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40 Weeks: Mom Elizabeth Joice Faced Life or Death Decision, Chooses to Sacrifice Her Life for Her Baby

( [email protected] ) Apr 04, 2014 01:53 PM EDT
Thirty six year-old Elizabeth Joice was told that her cancer had returned only a few weeks after she had found out she was pregnant. Because cancer treatments would harm her unborn child, Elizabeth chose to do minimal treatment and to carry her pregnancy to term.
Courtesy of Chris Henze, '40 Weeks' Documentary

Thirty six year-old Elizabeth Joice was told that her cancer had returned only a few weeks after she had found out she was pregnant. Because cancer treatments would harm her unborn child, Elizabeth chose to do minimal treatment and to carry her pregnancy to term.

Elizabeth Joice had been treated for non-differentiated sarcoma years ago, and had been declared cancer-free in 2010. Because of the chemotherapy treatments she had endured in the past, she and her husband Max thought that it might be difficult to get pregnant. They were happily surprised to learn that they were expecting, and Elizabeth was asked to take part in a documentary entitled "40 Weeks" where director Christopher Henze would document each week of her pregnancy.

When Elizabeth learned that her cancer had returned, she was given the option to either abort her child and do extensive treatment or to progress in her pregnancy and be unable to get the full scope of treatment for her cancer. Elizabeth chose to put the life of her unborn child before her own and determined to carry Lily to term. Though her morning sickness was compounded with the effects of what cancer treatment she could safely undergo, Elizabeth said she loved being pregnant.

The couple declined to do a full body scan, which would have given the doctors a better idea of how many tumors Elizabeth had and where they were located, because the dye would have hurt her unborn child. She eventually underwent surgery in her second trimester, and the doctors hoped that the cancer had not spread elsewhere.

Toward the end of her pregnancy, Elizabeth began to struggle to breath. A scan revealed that she had a mass in her lungs, and she was rushed to the hospital to deliver Lily six weeks early. Another scan revealed that her cancer had spread all throughout her abdomen; it continued to advance, and just six weeks after giving birth to Lily, Elizabeth passed away.

Henze's documentary followed Elizabeth throughout her pregnancy and cancer treatments. Although he had hoped that it would be a story of healing and recovery, he was touched by the way that she cared more about her child than she did her own health.

In spite of having learned that the cancer had spread, Elizabeth radiated with joy as she held her newborn baby girl - "'This is worth it," she told Henze - "I would do it all again to have this child.'"