Doctors might not have discovered Aleks Patete’s cancer had it not been for her baby boy DJ.
When Patete was seven weeks pregnant last November, the 28-year-old went in for a routine ultrasound at University Hospital Cleveland.
That’s when hospital staff noticed a cyst on her ovary and diagnosed her with ovarian cancer.
“It’s a miracle,” Patete, a registered nurse, tells PEOPLE. “The cancer could have progressed a lot further, and we would have had no idea if I wasn’t for my pregnancy.
“God sent DJ to save my life.”
When doctors told her and her husband, Dominic Patete, a custodian at an elementary school, that her best treatment option would be to terminate the pregnancy and undergo aggressive chemotherapy, she instantly refused.
“He saved my life,” she says. “Now it was my turn to save his life.”
Doctors at University Hospital (where Patete also works) talked her through possible chemo treatments, assuring her that there was only a small chance it could affect her baby.
“As a mom, you don’t want to do anything that could harm your baby,” says Patete, who relied on the website hopefortwo.org, a page dedicated to helping pregnant women with cancer cope, for guidance. “I was terrified, but they explained that it was a relatively safe option.”
The soon-to-be mom immediately started a five-month chemo course requiring six rounds every four weeks.
“It was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make,” she says. “But we had to weigh our options — if I didn’t do anything, I put my life at risk, if I did something, was I putting the baby at risk?
“It was extremely difficult.”
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But as the weeks went by, Patete says her ultrasounds continued to show her baby looking healthy.
So she continued the chemo.
“It put my mind at ease,” she says. “But you never stop thinking the worst possibility, like what am I doing to my baby?”
All the while, Patete was still working fulltime as a nurse.
“It was rough trying to grow a human and go through chemo,” she recalls. “I was so tired and sick that I had to schedule my days off for when I knew I would be feeling ill.”
But three weeks before giving birth to DJ on April 24, she finished her treatments.
“It was just beautiful,” she says. “And he’s the sweetest baby, always smiling and just a joy.”
Shortly after DJ’s birth, Patete underwent surgery to have her right ovary and fallopian tubes removed to prevent further cancerous growth on her reproductive organs.
“I can still have children, it’s a possibility,” she says. “I could have had a hysterectomy, but because I plan on having more kids, the doctors wanted to just take the ovary out.”
Patete is officially in remission and goes in for a checkup every three months to make sure the cancer has not returned.
“I think about the things that could have happened and what could have gone wrong and there’s no other reason than the grace of God that everything worked out and we are both alive.
“I truly think God was watching over us.”