TODAY   |  October 15, 2012

Pregnant woman with cancer: I was scared to death

Within a span of three months, Linsey and Scott Sowinski went from the emotional high of learning Linsey was pregnant to the devastation of discovering she had cancer. The couple talk about the fears they faced as Linsey underwent chemo while pregnant. NBC’s Diana Alvear reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> back now at 8:20. imagine getting the best news of your life followed by the worst. that's what happened to an idaho woman who within just three months learned she was pregnant and then that she had cancer. she faced the tough road knowing that her treatment was hurting her baby. nbc's diana alvear has their story.

>> reporter: it was the wedding day lindsey and scott had dreamed of. the only problem, her dress felt tight.

>> kind of cutting on my air and i wasn't able to breathe real deep and we loosened it up. went on with the day

>> reporter: pain continued throughout their honeymoon, but soon there was news that lifted their hearts.

>> we found out we were pregnant.

>> reporter: their joy quickly turned to concern. lindsay 's pain had worsened, and she developed a cough. she finally had a chest x-ray around thanksgiving.

>> i got a call from my doctor that night at about 8:00 p.m ., and she said to me that there was definitely something on my x-ray.

>> reporter: a mass in her chest. lindsay had b-cell lymphoma.

>> i was scared to death. i was pregnant.

>> couldn't wait to hug her and say, okay, i'm going to be here for you through thick and thin.

>> reporter: lindsay underwent six cycles of chemotherapy. sick from treatment, sick with worry.

>> what was going on with the baby, and how was it rayfecting her?

>> pregnancy is a whole mass of rapidly dividing cells, and chemotherapy is not compatible with pregnancy. as she was being treated for her own symptoms, the baby was also getting the same chemotherapy load.

>> reporter: the very treatment that was saving lindsay 's life was stunting lena's growth.

>> every time we saw her, lindsay wanted the best thing done for little lena, and hi to remind her often that sometimes we had to think about the best things for lindsay as well, and she didn't always want to hear that.

>> reporter: three weeks before she was due, lindsay was induced.

>> it was a happy day.

>> i was so, so happy that she seemed to be doing well, and she wasn't inside me anymore. i wrote in her baby book, like, mommy loves you so much.

>> reporter: lindsay immediately began radiation treatment . she was very weak. it turned out so was her baby. just as doctors had suspected, little lena's immune system was severely compromises. just a month after she was born, she was back in the hospital fighting off an infection. she recovered, and today is right where she should be. lindsay is doing better as well. recent tests show she is on the path to remission. scott believes the best is yet to come for their young family because lindsday's a fighter, lena is, too.

>> a wild wide to watch anybody to go through, and you can't help but stand in awe and she's -- yeah, she's -- she's amazing.

>> reporter: for "today," diana alvear, idaho.

>> well, for more on this we turn to dr. nancy snyderman , nbc's chief medical examiner. good morning. first thing you think when you see a story like this, how can they give chemo when somebody is pregnant, won't it harm the baby?

>> yes and no. some chemotherapy drugs doing. the timing was really important. they waited until she was through her first trimester when most injuries can hurt the fetus, and as soon as they could get the baby out, i suspected 32 or 33 weeks when they knew the baby's lungs would be okay, and you notice there was no radiation given to her until the baby was delivered, but, you know, some chemotherapy drugs are more toxic to babies than others.

>> is there anything that the unborn baby has around her in this case that protects her?

>> there's a barrier that protects some things from going back and forth, but something as simple as an aspirin can affect the fetal development . the timing of the chemotherapy drugs, but interestingly since mom's tombors affected the lymph nodes, that's one of the first lines of defense, the chemotherapy drugs affected the baby's immune system so the baby was susceptible to bacterial infections which is probably what landed the baby back in the hospital immediately afterwards. the great thing prognosis for child super. those things, that part. i munn system comes right back to normal, and for mom, we'll just have to wait and see.

>> have there been any long-term studies on what effect chemo might have on a fetus?

>> 20 years ago the choice would have been to a mother do you want to go the entire length of the pregnancy and risk your being cured and we'll see, or do you want to abort now and save your life? now we know so much more about chemotherapy that moms really do have choices, and doctors can be intelligently aggressive during different stages of the pregnancy, so there are a lot more options than what there have been in the past. there's more data on young children getting chemotherapy and their risk of other cancers later in life, but this baby has a phenomenal prognosis for a happy, healthy life.

>> happy to hear that. dr. nancy, thank you. back with dame judi dench after your