By Justin Schmidt, Multimedia Journalist - bio | email
OVERLAND PARK, KS (KCTV) -
Jennifer Brady is the type of woman to try to see the best in life even when the best of times turn to heartache.
"The nature of life is you're going to be dealt some cards you weren't anticipating. It's all about how you approach it. Cancer sucks. It's not pleasant," she explained. "But if you have to deal with it, just deal with it. Attitude is 90 percent of it. Medical, in my opinion, is 10 percent."
Her cancer battle is fraught with even more complications. She is 37 weeks pregnant.
Jennifer had successfully battled lung cancer, and been told she was cancer free.
Come March, she was told that she had been cancer free long enough that she could start a family. Within weeks, she was pregnant.
But the 32-year-old woman's joy turned to heartbreak when she found a lump on her back. The diagnosis? A high-grade neuro-endiocrine cancer had returned and was attacking her liver and the tissue in her back.
"I was on a business trip in Vermont when I found out. My first reaction was anger, lots of obscenities in my rental car by myself," Jennifer recalled. "There were a lot of tears."
She was 22 weeks pregnant and had many questions, including how treatments would affect her unborn baby.
She opted to wait until the start of the third trimester to undergo chemotherapy, but treatments had to be done to save hers and her unborn baby's life.
The aggressive cancer is unusual in a young seemingly healthy woman.
"It's traditionally seen in middle-aged men who have been smoking for several years. There's really no precedent set for when I was diagnosed as a 30-year-old female, even less of a precedent as a 32-year-old pregnant female," Jennifer said. "When I lost my hair the first time, people assumed it was breast cancer. That's always the first assumption. It's not breast cancer. It's not a cancer most people have heard of."
It was September 2011 when her lung collapsed that she learned she had cancer. She underwent radiation on her lungs and brain. She finished up with treatments in March 2012 and had been cancer free for a year.
When she got the diagnosis this year, she knew the drill. But she also knew the treatments would hurt her baby.
"The kid is already getting blasted with chemotherapy so I opted not to have anesthesia with some of my other procedures," she said. "I wanted to limit how much the baby was exposed to, but I obviously had to have chemotherapy for either of us to have a chance at survival."
She has undergone three rounds of chemotherapy.
The baby is underweight and the baby's immune system is suppressed. There have been issues with the baby's heart rate. Still the baby's brain is developing well, which is a positive sign.
"I'm not the first woman to be pregnant with cancer. There have been many women who have blazed this trail and thankfully so because there's medical research out there, they've reviewed this and what impacts there are," Jennifer said. "Over and over and over again, we saw cases of people being treated successfully with chemotherapy while the baby was in utero, which I would never have thought to be possible, because it's chemo. It's big, scary drugs."
She and her husband don't know the baby's sex. They are waiting for the birth to find out.
"We needed a good surprise at the end," she said.
After the baby is born, Jennifer will need more chemotherapy, and radiation or surgery on her liver.
She said she has her low moments, but she has to deal with the challenges.
"You either deal with it and get through it or it consumes you. And I'm not willing to let it consume me," she said. "You are your best cheerleader."
She has been touched by the support she has received.
"Some moments are tougher than others. There are great moments along the road too. One of the best parts, if you can say there's a best part about cancer, is just the amazing aspect of the human spirit, and how supportive and phenomenal people can be," Jennifer said. "I think we forget that quite a bit in our day-to-day lives going through the motions."
Photographer Allison French is telling Jennifer's story through pictures. The two women initially connected when Jennifer wanted to set up a photo session for her baby, once the newborn arrives. Click here for more.
Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
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