Local Mom Survives Fast-Growing Cancer in her Womb; Delivers Healthy Baby Boy Three Years Later
When Meredith Tarditi and her family took their first family trip to Nicaragua in May 2017, they did not know their lives would be dramatically changed upon their return. She had recently given birth to her first child and had been going through the typical ups and downs she thought all new moms experienced. Little did she know, she had been experiencing symptoms of a serious illness which included persistent, bad headaches and back pain. One morning, a new symptom appeared when she awoke with to an unusually swollen tongue.
“It felt like my tongue had multiple bee stings,” Tarditi says. That morning, she called her primary care physician who thought she was experiencing an allergic reaction. Upon seeing an allergist, she learned she was not experiencing an allergic reaction and immediately went to the Emergency Room. Multiple tests, brain scans and spinal taps were performed to determine her condition.
“You never forget your diagnosis day,” Tarditi says. The night of June 15, 2017, Mark S. Shahin, MD, director of Abington Hospital’s Hanjani Institute for Gynecologic Oncology, diagnosed Tarditi with Choriocarcinoma, a rare form of cancer that often begins during pregnancy.
“Choriocarcinoma is the malignant or cancerous version of Gestational Trophoblastic disease, and is extremely rare,” said Dr. Shahin. “It typically comes within a year of pregnancy. The cancer develops in the placental tissue and will then spread via blood stream to other parts of the body, most commonly the lungs, liver, vagina and brain.”
Tarditi was shocked when she heard the news, originally thinking she had an abnormal pregnancy. However, this is one of the main telltale signs that a patient has Choriocarcinoma. Dr. Shahin informed her that she needed to start chemotherapy immediately the next morning.
“My first though was ‘Is my daughter ok?’” Tarditi says. “My second thought was, ‘Tomorrow’s not really a good day for me.’ I had never been away from my daughter until this point and my husband was out of the country for work. My first priority was to be a mom.”
During the next six to seven months, she followed an intense weekly cycle of chemotherapy. Due to the severity of her symptoms and the new treatment, Tarditi experienced a seizure in her first cycle. Dr. Shahin decided to keep her at Abington Hospital to closely monitor her during treatments and track her Human Chronic Gonadotropin (HCG), a hormone in the placenta that develops during pregnancy. Throughout the entire process, Dr. Shahin and his team never ceased to reassure her that they were going to get her through this.
“It destroys you,” she said. “When you’re on chemotherapy, you can barely move or even get out of bed. It was really hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. During chemo, I would ask myself ‘Who would I be when I finish chemo?’ and ‘Can I be a mother?’”
Tarditi’s nurses were consistently positive and took a great interest in getting to know her during her treatment. “They would ask me about movies, TV shows and my daughter. It made me feel somewhat normal,” she said. Eventually, her HCG reached zero. She only needed three more cycles of chemotherapy; after that she became successfully negative.
By spring 2018, Tarditi was in remission. She was invited to speak at the opening of the Asplundh Cancer Pavilion in Willow Grove, PA. She is grateful for her care. “If you or someone you love is facing cancer,” said Tarditi, “this is where I would want you to be. It is the most amazing facility with the best staff.”
Shortly after, Tarditi began discussing her dream of having more children. Dr. Shahin and Joseph J. Murphy III, MD, obstetrician-gynecologist, began consulting on the potential of her having another child and whether or not it would be safe for her to do so. The pair concluded that she could tentatively try, but were realistic about managing her expectations.
In October 2019, she discovered her dream had come true. She was pregnant. “It was just too good to be true. I mean, how I can be so lucky to survive cancer and now be pregnant.”
Drs. Shahin and Murphy carefully monitor her pregnancy. They wanted to ensure that Tarditi was in fact pregnant and be sure that another cancerous mass was not developing. Tarditi prayed as the physicians watched her progress closely.
About six months into her pregnancy, the Coronavirus hit the Greater Philadelphia area. Tarditi and her husband took the quarantine very seriously to avoid any additional risks to their unborn son. On July 1, their second child, a healthy baby boy, was born.
“I didn’t believe it was real at first. The last time I was at Abington Hospital, I was undergoing chemotherapy. And at that moment, I was holding my son in my arms and it was surreal. It was everything I have dreamed of,” Tarditi expresses. “He is great! He’s healthy and adorable. It is just unreal. I just love him so much and I feel so much joy and happiness right now.”
Her son was delivered by Kaitlin Rinaldo, MD, obstetrician-gynecologist, who had cared for Tarditi while she underwent chemotherapy. At that time, Dr. Rinaldo was a resident at Abington – Jefferson Health.
The next day, Dr. Shahin was on rounds at Abington Hospital. Dr. Rinaldo had notified him of Tarditi’s delivery. He had made it a point to go visit her the next day and meet her newborn son.
“When you see someone as many times as I’ve seen Meredith, she becomes part of your family,” Dr. Shahin said. “It was an emotional experience, to know that you have carried this person through this period of their life and now have contributed to a new life.”
Tarditi was overwhelmed by the presence of all the physicians and nurses who had cared for her during her chemotherapy. “All of these people were here for me. They were here with me throughout my entire journey,” says Tarditi. “I was so well cared for and I feel so special from all of the personal care I received from all of the physicians and nurses. These people really go above and beyond to give a real empathetic, high and sophisticated level of care.”