TUPELO • Four days after learning that she was expecting her sixth child, Andrea Powell received a call that her biopsy came back malignant.
The news came as a total shock.
“The doctors had told us that it was a 98% chance that it was benign, so we were really not anticipating getting that phone call to say that it was cancer,” Powell said. “You are just not expecting to get that call, and especially not just a few days after finding out you’re expecting, so it was a whirlwind from there.”
Powell met with oncologists and surgeons in mid-December 2019, just days after receiving her diagnosis, to come up with a course of action. Because she was young and in the highest risk category for recurrence, she decided to take the most aggressive action to avoid recurrence: bilateral mastectomy.
Only five weeks along, Powell and her husband, Matt Powell, had to make hard decisions about when to pursue surgery. They opted to wait until February, once she was 12 weeks along in her pregnancy, to avoid putting their baby at risk.
In the following weeks, Powell began radiation and chemotherapy to further reduce her chances of recurrence. She began chemo when she was 17 weeks pregnant, doing four rounds over a three-month period.
COVID-19 presented a different unknown. For safety, she took additional steps to stay home unless there was a doctor’s appointment. Her children lived with their grandparents for nine weeks as Powell underwent chemotherapy. It was a difficult but necessary time for her family.
“It was a little scary, just thinking about there’s so much unknown about the virus, and then to be immunocompromised during that time, just not knowing, if I did get sick, would it be life-threatening for me or not,” Powell said. “As a mama to all these babies, I couldn’t imagine just not being here for them.”
Powell is thankful for being in Tupelo during that time so that she was minutes away from her doctors and treatment. Her family moved to Tupelo almost four years ago when her husband was called to be the senior pastor at First Baptist Church. The couple previously lived in Brookhaven for five years and are Tennessee natives. Her children include daughters aged 13, 10, 3 and 1, and a son, Judah, who passed away in 2018 at age 3.
For Powell, losing her young son put her own journey with breast cancer into perspective. She said in times of trouble, there is a temptation to question the character of God. But through her suffering, Powell learned to trust God and accept what He includes, good and bad, in her story. Faith carried Powell through her experience with cancer.
Hours after she was diagnosed with cancer, Jessie Kilpatrick, one of her most treasured friends, looked her in the eyes and told her two truths that helped carry her throughout this season: This is not a death sentence, and the battle was not hers, but the Lord’s.
“Now I’m not saying that I knew that I was going to be OK, that I knew everything was going to be alright as far as me being able to still be here today, but I knew that either way he would bring healing to my body,” Powell said. “Psalm 23 tells us that goodness and mercy will follow us, or pursue us, all the days of our life, and the thing that I found throughout this journey, the kindness and goodness of Jesus, is what I relied on.”
Powell increasingly leaned on her faith during her treatment. She listened to worship songs during chemo and said knowing the Lord was walking with her and fighting alongside her helped give her peace. As she completed routine checks, she prayed for very specific requests that she would not be sick, and her only side effect with chemo was the loss of her hair.
Her support system also played an enormous role in her recovery. Her church family, which had already seen the couple through dark days, brought countless meals and offered to take her daughters to and from school and activities. But it’s Powell’s husband who has been her No. 1 support. He’s accompanied her to every appointment, and took care of her after surgery, when she could not care for herself physically.
On July 22, her son, Peter Samuel Powell, was born in perfect health. Powell and her husband chose the name Peter while travelling on a boat on the Sea of Galilee in 2019. While listening to a devotion about God’s steadfastness, protection and being a rock, the couple decided if they ever had another son, they would name him Peter, meaning “rock.” The story of Samuel, a name which means “God has heard,” was also Judah’s favorite. It was a way for them to honor him and his love for God’s word and help his little brother know about him.
Having Peter was special, and Powell said she couldn’t be more grateful he didn’t have any problems.
“He really is a miracle baby,” Powell said. “I’m not the only person who’s ever been pregnant at the same time as having cancer, but it’s not that common. When you go to the doctor’s office and you don’t have hair and you have the big belly and people looking at you, (it’s) because it’s not the norm. Every baby is a miracle, of course, but for us, he’s our real miracle.”
The week after he was born, Powell went in for a CT scan to map out her radiation treatment. The following week, she started 28 rounds of radiation – every weekday morning for six weeks. She finished on Sept. 10.
Since completing radiation, Powell’s been able to be home. Follow-up visits with doctors confirmed her cancer is in remission, and she will take a daily medication for the next 10 years to further reduce the chance of recurrence. For the next two years, she will have blood drawn every three months to keep a close eye on her condition and watch for changes or symptoms.
“We’re at a point kind of right now of just being done, and we’re so grateful,” she said. “It’s so crazy to think that we’re at this point already. Last year it did not feel like it would come.”
When Peter’s old enough, Powell looks forward to telling him about his story. She hopes it becomes part of his testimony about God’s kindness in protecting and caring for him before he was even born.
For now, it is enough to be back to her daily routine. It’s all about the baby and big girls, Powell said.
Last week marked the first when no one had a doctor’s appointment. While her daughters are at school, she’s enjoying time alone with her miracle baby.
“I do a lot of holding,” Powell said. “Since he’s our last one, I don’t really put him down.”