What Happened to Abbey's Mom

She was 25 years old and pregnant with her first child—the picture of health, happiness, and the potential of life. But Nicole Davis had no idea that she’d developed a relentless form of cancer that was, in a cruel twist, aggravated by her pregnancy.

August 2011

With her treatment behind her, Nicole began to focus on the future. Abbey’s sandy blond hair had grown long enough to fashion a Pebbles-style ponytail, and the chubby-faced toddler developed a profound devotion to Ariel from the Little Mermaid. Some days, the three of them stayed home, ignored the phone, and cuddled while watching the Mickey Mouse Club. If Tyler and Nicole argued, they’d stop after a few minutes, realizing the point of contention was trivial considering they’d nearly been separated by death. Yet whenever there was down time, when they were watching television or sitting in bed, Tyler noticed his wife feeling her breasts, obsessively searching for lumps.

Doctors had put Nicole on Tamoxifen, a standard post-treatment drug designed to block the effects of estrogen and curb cancer growth. As she endured side effects like hot flashes and mood swings, she tried not to worry. Doctors and friends alike repeatedly mentioned that studies show optimists are more likely to survive cancer than pessimists. But the fear lingered. Would she be part of the 85 percent of HER2-positive patients who lived five years or more, or would she be part of that unlucky 15 percent who didn’t?

One afternoon, Nicole and Tyler barreled north on I-25, silence between them and Abbey asleep in the back. They were bound for Loveland to visit Tyler’s mother, and they’d been discussing the fact that both birth control pills and another pregnancy would be too dangerous for Nicole because of the increasing hormones. Nicole and Tyler planned to adopt, but they had to decide how to prevent another pregnancy. Tyler spoke up, cutting through the silence. He would get a vasectomy, he said. “No,” Nicole replied. She would get a tubal ligation. “You’re 27 years old,” she told her husband. “If God forbid something happens, I want you to be able to have more kids. I want Abbey to have a mom.”

Of course, Nicole was determined to avoid that, and her mind kept returning to the question of a bilateral mastectomy. There was the same range of opinions, with some studies showing little difference in outcome between a lumpectomy with radiation and a mastectomy, and others suggesting that removing the breast tissue entirely could lower the chances of recurrence, especially in a young woman facing decades of risk. While her doctors stressed there was no guarantee the operation would eliminate another bout with cancer, Nicole opted for the surgery. As she put it: “I wanted to be taking care of Abbey and cooking dinner, not feeling myself up all the time.” The operation was scheduled for January 24, 2011.