When newly pregnant in the summer of 2019, Ellie Whittaker, who lives in England, discovered that she was suffering from a life-threatening cancer. The Daily Mirror reports that she thought was just fatigue worsened to include a lump in her neck. After a scan and biopsy, doctors told Whittaker, now 21, that she had stage two Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
At the time of the diagnosis, Whittaker was 16 weeks pregnant with her daughter, Connie. Doctors offered to end Connie’s life in an abortion in order to begin an aggressive treatment of Whittaker’s cancer. Her medical team worried about the possibility that the treatment would unintentionally harm the preborn baby and they urged Whitattaker to kill her daughter instead.
However, from the outset, the young mother was determined to choose Life for her baby. Because she had suffered a miscarriage the year before, Whittaker was even more determined to protect her preborn baby. She says there was “no chance on the planet” that she would choose to end her baby’s life.
Although she knew there was a chance the cancer could worsen during the rest of her pregnancy, she chose Life wholeheartedly. Whittaker said, “I pushed the cancer as far from my mind and focused on Connie – I couldn’t wait to be a mum.” On March 18, 2020, Connie was born weighing 6lbs 12oz.
Whittaker’s time to enjoy her new baby was interrupted by aggressive cancer treatment. She told the Daily Mirror, “One week after giving birth, I went for a scan and discovered it had progressed to stage three.” The cancer had spread to her stomach and spleen.
After 12 rounds of chemotherapy, Whittaker was declared cancer-free in October 2020. She said, “I had to wait two weeks for the results from my final scan which was agony.” Whittaker described how surreal the experience felt to come out the other side of treatment. She said, “I lived with it for so long it’s weird that it’s finally gone – I can’t believe it. I don’t regret my decision and I’d make the same one again given the choice.”
Even with her certainty about choosing Life, the road was not easy. Whittaker said, “I tried to spend as much time with Connie as I could before I started. I remember crying and thinking I wouldn’t be able to be there for her.” With the support of her fiancé, Connie’s father, Kieran, and family friends, Whittaker completed her cancer treatment while caring for her young daughter, now eight months old.
The future is looking bright for Whittaker now that treatment is behind her. She said, “I knew the chemotherapy would take its toll. I’m so pleased it’s gone and I can focus on being a mum.”
Her daughter has made all the sacrifice worthwhile. She said, “Connie’s an amazing baby – she started teething and trying to sit-up. She’s the quietest baby and sleeps through the night. I wouldn’t change her for the world.”
For other pregnant mothers, tragically, delaying cancer treatment sometimes means that they sacrifice their own chance at recovery in order to choose Life for their baby. That was the case for Carrie DeKlyen who refused treatment for an aggressive brain cancer so that her daughter, fittingly named Life, could continue to live. DeKlyen’s husband, Nick, heartbroken by her death, explained, “My wife loves the Lord and she loves her children more than anything.” He added, “It’s painful, but this is what she wanted. She wanted to protect this child.”
For some cancers, delaying treatment is not necessary. Irish mother Audry McElligott has shared her experience of undergoing aggressive cancer treatment while pregnant. Because abortion was then illegal in Ireland, killing her preborn child was never discussed. McElligott said, “Abortion is not needed to treat cancer or any other condition of pregnancy,” she said. “My baby and I are living proof.”
Although premature delivery is sometimes required if mothers cannot support a child while undergoing health challenges, directly and intentionally killing the preborn baby is never necessary. Baby Connie is a living testament to her mother’s love for choosing Life in circumstances when many said that her death was necessary.