When cancer-stricken Elizabeth Joice became pregnant last year, it was somewhat of a miracle. Doctors had told the New York City woman that she had no hopes of getting pregnant. The wonderful miracle quickly became a heart-wrenching decision for Elizabeth and her husband, Max. Physicians told her that she had two choices: either end the pregnancy and start treatment for her cancer, or delay the cancer treatment until after the birth of her baby, which would risk her own life.
According to Max, Elizabeth’s decision was swift and sure. Because becoming a mother had been a lifelong dream for her, she decided to forego treatment for her cancer and carry the baby. Elizabeth was fearful that if she ended the pregnancy and it turned out that this was the only chance she would have to become a mother, it would be devastating to her.
Elizabeth’s cancer was detected in September 2010 after an MRI on what was thought to be a herniated disc turned out to be a suspicious growths in her lungs. The couple had been together two years on the day they received the diagnosis of sarcoma. After hearing the news, Elizabeth put on boxing gloves and began punching the walls of her New York apartment, telling Max that she did not want to fight the cancer, but rather wanted to travel around the world with him until she died. Max went to the kitchen, crafted a ring of aluminum foil, and proposed to Elizabeth, saying that not fighting was not an option. They were married one month later.
After a course of treatment which included four sessions of chemotherapy, surgery, and additional chemotherapy to ensure that the tumor was gone, Elizabeth was deemed cancer-free. During the next three years, she remained free of cancer and desperately longing for a baby in spite of her doctors telling her that it was not possible. True to her nature, described as optimistic and independent, Elizabeth and Max moved to Roosevelt Island in New York in June 2013 in order to prepare for a family. It took only days after the move for Elizabeth to discover that she was indeed pregnant. One month later, the couple was devastated to learn that Elizabeth’s cancer had returned.
The tumor was removed, but due to her pregnancy, complete MRI tests were impossible and her oncologist was unable to tell if the cancer was spreading. A C-section was performed two months early and baby Lily was delivered to the world.
Unfortunately, the cancer had spread, metastasizing into her heart, right lung, and abdomen. Five days after the birth of her daughter, Elizabeth went home. That one night at home with her husband and baby would turn out to be the only one she would have. She died in the hospital on March 9 with her husband at her side.
An upcoming documentary by director Christopher Henze, 40 Weeks, will tell the tale of Elizabeth’s selfless decision. Family and friends of the couple have also set up a fund in order to help Max and Lily through the devastating loss of their wife and mother.
By Jennifer Pfalz