By Sara Bondell - May 08, 2023
Madison Losito loves Disney princesses. Belle is her favorite.
She is dressed up as Belle for her third birthday party. She’s running around with her friends, ecstatic in the iconic yellow ballgown with glittery sneakers on her feet and a tiara falling lopsided onto her forehead. There’s a bounce house, crafts and even a visit from Belle herself. It’s the party that little girls’ dreams are made of.
“Birthdays have kind of turned into a big thing around our house,” mom Jamie Losito said.
It’s time for cake, and all the kids gather around Madison. They start to sing “Happy Birthday” as her mom lights the candles on the two-tier cake — shaped like Belle’s dress, of course. Madison takes a deep breath. She makes a wish. She blows out the candles.
What she doesn’t know is that her family’s wish has already come true.
Jamie can’t help but remember. “It’s crazy to look back and think she may not have been here.”
When Jamie met Gene Losito in college, they fell into an easy relationship. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage — well, not quite yet. They were both very career oriented and knew when the time was right, they would start a family.
Eventually the time was right. Baby fever hit. They tried and tried, but Jamie wasn’t getting pregnant. Fertility specialists told them they would never be able to naturally conceive. So they underwent in vitro fertilization. In May 2018, their son, Landon, was born.
The Lositos spent the next year in baby bliss, soaking up every minute with Landon and navigating their new lives as working parents. Landon had just turned 1 when Jamie felt a lump on her breast. Her mom urged her to schedule a mammogram.
“I’m 32. I am a brand-new mom with a very plain vanilla health history. This shouldn’t be anything that I should be worried about,” Jamie remembered thinking.
Three days later, there was something to worry about. Jamie was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“The first words out of the radiologist’s mouth were, ‘This is not a death sentence, but it’s cancer.’ I don’t remember anything else he said after that because all I could think of was: I am not going to see Landon grow older. I am not going to see my husband grow old. We are not going to grow old together.”
Jamie began to make plans for treatment, but something didn’t feel right. After a family birthday party, she walked into a grocery store and bought a pregnancy test. It was positive.
“I thought this can’t possibly be because multiple fertility doctors told us we would never get pregnant on our own,” Jamie said. “I decided God has given us this at this moment that I have cancer as well, and I don’t know what this is going to mean. Can we even do treatment?”
It was a question Jamie immediately asked a local oncologist in Ocala. The answer was a mother’s worst nightmare.
“She told me that I was too far along with my cancer to wait to treat until after the baby was born, and that the baby would not survive me being treated at the same time as I was beating cancer,” Jamie said.
“I forgot I had cancer. Now I’ve lost my baby.”
Jamie’s family agreed when she was diagnosed that she should get a second opinion. Her mother called Moffitt Cancer Center and made an appointment.
When Jamie walked into Moffitt, she expected to once again be told she had to make the impossible decision between herself and her unborn child. Instead, she was told the Breast Oncology Department treats about two to three pregnant women with breast cancer each year.
She was told breast surgeon Christine Laronga, M.D., has plenty of experience operating on pregnant patients.
She was told she didn’t have to make a choice.
“I told her, ‘Yes, it’s going to be a rough journey. We have to do chemotherapy, but I promise you that we have enough evidence to say that we can do this safely for you,’” said Aixa Soyano, M.D., Jamie’s medical oncologist.
The chemotherapy given to patients like Jamie with hormone-positive HER2-negative breast cancer is filtered by the placenta and is generally safe for the baby. Jamie could have the exact same treatment regimen as a patient who isn’t pregnant. The timing of treatment would just have to be altered because she could not have surgery too early into her pregnancy or begin chemotherapy treatment until her second trimester. The treatments would also have to be spaced out more because pregnant patients cannot have blood cell booster medications and would need more time to recover between rounds.
“I was completely overwhelmed,” Jaime said. “Yes, I have cancer. I don’t know how long I am going to be here, but that’s OK, I am pregnant. I am going to have another baby, and maybe God gave me both of these at the same time because one had to get me through the other.”
