With mom's health now also on the line, a South Jersey doctor is breaking the medical mold by helping those women conquer cancer and deliver healthy babies - something that was once
Susan Busby was 9 weeks into her pregnancy when she got the stunning diagnosis that she had stage 3 colon cancer.
"I didn't know what was going to happen to the baby. I've never heard of anyone with cancer while they were pregnant," she said.
Several doctors said termination was her only option and that chemotherapy would endanger the baby.
Dr. Elyce Cardonick at Cooper University Hospital disagreed.
For nearly 20 years, Dr. Cardonick has worked with pregnant women facing cancer.
Her office wall is filled with pictures of more than 400 cases she continues to follow.
"We have almost 200 women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant, but now we're seeing more types of other cancers as well," said Dr. Cardonick.
Dr. Cardonick says balancing treatment with pregnancy is usually a matter of timing.
"We know the organs are developed in the first trimester," she said.
After surgery to remove her tumor, Susan had to wait a few weeks until her second trimester to begin chemotherapy.
Sometimes, drugs are switched to ones with a bigger track record in pregnancy.
Susan actually had fewer side effects than she expected and she had frequent ultrasound scans.
"She was growing on schedule the whole time," said Susan.
Chemo was stopped a few weeks before Autumn Hope Busby arrived by C-section at a healthy 7 pounds, 10 ounces - but it resumed 2 weeks later.
Susan is now cancer-free and part of Dr. Cardonick's registry, which will follow Autumn Hope's health for decades.
"The purpose of the registry is to empower women to make choices," said Dr. Cardonick.
"I want to be proof to these other women who are going through this that it is possible that you can get through this, and your baby can get through this," said Susan.
Dr. Cardonick's registry includes women from as far away as Thailand and she's taking on new cases every day.
A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine backed up what she's found with her patients - that chemo during pregnancy may not harm babies, especially because they wait until after that first trimester.