Written by Patty Decker Tuesday, 22 December 2009 19:19
“Brenlyn saved my life,” said Stephanie Richmond, a 1997 graduate of Hillsboro High School who now lives in Newton. “Without her, the cancer would not have been found.”
At almost 4 months old now, Brenlyn and her mother are doing well and have much to be grateful for this Christmas season.
Both Stephanie, 31, and her husband, Lee, 35, have a long gratitude list for all the support and prayers they’ve received during the past year.
“First and foremost I would have to thank our Lord for sending us our miracle baby,” she said.
The Richmonds refer to their daughter as a miracle for many reasons, starting with the first eight-week pregnancy checkup on Jan. 21, followed the next day with news that Stephanie had leukemia.
“At that point, the world stopped moving,” she said. “I just sat there, completely dumbfounded before bursting into tears.”
After learning she had cancer and was in the first trimester of her pregnancy, Stephanie’s doctors weren’t going to assure her that everything would be fine.
They explained that Brenlyn only had a two-vessel cord, which only occurs about 1 to 2 percent of the time in all pregnancies. In a normal pregnancy the child has two arteries and one vein. Brenlyn had only one artery and one vein.
Doctors told the Richmonds this could result in decreased nutrient and oxygen flow from the placenta to their baby.
“We were told it could also mean an increase in possible fetal deformations, abnormalities or possible heart problems,” she said.
But the family had much to be grateful for when the final ultrasound in July showed everything appeared normal, even though they would have to wait for Brenlyn’s arrival to be certain.
Stephanie said she is so grateful for her husband’s love, help and support.
“Lee was there throughout the incredible tumultuous and rewarding journey of doctor appointments, treatments, hospital stays and everything normal that goes with pregnancy,” she said.
Lee offered encouragement and support almost immediately when he told Stephanie, “We’ll get through this.”
Unlike most pregnant mothers, Stephanie was now battling cancer. Within days of going in for what should have been a happy eight-week check, she was at the Cancer Center of Kansas, still in denial.
It didn’t help, she said, when she noticed she was the youngest person in the waiting room by 25 to 30 years.
Following a battery of tests, the diagnosis came back as Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia or CML, which is an uncommon type of cancer of the red blood cells.
“About 4,800 people are diagnosed with this type every year; and it only occurs in one in 100,000 pregnant women,” she said.
Stephanie said her family and friends also deserve a big thank-you.
“They were always there for anything, including long treatment sessions, overnight stays and many miles traveled back and forth to Wichita,” she said.
“I want all of my friends and extended support network to know how much it meant to me to have their encouraging words on Facebook, e-mail or text messages,” she said.
In the months leading to Brenlyn’s birth, Stephanie said her healthcare team was with her every step of the way.
“The doctors, nurses and the Apheresis team at the Red Cross saw me through from start to finish and put up with me through the good times and bad,” she said.
“The simplest way to describe the procedure would be to compare it to dialysis, but with blood,” she said. “A metal needle is inserted into the vein of each arm; they pull blood out of the dominant arm and run it through a centrifuge to remove as many white blood cells as possible.”
The “junk” white blood cells are collected in a bag, along with a certain amount of red blood cells and platelets. Then the “clean” blood is run through a warmer saline; some anticoagulant is added, and it is returned into the non-dominant arm.”
The first treatment was one week after Stephanie found out she had cancer; the treatments continued every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for about five weeks.
Once into her second trimester of pregnancy, Stephanie was able to start using the Hydrea pill. The initial treatment was March 4.
“My body was able to self-regulate for a while, but in June, the white blood cell count was going back up,” she said.
Even with all the ups and downs, when Brenlyn was delivered Aug. 31 at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, the infant was carefully checked for signs of her mother’s cancer.
She weighed 6 pounds, 7 ounces, and was 191?2 inches long. Her parents had to watch as their tiny newborn was poked and prodded with needles.
“The poor little thing had been pricked by needles in both heels, the insides of her thighs and the backs of her hands for blood samples,” she said.
“Plus, they had to send a nurse up from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to get blood from her head the morning before we left because her glucose had been pretty low the night before. All of the tests came back good and there is no trace of the CML in her blood.”
Stephanie was started on Gleevec, a chemo pill, the day following Brenlyn’s birth.
Her white blood cell count just before Thanksgiving was 3,800, which is a little below normal, but not worrisome, she said.
“My platelets and hemoglobin are finally in the range that they’re supposed to be.”
She had more lab work done Monday, and a sample is being sent for analysis to determine the percentage of Philadelphia chromosome present in the white blood cells.
“The Philadelphia chromosome is what signifies the presence of CML,” she said.
Results from these tests will not be available until after Jan. 1 because it takes two weeks to evaluate.
Her current treatment involves taking 400 mg of Gleevec once a day. For Stephanie, the most prominent side effects she has experienced have been bone pain, joint pain, nausea and fatigue.
Stephanie participated in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life this year, raising more than $3,000. She is also the Marion County Fair manager and works full time in Newton as a sales administrator for Full Vision Inc.
Christmas is a time for miracles and the Richmond family is definitive proof that miracles still exist.