There is a white Christmas tree in the living room, but the best present for Stacy Gross this year is the new baby gurgling in her bedroom.
Gross, 31, was diagnosed with breast cancer in late July, when she was 4½ months pregnant with her daughter. It is rare, but not unheard of – the American Cancer Society says it happens in 1 in every 1,000 to 10,000 pregnancies, while other sources say breast cancer occurs in every 2,000 to 3,000 pregnancies.
Gross began chemotherapy in her third trimester, when doctors assured her that two of the three drugs she would be given would be safe to take. She was in the middle of chemotherapy Nov. 12 when her daughter decided to alter her plans.
Gross was working late on a paper for her master’s degree in mental health counseling. She took a break to read a funny post online when her laughter caused a little disruption.
“I stood up and my water completely broke,” she said.
Panicking a little, she called her mother, Jessie, who told her to go to the emergency room. At University Hospital, where she had had her lumpectomy, she was admitted to a room.
A long 13 hours later, M’Kaia Dakota Manuel finally made an appearance, just before noon.
Because she was about three weeks early, the baby was taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, but only for a couple of hours. The doctors had assured Gross that the drugs wouldn’t harm the baby’s development, other than causing low birth weight, and ultrasounds had shown she was developing normally. But there was still some apprehension.
“I was just kind of scared and nervous because I didn’t know what was going to happen, how she was going to come out,” Gross said.
When she finally got her baby, she counted M’Kaia’s toes and hands and ears to make sure everything was fine. Everything was, other than her being a little small at 5 pounds, 1 ounce.
The birth disrupted Gross’ chemotherapy schedule, but she is back on track and started her last drug last week. She will follow that with five weeks of radiation therapy.
Between the baby and the treatment, sleep is elusive.
“When she sleeps, I sleep,” Gross said.
When her sister, Tara, comes over to play with the baby, the new mom tries to catch a quick nap.
“Half the time that doesn’t really work,” she said.
Still, there are no complaints.
“I’m tired, but I guess I can say it’s a good tired,” Gross said. She said jokingly that what she would like for Christmas is a job, but
it is hard to see when she would have time to do it right now.
They were following the family’s Christmas Eve tradition of opening one gift each and having dinner. Today, they might just stay in and enjoy the newest member of the family.