Pregnant with cancer: Second opinion critical

SAN DIEGO – Leigh Ingram's story is a graphic illustration of evolving cancer treatment and the importance of a second opinion.

Ingram was diagnosed with tonsil cancer when she was 16 weeks pregnant. 

Three doctors recommended she end her pregnancy and start treatment immediately. Instead, she asked one more doctor what he thought.

Now Ingram and her husband are treasuring every day with their 1-year-old daughter, Layne.

"Even though three people had told me that we should terminate, I felt like we needed to go to another institution and make sure we were really doing the right thing," Ingram said.

She went for a second opinion at UCLA and a third at UCSD, where Dr. Parag Sanghvi and colleagues came up with a plan that let Ingram keep her baby.

"Why don't we do some surgery up front and see what the pathology shows, and then if this is what we expect it to be, we'll follow her closely and then plan to do any additional treatment that's needed after she delivered her baby," Sanghvi said. 

Ingram said the plan offered hope.

"We really didn't think we would hear anything different, so it was just this ray of light to hear that we could keep the baby and that there was another option," she said. 

Doctor's at UCLA removed Ingram's right tumor and 12 lymph nodes. Six months later, Layne was born.

The next day, doctors found a growth in Ingram's other tonsil, which meant another surgery and six weeks of radiation. 

Ingram said that life now is blessedly normal. She and Sanghvi said that with cancer treatment changing so fast, a second opinion can be critical.

"So if there's ever a time where you feel like, 'yes, something's just not right here,' get that second opinion, find somebody who may be a better fit for you. And I think Leigh's case really illustrates that," Sanghvi said.

He said Ingram also benefited from being treated at an institution that has experts from many fields. Her care required oncologists, radiologists, maternal fetal care specialists and the neonatal intensive care unit.

"I can't tell you how close we were to not having the baby. I just thank God every day for her," Ingram said.