Teen Gives Birth, Dies Days Later After Losing Fight to Cancer

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- In early November, 17-year-old Jenni Lake gave birth to her son Chad Michael Lake Wittman.  Twelve days later, the  teen mom died from the brain tumor that she had been fighting for more than a year.

The migraines had started about a year before, when Jenni was a sophomore at Pocatello High School in Idaho.  After doctors found a two centimeter mass on her brain from an MRI scan, she was diagnosed with stage three astrocytoma, a tumor that affects the brain and spinal cord.  Doctors gave her a 30 percent chance of surviving two years with treatment.

Only weeks after Jenni was diagnosed with cancer, she found out she was 10 weeks pregnant.  Doctors told her she had to terminate the pregnancy or stop treatment while pregnant for the safety of the baby.  Jenni reportedly did not consider terminating the baby.  She decided to forgo radiation and chemotherapy while pregnant.

Her family documented the heartwrenching year through a series of YouTube videos titled, “Jenni’s Journey.”

“I don’t know how long this is going to last and I just want it to go away,” Jenni said in one of the videos uploaded on Nov. 20, 2010.

While the ability to conceive during cancer therapy is dependent on the type of therapy, Dr. Ian Holzman, chief of newborn medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, said he has seen mothers who are either on cancer treatment or have postponed it until after delivery.  But, the risk to the baby from some toxic anti-tumor medications are indeed “real,” said Holzman.

According to Hope for Two, an organization designed for pregnant women with cancer, chemotherapy has been given to women in their second and third trimester, after the fetal organs have developed.  Cancer affects as many as one in 1,000 pregnancies, according to the organization.

A study published in September found that children born after their mothers were treated with chemotherapy during pregnancy appeared healthy, although many were born pre-term, which researchers said affected many of the children’s cognitive development.

But again, each mother’s case is individual to her diagnosis and treatment.

“The decision on how to proceed is a very personal one,” Holzman wrote in an email.  “The mother/family need to weigh possible maternal death against fetal/neonatal death and/or malformations. I would never 'recommend' one or another choice without having agonizing discussions with the family about their beliefs and goals. In some cases, the data are clear that cancer treatment, if not started immediately, will fail and in other cases it is less clear.  Similarly, the fetal/neonatal risks are clear and in others less clear.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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