study conducted by Janet Daling, Ph.D., at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which appeared in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, reported that among women who were 45 and younger, the risk of breast cancer among those who had had abortions was 50 percent higher than among other women.

Why does this happen?

A woman receives an enormous exposure of estrogen when she is pregnant that is only neutralized toward the end of the pregnancy. If she has an induced abortion, she has a huge dose of estrogen with its effects of having multiplied the amount of tissue in the breast, which is vulnerable to cancer. This is different than a full-term pregnancy, where the differentiation of the cells actually lower the lifetime risk of cancer.

Not just a number

Charnette, who has experienced both abortion and pregnancy, is determined not to become just another statistic. She has told her story on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” and is also featured in the book Fighting for Our Future by Beth Murphy (McGraw Hill). Charnette advocates for early breast cancer detection for women younger than 40, as well as further research regarding the affects of abortion and its relationship to cancer.

This public exposure is a far cry from where she stood only eight months prior when she dreaded telling her husband about her previous abortion. “I really needed to tell him because it was heavy on my heart,” Charnette explains. “I needed to get it out and grieve with him.”

Charnette still struggles with the chilling events surrounding her abortion. “There was a long hallway at the abortion clinic and all these women were in line. It reminded me of the movie ‘Life is Beautiful,’ where at the concentration camp the women go in one line and the men the other. They take you to the shower, but the shower is the gas chamber. In line behind me was a girl about 16 years old and her stomach was very large. I thought then that she was killing her baby. It didn’t dawn on me that I was killing mine too.

“If they would have showed me my ultrasound and told me that that is the heartbeat of my baby, it would have made a huge difference. They don’t tell you it’s a life; they tell you it’s a cluster of cells.”

Disclosure

Charnette’s husband, Thomas Messé, a Navy lieutenant commander and family practice physician, took the news as well as could be expected. “About one month after I found out about the cancer she told me about the abortion,” Messé said. “I was torn up because of my strong pro-life stance. I helped our local crisis pregnancy center convert to the medical model. I also felt betrayed because she didn’t tell me right away, but I understood.”

Dr. Messé, although raised Catholic, had strayed away from the core teachings of the Church. “I was a nominal Catholic and went to church under protest and then left it in college and during medical school. I was very pro-choice in college, and lived a promiscuous lifestyle in my early twenties. Then, at age 25, I had a conversion experience. By God’s grace, He showed me a way to get back into the Church and to realize that He is the Almighty.  I heard what the Church teaches about abortion and looked deeper. I’ve been a hard-core activist for about three or four years now.”

Dr. Messé was previously concerned with the way society disregards the health of women regarding abortion, but now he says it’s personal. “I look at my wife, who’s 31 and has no other risk factors, and now she has cancer. It hits home really hard that there is a link. When you think of the biology of breasts it really makes sense. The breasts grow tremendously in the first trimester with all that estrogen. They don’t get to differentiate, and the last trimester they get ready to lactate. With abortion, you shut off all those undeveloped cells, so that there is a higher chance for cancer.

“We ought to think about it. The media won’t even talk about it; mainstream medicine won’t even address it. We put down french fries but won’t criticize something that has been studied with relevance. I’m ashamed of my medical community in the way we treat this topic and overlook it. It’s a horrible thing.”

Intervention

Fortunately for Charnette and her husband, God has not ignored their plight. After being diagnosed with the suspicious malignant growth, Charnette underwent extensive testing including a CAT and bone scan. During her tests she grasped onto a picture of Gabrielle and cried out to God, “Would you please bless me with another child so that my daughter would not have to be alone if I have to die?” It was about that time the technician was moving down to scan her pelvis when the machine broke down. Four days later she would find out that she was indeed pregnant. Her attending physician believed that the broken machine might have saved her baby’s life.

“When I found out I was pregnant the day after my cancer diagnosis was confirmed, I knew my child was a gift from God,” says Charnette. “Eleven years ago, I made the worst decision of my life. I didn’t know the beauty of being a mother. I’m going to do everything I can to bring this baby into the world. To give life to my child now.”

True to her commitment, Charnette has limited her chemotherapy, but not her zeal for demanding answers. “They can’t keep killing us the way they are; there’s a link. If they are going to admit that young women get breast cancer and that it’s life threatening, then we are going to want to know why and how. What they are saying now is let them die. I’m a mother and I want to live. Everything I’ve dreamed of hangs in the balance.”

Update

A healthy, Christian Vernon Messé was born five weeks early. Charnette, after extensive testing, has showed negative for metastasis. She continues her recovery process. Although Charnette’s prognosis is positive, she knows that other women aren’t so blessed. She prays that our country will begin to embrace life. “We say, ‘God bless America.’ What we don’t realize is that God is blessing America every time a woman conceives and every time a baby is born. When are we going to get that?”

Studies project who is at risk for breast cancer:

  • Women who had an abortion and also have any family history of breast cancer stand an 80% increased risk of getting breast cancer.
  • Women who had an abortion before the age of 18 or after age 30 stand a 100% increased risk of getting breast cancer.
  • Women who had an abortion before age 18, and also have any family history of breast cancer, are at an infinitely increased risk of getting breast cancer by age 45.

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About the author

Lynne M. Thompson

Lynne M. Thompson is a freelance writer from Modesto, Calif.