When Stacie Crimm found out she was pregnant, she called her brother Ray Phillips laughing and crying. Doctors had previously told the 41- year-old woman that she would never be able to conceive.
But as Crimm prepared for the baby’s arrival, she could tell something was wrong. She began to suffer from severe headaches, double vision and tremors that wracked her entire body.
Her conversations with her brother became more somber. Crimm was single and worried about what would happen to her baby if something happened to her.
“I hope I live long enough to have this baby,” she told her brother. “Bubba, if anything happens to me, you take this child.”
Crimm visited multiple doctors, and a CT scan finally revealed she had head and neck cancer. She was then faced with a decision: to save her own life, or the life of her unborn baby?
Ultimately, Crimm decided against potentially life-saving chemotherapy in order to protect the fetus growing inside her.
In my practice as an ob-gyn, I have seen many patients face a similar dilemma: They get diagnosed with cancer when they are pregnant, and they must then decide either to stop the pregnancy and get treated for cancer, or continue with pregnancy and sometimes pay the consequence of more invasive cancer.
However there are instances where we can give treatment during pregnancy, which might include chemotherapy. The key however, is to try to deliver as soon as the baby has some moderate growth – usually around 32 weeks. Once the baby is delivered, the mother can then undergo more aggressive treatment.
The caveat is that pregnancy can exacerbate certain cancers, meaning it is not always possible to hit this window.
Such was the case for Crimm, who collapsed in her home at around 20 weeks of gestation, and had to be rushed to the hospital. Two days later, the baby’s heart rate plummeted, and Stacie went into code blue. Doctors decided delivering the baby was the only way to save its life.
Dottie Mae was born on August 18, weighing 2 pounds, 1 ounce. Her mother died 24 days later, after the invasive cancer wrapped itself around her brain stem.
Today, Dottie is a healthy, 5-pound baby living with Phillips, his wife Jennifer and their four other children. She is much too young to be aware of her mother’s sacrifice yet, but someday I hope she will know how precious life is, and how her mother gave her own to save her.