Abortion and Breast Cancer
Charnette's Story: Finding Healing after Abortion
By Liz Townsend
Although she did not know it at the time, Charnette Messť's crusade began March 7, 2002, when she was diagnosed with advanced-stage breast cancer. Only 31 years old, with no family history of the disease, her doctors were shocked at the test results.
But Messť had a painful secret that could provide an explanation: she had undergone an abortion 10 years earlier. Now, armed with personal knowledge of the link between abortion and breast cancer, Messť is working to spread the word to women that when they choose abortion they may be at risk of developing breast cancer.
"My baby is gone and is never coming back," Messť told NRL News. "I had a baby in my womb and I allowed someone to take my baby from me. That's a greater pain than losing a breast at 31."
Messť wants women to know that breast cancer can strike women in their 20s and 30s, especially if they have had abortions. "If I had known before my abortion that I could be increasing my risk of breast cancer, my choice may have been different," said Messť. She continues to fight the cancer, undergoing chemotherapy and a mastectomy.
She said that at first her doctors refused to believe she had breast cancer.
"If they had mentioned abortion as a possible red flag, maybe I would have come clean sooner," Messť said. "Women who have a history of abortion - - even if they're under the ago of 40 - - should be given screening for breast cancer."
Messť's plea is supported by many studies that have shown that abortion increases a woman's chance of getting breast cancer.
"It is undisputed that a young woman who has been pregnant has a higher risk of breast cancer if she aborted as opposed to carrying the baby to term," explained Dr. Joel Brind, professor of human biology and endocrinology at Baruch College of the City University of New York. "Charnette's diagnosis of breast cancer at such a young age was likely caused by her abortion."
Abortion's link to breast cancer relates to the cells that develop in the breast during pregnancy.
"The first two trimesters of a normal pregnancy expose a woman's breasts to huge amounts of estrogen, which makes breast cells multiply," Dr. Brind wrote in NRL News. "Cells, previously dormant,
rapidly grow into a system of branching ducts and gland cells capable of producing milk. Once the growth, change, and maturation are completed, the chance of developing cancer is much less. However, if pregnancy isn't completed, the immature cells are still capable of being stimulated to grow - - and therefore have much more potential to become cancerous."
Messť has taken her message to a national audience on television and in a woman's magazine. A local Connecticut newspaper, The Day, has been running a series of articles on her cancer fight and her pregnancy since last March.
She will also be featured in a video that will soon be released by the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute. In the video, which is intended to inform young women about the abortion-breast cancer link, Messť and other women tell their personal stories about breast cancer and abortion while Dr. Brind and colleagues relate the medical facts.
Before her abortion, Messť had no major health problems. Afterwards, she went through infertility, endometriosis, a cyst on her left ovary, and polyps in her uterus and fallopian tube. Then came the breast cancer diagnosis.
Remarkably, the very next day Messť discovered she was pregnant - - news that she and her husband Tom had been waiting for since the birth of their daughter Gabrielle three years earlier.
Messť's faith gave her the strength to remain optimistic that her baby would survive her chemotherapy regimen. "God had given me a baby," said Messť, "and I was not given such a gift only so the baby could die." As she would come to learn, however, the birth of a healthy baby after cancer treatment is not a rare occurrence.
"There are certain chemotherapy agents that are used that may not harm the baby at all," she said.
Messť developed preeclampsia, a serious condition unrelated to the cancer, and Christian arrived unexpectedly two months before his November 16 due date.
"He came out screaming mad and breathing on his own," Messť said. He weighed three pounds, two ounces, and remained in the neonatal intensive care unit for six weeks.
"Christian had to learn how to eat and grow some more," Messť said. "But he's such a chunk now. You'd never know we had chemo. He's perfectly healthy."
Even as she celebrates the birth of her son, Messť is still mourning the loss of her first baby. When she went to the abortion clinic, "I was told my baby was only a zygote and was shown a little dot on a generic ultrasound," Messť remembered, in a voice filled with pain.
"They told me this is what it looks like. I thought that if you couldn't see the form of a baby, it isn't a baby." She has no memories of the abortionist or even of walking into the operating room.
"I woke up to see a woman smiling at me, telling me to take two Tylenol to help with the pain," Messť said. "I thought, 'Which pain? I just took my baby's life and I'll have to live with it for the rest of my life.'"
"The advertisement is that it's your body, your choice," she continued, "that once you have an abortion, you get to go free. But there is no freedom once you make that decision."
Messť lived with her trauma for years, adamant that no one could ever know of her abortion. "I was silent," she said. "I was going to die with my secret, until I found out I was dying anyway."
Once she broke her silence, Messť was able to begin healing. She has enrolled in a Post-Abortion Counseling and Education program through a local Care-Net crisis pregnancy center.
She hopes that women in her same situation, facing a life-threatening illness with the truth still locked away, will find peace.
"I'm praying for all the women being diagnosed with breast cancer who are keeping their secrets too," Messť said. "They're silent, but screaming and yelling inside to tell."
Her latest tests have shown no evidence of cancer. But since the cancer had previously been detected in her lymph nodes, Messť is still undergoing treatment to make sure the cancer has not spread.
"I'm optimistic," Messť said. "So far, so good."
She said she will continue her crusade to help women.
"Abortion is the exact opposite of 'women's health care,'" Messť said. "It's the destruction of her health and of another human being. I don't want women to blame themselves - - I'm trying to save their lives."