Chemotherapy: A mother’s choice and a family’s loss

Veronica Wernicke, Contributing Writer

Editor’s Note: Veronica Wernicke is a freshman majoring in Communication Studies and a contributing writer for The Seahawk. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Suggestions and inquires may be sent via email to [email protected] Veronica can be found on Twitter @itsveronica98

Cancer is a word no one wants to hear come out of their doctor’s mouth, especially when they’re pregnant. According to an article in Health, “cancer of any kind is found in an estimated 1 in 1,000 pregnancies.” This is exactly what Carrie Deklyen and her husband Nick Deklyen found out in April. Deklyen was initially diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer called glioblastoma and she had it removed a month earlier. However, a month later the tumor came back and shockingly Deklyen also found out she was eight weeks pregnant.

According to a USA Today article, before the discovery of her pregnancy Deklyen was eligible for a “promising clinical trial that doctors said could prolong her life 10 or 15 years, or even longer.” Although after the announcement of her pregnancy she was warned not to join the clinical trial because chemotherapy could harm the fetus.

Apparently, she had two choices: Deklyen could either go through chemotherapy to extend her life, but that also meant the baby could die. Since the baby was only eight weeks old, according to, “there is a risk of harm to the fetus if chemotherapy is given in the first 3 months of pregnancy. This is when the fetus’s organs are still growing. Chemotherapy during the first trimester carries risk of birth defects or pregnancy loss.”

The alternative being she could have the baby but not live long enough to see and raise her newborn daughter. Since the baby was almost three months old, they should have waited and then gone on to do the clinical trial instead of jumping to the decision of refusing treatment. (That said, there are still situations where treatment just isn’t compatible with pregnancy.)

For those that don’t know, glioblastoma is a very aggressive form of brain cancer in which the tumor grows and spreads quickly. In total there are fewer than 200,000 cases per year, ultimately making it a very rare case of brain cancer. According to WebMD, only 39.3 percent of patients live past a year and the percentages of survival go down each continuing year. This type of cancer is also not easily treatable because it contains many varying types of cells which can each respond to treatments differently, according to the American Brain Tumor Association.

The decision between her own life or her baby’s life was made easier due to their family’s religious faith and belief in pro-life. Pro-life is a hotly debated topic and takes on the stance of opposing abortion and euthanasia. In the end Deklyen chose to have the baby. Deklyen was not only leaving behind her husband and newborn daughter, but five other children ages 18, 16, 11, four and two. In combat to criticism, the argument her husband made about his wife’s decision was that she was being selfless by giving up her own life for her new child’s life.

I’ll start off by saying that personally as a child of parent who had cancer, I really hope that Deklyen and her husband thought long and hard about their other children who are now left motherless so that she could bring new life to her family. Initially, when I first heard this story I was really angry because I couldn’t understand how you could knowingly give up your life to have another child and not think about the future of your remaining family. I would have wanted to fight on and try everything thing I could to live longer for my family because ultimately you can’t make a decision like that without heavily consulting your family. In addition, I’ll also add that I am not very religious.

I also disagree with the idea of the wife being selfless. If you look up the definition of selfless it states, “concern more with the needs and wishes of others than with one’s own.” Her so called selflessness caused her husband to become a widower and her remaining five children to become motherless. I’m sorry, but I don’t really see the selflessness in that. Also note the plural “wishes of others.” In this case, the wife was not being selfless because she wasn’t thinking of her husband or five other remaining children. Some might argue she was being selfless for the sake of the baby, to strike that argument down I would add that at that stage of the baby’s life which would be fetus and then newborn, so she can’t really express her own thoughts let alone develop or have her own thoughts.

Ultimately, I think this was a negative decision because it caused future pain and suffering for her husband and now six children. Due to her decision, her newborn daughter will now grow up motherless which I believe will affect her negatively for the rest of her life. In addition, her other five children have to live the rest of their lives motherless as well and will have the live with the fact that she chose her newborn’s life over her own.

If I had been in Dekleyn’s shoes I would have done everything I could to seek second opinions and other treatment options to try and either cure or prolong my life so I could be there for my husband and other children. As I said before, I would have held off treatment until the first trimester and then gone on to the clinical trial to see what effect, if any, it had on the cancer and the unborn baby. I’m not aware of her entire decision process, but from all that I’ve read I don’t think she considered every possible outcome or effect this decision would cause her family for long enough. From the articles I read it sounded like she had made her decision in less than a month’s time, which is too short of a time to make a decision as big as the one she had to make.

Overall, I don’t 100 percent agree with her decision or with the family’s argument that it was a selfless act. In situations as rare as this we must look ultimately look to our core beliefs and consult with our loved ones to come to the decision we best feel is right and for everyone that final decision could be different than another’s.