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Young Mom Pregnant With Breast Cancer Finds Strength in Running

When Samantha Salway was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was 14 weeks pregnant with two other young children at home. She was also more determined than ever to take her passion for running to the next level – receiving the difficult diagnosis just a few months after completing a 10k and half marathon.

“The first two things my husband and I thought were: One, is it curable, and two, can both the baby and me be saved,” says Samantha, who was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) at 34 years old with no family history of the disease. TNBC accounts for about 10-15% of all breast cancers and tends to grow quickly.

Leading up to her diagnosis, Samantha felt soreness in her left breast a few weeks after the first ultrasound to see her baby boy. She associated it with her pregnancy until she felt a lump.

Samantha when she cut her hair, and Samantha when she was pregnant.
Samantha and her family when she got her head shaved. (left) (Courtesy: Samantha Salway) Samantha when she was pregnant with her son, Brooks. (right) (Courtesy: Candy Stick Photography)

“I truly believed it was benign at first, but I went to my obstetrician-gynecologist to get it checked out. After an ultrasound and biopsy, I was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in January 2023,” says Samantha.

Following the unexpected news, a friend recommended Samatha see Halle Moore, MD, the director of breast medical oncology at Cleveland Clinic Cancer Institute. Dr. Moore and her team, who have a specialized program for patients with young-onset breast cancer, worked together to create a comprehensive treatment plan.

“When breast cancer is diagnosed during pregnancy, we try to keep the treatment as close to what we would administer to a woman who isn’t pregnant. There are a few exceptions, however, because some medications are simply not safe or have not been tested during pregnancy,” says Dr. Moore.

Samatha’s course of treatment started with chemotherapy followed by a lumpectomy, which is a type of procedure used to remove breast tumors. Even amid chemotherapy, her passion for running continued to grow. She completed a 10-mile race at 26 weeks pregnant after working with her care team to determine it was safe.

Samantha with her baby after he was born.
Samantha welcomed her happy, healthy baby boy, Brooks, into the world in July 2023. (Courtesy: Samantha Salway)

“It was important for me to keep running. It kept me moving and took my mind off all the fear associated with what was going on. I believe I was able to stay strong throughout my treatment because of running,” says Samantha.

Dr. Moore adds, “There's plenty of evidence showing exercise can help people tolerate chemotherapy medications and experience better outcomes with respect to their cancer, so I was fully supportive of her.”

In July 2023, Samantha and her husband welcomed their healthy baby boy, Brooks, into the world with no complications. Shortly after giving birth, she underwent additional treatment including radiation as well as more rounds of chemotherapy. Although there were times during treatment she didn’t have the strength to hold her own baby, she continued pushing herself. She would start by walking, then jogging and would eventually feel good enough to run again. Samantha ended up running nearly 55 race miles and hundreds of training miles throughout her treatment.

“Moving forward, my goal is to sign up for a race every month. I keep thinking in my head, ‘What else can I do,’” says Samantha.

Samantha and husband at Cleveland 10K.
Samantha continued running throughout her cancer treatment, completing more than 50 race miles. To celebrate the end of her chemotherapy treatments, she ran the Cleveland Marathon's 10K in 2024. (Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic)

With no current evidence of cancer, she will continue being closely monitored. She now looks forward to signing up for more races and creating new memories with her family.

“My little warrior Brooks and I are both here today, and it’s just so emotional to think about. It’s amazing,” exclaims Samantha.

She says she’s grateful to her family and her community in Aurora, Ohio, for banding together to support her through this time. Samantha is also thankful for her care team at Cleveland Clinic. “They’re all angels and true lifesavers. They were able to hold my hand and walk me through my entire treatment, making me feel at ease.”

Dr. Moore adds, “It was inspiring to see Samantha accomplish everything she needed to for treatment while also continuing to follow her passions and be successful in the things that were important to her – from running to being a mother.”

Samantha and family at Cleveland 10K.
Samantha says she was able to make it through this difficult time thanks to the support of her husband, children, parents as well as other members of her family and community. (Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic)

Although most women are diagnosed with breast cancer at age 50 or older, Samantha is sharing her story to raise awareness that breast cancer can impact women of all ages. She stresses the importance of self-exams and bringing up health concerns to your doctor. Samantha also aims to inspire hope in others who are learning how to navigate a diagnosis like hers.

“I always say little steps and big goals. If you look at the whole big picture, it's overwhelming – so focus on taking one little step at a time to reach that big goal. Anything’s possible if you set your mind to it,” says Samantha.

Related Institutes: Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center
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