A Las Vegas news anchor is fighting a rare form of cancer triggered by an incomplete miscarriage, she revealed on Instagram Monday.
The disease that 38-year-old Michelle Velez, one of the faces of KSNV NBC in Las Vegas, is battling comes from what’s called a molar pregnancy – a nonviable form that causes a mass like a cluster of grapes to form in the uterus.
But in addition to a non-viable pregnancy that could have been surgically removed, Velez’s molar pregnancy turned cancerous – an even more rare occurrence.
Velez said her diagnosis was ‘shocking and terrifying,’ but very much treatable, though the aggressive treatment she’ll require to beat the disease has already sent her to the hospital for a blood transfusion, she said.
Las Vegas news anchor Michelle Velez (right, pictured with her co-host Krystal Allen, left) thought she was pregnant in August. But the fertilization had gone awry and the 38-year-old developed a rare form of cancer from what’s known as a molar pregnancy
‘I’m not exactly sure how to do this so I’m just going to give it to you straight,’ Velez wrote on Instagram.
‘As many of you know, I have been having some health issues these past few months.
‘Honestly we didn’t exactly know what was wrong until now.’
What was wrong was an uncommon derailment of fertilization that becomes either a partial or complete molar pregnancy.
Complete molar pregnancies occur if the ovulated egg that sperm fertilizes is actually empty of genetic material. The father’s DNA then duplicates, an unsustainable basis for a fetus.
Partial molar pregnancies, on the other hand, the fertilized egg does contain the mother’s chromosomes, the father’s genetic material still duplicates.
Once she was diagnosed with the cancer, called choriocarcinoma, Velez had to start chemotherapy immediately to combat the fast-growing, rare cancer
Although the anchor assured her viewers via Instagram posts that her prognosis is ‘very good’ and she will recover, the mother-of-two says she can still hardly believe she has cancer
In the former, no normal fetal tissue can form, and instead cyst-like fluid sacs from in the woman’s uterus.
Partial or incomplete molar pregnancies can contain some normal fetal tissue, but can never become fully formed or viable fetuses.
The immediate symptoms of these pregnancies include bleeding, high blood pressure, ovarian cysts, anemia and an overactive thyroid.
If a miscarriage doesn’t occur spontaneously, doctors typically detect a molar pregnancy using an ultrasound and blood or urine tests for spikes in certain hormones.
Velez and her husband, Alex, hadn’t been trying to conceive, but she was nonetheless excited to show him her positive pregnancy test when he got home the evening of August 3.
She knew it was very early in her pregnancy, but was nonetheless devastated when her first ultrasound, three weeks later, didn’t show a healthy developing fetus.
‘When we did the ultrasound, the sac was empty,’ she told DailyMail.com.
Velez had not planned to get pregnant when she developed a molar pregnancy. Already a mother to Isabel, two (left) and Cruz, four (right), and knowing that she’s at higher risk of a second molar pregnancy, Velez says her focus is on being around for the two kids she has
Velez was excited to tell her husband, Alex, 36 (right of left photo) when her pregnancy test was unexpectedly positive in August. She never could have guessed that that would be the beginning of a harrowing journey through cancer, chemo and having to have massive blood transfusions (right)
‘There was a gestational sac but there was nothing inside and to me, that was really sad, because that had formed, but there was nothing there, that was losing our baby.’
Her doctor advised that it would be best to see if a miscarriage would happen naturally before doing any medical interventions.
But instead of bleeding and miscarriage, over the next month, Velez’s body behaved as if she were carrying a viable fetus.
‘I was really sick and I was confused because if I was having a miscarriage, why was I having all these pregnancy symptoms?’ she wondered.
‘I was throwing up and tired…it was like I was really into my first trimester.’
At the end of that month of illness, Velez returned to her doctor for a second ultrasound.
‘The ultrasound looked different – there was other material in there,’ Velez recalls.
They diagnosed her with a molar pregnancy – something she, like most women, had never heard of – but assured her it was as very treatable condition.
For Velez, the hardest news was that she’d have to wait at least year to try to get pregnant again to ensure that her hormone levels were down and would stay down.
‘I was really upset because after a miscarriage…you kind of hold onto that [idea that] “I’ll be able to have one,” and you kind of ride the wave on that,’ but Velez wouldn’t have the option to try again for some time.
On Tuesday, Velez finished her first round of aggressive chemotherapy treatments
At least her condition could be treated fairly simply – or so she thought.
But after having a dilation and curettage (D&C) to remove the tissue, her HCG hormone levels fell, then surged.
Velez said her levels of the hormone, HCG, were reaching ‘astronomical levels.’
She added: ‘Essentially it was as if I was pregnant with five babies at once.’
Her OBGYN referred her to ‘the best doctor in town’ – an oncologist.
‘I said, “I don’t want to see an oncologist why do I need to see a cancer doctor?”‘ Velez remembers asking, panicked.
In just a small percentage of those already rare persistent molar pregnancies, the hormone bursts and abnormal tissue trigger cancer.
‘This is what happened to me,’ Velez wrote.
‘No good reason, just unfortunate dumb luck.’
She was diagnosed with choriocarcinoma, a fast-growing cancer that starts in the womb and, in Velez’s case, spread to her lungs, kidney and liver.
‘It’s ironic. I was always nervous about cancer – I think everybody is – and then it happened to me,’ Velez told DailyMail.com.
‘But most people don’t think pregnancy and cancer, it’s not something you put together, and that’s part of why it was so scary and shocking and nobody wants to talk about it.
‘I still find myself thinking, “wow, I have cancer.” It hasn’t really sunken in yet.’
There was a silver lining, though.
‘Right off the bat, [the doctors] said: “We don’t get to say this very often, bur your prognosis is very, very good,’ Velez recalls.
As a public figure, Velez has spoken out about her rare conditions and says many women have reached out to her saying her story made them feel less alone – but she says it’s their stories and strength are helping her carry on (Pictured with friend and colleague, Karina Howe, right)
Remission is all but assured, but it meant starting an aggressive chemo regimen right away.
Velez’s doctor gave her a quick attitude check, noting that patients say that with ‘”aggressive chemo, all my hair’s going to fall out,” well, yeah, it might, but I tell people “you shouldn’t worry about losing your hair – you should be worried about losing your life.’
‘At least I’m not in a position where that’s what I’m facing,’ she said.
Velez assured her audience that her cancer is curable, and said she’s deeply grateful for the outpouring of support and commiseration she’s received from women of all ages, especially.
She’s also grateful for the opportunity to shed a little light on the rare condition she’s suffering
‘When it comes to women’s health, sometimes it’s just a taboo topic and we’re not supposed to to talk about it and I think these women [who are reaching out to me] are seeing someone in a little more spotlight talk about making them feel less alone, but they’re actually making me feel less alone,’ Velez says.
She’s just finished her first round of chemo, and has already had to be hospitalized after losing a massive amount of blood.
But she’s focused on the goal: getting well.
‘Chemo sucks, but it’s killing this cancer inside me,’ she said.
‘I have two babies and this put everything into perspective for me: I need to be there for them.’