Pregnant mother battles stage three breast cancer

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by Lucy Bustamante

WVEC

Posted on March 29, 2013 at 8:59 PM

NORFOLK -- The race is on to save the life of a pregnant woman from Virginia Beach, who was just diagnosed with cancer.

Ultrasounds of their growing baby, Jackson, had brought Gretchen and Trey Bell so much happiness over the last eight months. 

Then last week, Gretchen had an ultrasound of her breasts for what she thought was a clogged milk duct. It turned out to be stage three breast cancer.

"I'll worry about me later. That's how I feel," said Gretchen.

While she tries to stay tough, Gretchen's husband can't hold back.

"We were just floored. I need her around," said Trey.

Gretchen's daughters went into survival mode and started fundraising for their mom's medical bills.  They say they don't want to raise their baby brother without her.

"I'm afraid of losing her," said Kelsey Donahue through tears. "Just thinking about how it could end up."

Erin Donahue says she didn't realize it was going to be as bad as it has been.

"So that was a little shocking to me and it shows me that we have a limited period of time. Probably," said Erin.

Doctors at Sentara Norfolk General were torn over what to do. Gretchen's oncologist wanted to take the baby immediately and start aggressive chemotherapy. The EVMS Maternal Fetal Medicine team wavered on whether to let the baby boy get stronger and age another two weeks in the womb.

"Certainly this is not the first patient we've had in this situation," said Vice President of Nursing at Sentara Norfolk General, Jennifer Burrows.

Doctors thought the best option was to deliver baby Jackson and start aggressive chemotherapy on cancer that took over her breast in a matter of weeks. The family is thrilled.

"Those cancer cells that are on top of them grow at a faster rate and that's the concern," said Burrows.

"There are so many of us that are being affected by it and there is so much that we need to think about that could happen. And there's like almost four of us that she'd be leaving behind," said Kelsey Donahue, who has already started selling bracelets for her mom's cause.

On Friday at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, baby Jackson's heart rate was being monitored as the induction began. Chemo will start for Gretchen in just a couple of days.

"Right now I'm just focusing on delivering and bringing him into the world. And I'll worry about that later," said Gretchen.

Once Jackson's is born, the family's fight to keep his mom alive will also begin.

A fund for the family has been set up at the Navy Federal Branch. If you'd like to donate the account is under Gretchen's Angels and the number for donations is 3037810656.

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