At just 18 years of age, Brianna Rawlings was faced with a terrible dilemma. She was pregnant and newly diagnosed with NK-cell leukemia, a rare form of cancer.
Brianna had to choose whether to terminate her pregnancy and receive treatment, or carry her baby to term, receiving only “soft chemotherapy,” and risking her life in the process.
The teenager, from Western Sydney, was diagnosed in her 17th week of pregnancy.
She had been experiencing severe pain and fever. Initially, she thought her illness was morning sickness, and her doctors’ verdict came as a shock.
What Is NK-Cell Leukemia?
NK-cell leukemia, sometimes abbreviated to ANKL, is an uncommon type of cancer that stops bone marrow producing normal blood cells. “NK” stands for “natural killer” cells that usually act as the body’s initial defence against infection. In ANKL, a person’s body makes NK cells that are abnormally large.
Symptoms include weight loss, fever, aches and pains, and night sweats.
The condition develops quickly and has a low survival rate. It can be treated and cured with chemotherapy if caught in the early stages. Stem cell transplants may be an option in some cases if doctors can find a match. A close relative, usually a brother or sister, can often provide the cells.
Why Brianna Chose To Continue Her Pregnancy
She decided to postpone her treatment for the sake of her son, saying that his wellbeing came first.
“My decision was about Kyden and Kyden only, he was my son and my little miracle,” she told British newspaper The Daily Mail. By delaying her treatment, her odds of survival were cut in half.
According to cancer charity Macmillan, cancer treatment during pregnancy poses a dilemma when the cancer is aggressive.
Pregnant women can generally be given the same cancer treatment as other women. Sadly, this was not the case for Brianna, who needed a type of chemotherapy that could post a risk to an unborn child.
By then, the symptoms of her disease had taken hold, and she had to endure significant pain for the sake of her baby.
Unfortunately, Brianna contracted an infection six months into her pregnancy, and doctors were forced to perform an emergency caesarean.
Had they not operated, Brianna could have passed the infection on to her son.
Kyden was born three months early, and lived for only 12 days.
He contracted a stomach infection and died a few hours later. Brianna said they were the “best days of her life” and that all she ever wanted was to “have a family.” On September 14, 2018, she made a post on Facebook: “Nothing makes me happier than watching my son grow bigger and stronger!”
Brianna’s Incredible Determination
Despite the tragic loss of her son, Brianna adopted a positive attitude to her treatment and decided to live life to the full.
She was determined to recover from her disease, saying that she had promised her son that she’d keep fighting for her life. Speaking to The Daily Mail, Brianna said, “It’s been very hard, long, exhausting and painful. Even though Kyden is no longer with us, he gave me the strength to go on and beat this.”
Unfortunately, treatment didn’t go smoothly. Chemotherapy did not cure her cancer, so the next option was a bone marrow transplant.
Doctors tested Brianna’s brother, Ty, and found that he would be a perfect donor. He was scheduled to donate cells in early December, and Brianna’s transplant was to begin on the 6th.
Tragically, Brianna’s health declined to such an extent that neither chemotherapy nor a transplant were viable options.
Her doctors advised that there was one treatment option left, a drug that cost $3,000 per dose. Her sister Kourt raised the money via a GoFundMe page, but Brianna died shortly after beginning the treatment on December 29th, 2018. She had celebrated her 19th birthday only a few days earlier.
In February 2019, Brianna’s family closed the campaign on her GoFundMe page. “To everyone who has donated and supported Bree and our family, I want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” her sister wrote. “We are truly grateful for your generous donations and kind words.”
According to the Epoch Times, Kourt Rawlings encouraged family and friends to “talk and share your memories forever.”
“Please don’t bottle them up, cry but laugh more.” She said, “…post photos of Bree and express your thoughts and love for her. We are so grateful for those who share memories with our Angel, please don’t bottle them up and never forget them.”