Placenta cancer: Child birth leads to mom's cancer decades later

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Mary Floyd is on the other side of a cancer diagnosis that turned the now 69 year old's life upside down.

"I didn't know what to do.  How to say it," says Floyd.

Even now, nearly 5 years after her sister moved down from New Jersey to nurse her through an ordeal that nearly took her life, it's hard to talk about it.

"But the only thing I can really say is that my family was there with me for the whole thing, and that's what really kept me going," says Floyd.

After Floyd came here to Grady Memorial Hospital in 2013, complaining of vaginal bleeding, doctors found a mass in her uterus. At first, doctor's thought it was uterus cancer
But it wasn't. It was cancer of the placenta.The mass -- was made up of placenta cells -- left behind from her pregnancy with her now adult daughter  Marquitta--for decades.

"It was from a stem cell that existed for 35 years in a dormant fashion.  And whatever event triggered it, it began to grow and produce the pregnancy hormone," Dr. Ronald Patillo

Mary's story was recently featured at the HeLa Conference at Morehouse School of Medicine, hosted by Dr. Roland Pattillo, a Professor Emeritus of gynecological oncology to pay tribute to Henrietta Lacks.

Much of his work -- and that of researchers all over the world -- involved HeLa cells, that came from Lacks, who lost her life to cervical cancer in 1951. They were groundbreaking because they were the first cells to continuously grow in a lab, HeLa cells would lead to all kinds of discoveries from a vaccine for polio and HPV to what's become in-vitro fertilization. At the HeLa conference, Mary's daughter, her only child, learned her mother's rare cancer -- may have taken root when she was conceived, and -- initially -- she felt guilty.

"I did at first. I have never told nobody that, but I did at first," says Marquitta Floyd

Using HeLa cells, Dr. Pattillo was able to discover Mary Floyd had a chromosomal defect -- that was fueling her cancer, which was spreading aggressively.  Giving her a targeted chemotherapy drug that stopped the cells from dividing.