At 12 weeks plus one day into her pregnancy, Jamie had a mastectomy. A month later, she began chemotherapy. She tolerated the treatment well, but still had to face her greatest fear: that the treatment would have a negative impact on her baby.
“I was really afraid she would have some kind of birth defect, learning disability or something that I would have to stare in the face every day and say my daughter has this because of what I chose to do,” Jamie said. “Was I making a selfish decision by bringing her into this world at a time in which I was doing chemotherapy?”
Her husband, Gene, also had to face his own fears throughout his wife’s treatment: “Am I going to lose my wife? Am I going to lose my daughter before she even gets here? Am I going to be a solo parent raising Landon trying to bring him up the best way that I can?”
Soyano was able to help calm Jamie’s fears. The oncologist also has a young family. She has a peaceful demeanor and is very knowledgeable about the treatment protocols.
And she was pregnant. A few weeks ahead of Jaime, both of them carrying girls.
“You want to understand what that patient is feeling, and I don’t want to do anything harmful for my baby, so I am not going to do anything harmful for someone else’s baby,” Soyano said.
“I felt like she was sitting in my seat and honestly telling me that my child was going to be OK,” Jamie said. “If she’s telling me this and she’s right where I am, then she must really mean it and this must be possible.”
Jamie was under the care of a high-risk OB-GYN in Gainesville during her pregnancy. She would go to her OB-GYN on Tuesdays and Moffitt on Thursdays, logging hundreds of miles on her car to make sure she and her baby were receiving the best care. She had 12 rounds of chemotherapy while pregnant before pausing to give her body a chance to recover ahead of her scheduled cesarean section at 39 weeks.
“I think having Madison during the process was just a blessing in disguise because it just gave us so much to hope for and to wish for and count on and dream about, that it let you forget about some of the bad things that were going on,” Gene said.
On Jan. 27, 2020, Madison Grace was born.
“Madison’s name means a gift from God and a mighty warrior,” Jamie said, “and I couldn’t imagine a more perfect truth for her.”
PRINCESS DRESSES AND SPARKLES
After Madison was born, Jamie had to complete four more rounds of chemotherapy. These treatments were more difficult to get through than the ones when Madison was on board. She felt sicker and more tired. She then did 56 twice-a-day radiation treatments over a six-week period.
In May 2020, Jamie rang the bell to signal the end of her treatment, newborn Madison in her arms. Initially faced with having to choose between two lives, the family could now celebrate saving both.
“It felt good to know that it was done, and I was ready to just get back to life as we had known it, or wanted to know it as parents of two under 2,” Jamie said.
Life as they know it now consists of belly laughs, ballet lessons and trips to Disney. It’s full of twirling in tutu skirts and singing songs. It’s cherishing every minute of every day.
“Our world could be completely different today. It could just be my husband and my son or neither of us here. But it’s not and it’s the four of us and we are loving every minute of it,” Jamie said.
There are times Jamie feels like she is a little tougher on Madison than Landon. After all, what’s a scraped knee when they’ve fought harder battles? There are also countless times where she looks at Madison and thinks, “You saved my life.”
When Soyano looks at her now 3-year-old daughter, Camila, she thinks of Jamie and Madison. She smiles knowing Jamie knows the same love from a daughter that she does. She calls Madison her angel.
“Treating Jamie was double rewarding,” Soyano said. “We saved two lives.”
That’s why the Lositos celebrate birthdays big. They celebrate the fact everyone is here because they know things can change in a moment’s notice. They celebrate the little boy who made them a family and the little girl who has no idea she got her mom through the hardest year of her life.
“All she knows is that all is right in her world and that princess dresses all twirl and sparkles are fun,” Jamie said. “That’s what I want it to be for her. And if it wasn’t for Moffitt, she may have never known that.”
This article originally appeared in Moffitt's Momentum magazine.