The baby, Life Lynn, was the sixth child of Carrie DeKlyen, who declined to undergo an experimental cancer treatment while she was pregnant. DeKlyen passed away Sept. 9, just three days after she prematurely delivered her daughter.
Life Lynn, who weighed 1 pound, 4 ounces at birth, died on Wednesday, according to a post the next day on the family’s “Cure for Carrie” Facebook page.
“It is with great sadness and a absolutely broken heart that I tell you Life Lynn passed away last night. Carrie is now rocking her baby girl,” the post said. “I have no explanation of why this happened, but I do know Jesus loves us and someday we will know why. The grief we feel is almost unbearable, please be praying for our family.”
Life’s mother, Carrie DeKleyn, 37, was diagnosed with cancer in April. Before seeing doctors, she felt extremely fatigued, had severe headaches and was vomiting frequently. A brain scan revealed she had glioblastoma, a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer that usually can’t be cured although treatment can slow its progression.
“This came out of nowhere. She was 100 percent healthy before this,” her sister-in-law, Sonya Deklyen Nelson told TODAY.
Carrie immediately had surgery to remove her brain tumor. She then learned she was pregnant with her sixth child.
Around the same time, she found out she had been accepted into a clinical trial for a new cancer treatment. But the experimental treatment would have required her to terminate her pregnancy, something she and her childhood sweetheart and husband of 17 years, Nick DeKleyn, refused to consider.
“We’re pro-life,” Nick told the Free Press earlier this month. “Under no circumstance do we believe you should take a child’s life. She sacrificed her life for the child.”
Nick’s sister clarified that the trial offered a chance to possibly extend Carrie’s life, but was not necessarily a cure.
“The thing people don’t understand is that glioblastoma is a terminal cancer,” Nelson said. “The trial offered a ton of hope by prolonging her life — for five years, maybe for 10. Nobody knows.”
But Nelson said “there was no question” her sister-in-law would choose her unborn baby’s life over her own chance to live a few more years.
“Carrie didn’t have a selfish bone in her body. She would give her children, her family, her friends anything,” she said.
So instead, Carrie underwent a second surgery after her tumor returned. She also had radiation, but held off on chemotherapy until she had safely entered her second trimester, Nelson said.
“That was only to sustain her long enough to deliver. She knew she was going to lose her life. We always said it was a race against time. We were trying to keep her alive long enough for Life to be delivered,” Nelson said.
Cancer during pregnancy is uncommon, with a diagnosis in only 1 in 1,000 pregnant women each year, according to the National Institutes of Health. Whether to undergo radiation and chemotherapy can be a wrenching decision for pregnant mothers with cancer, but treatment can be safe for the unborn child if it is timed after the first trimester.
On July 27, after only a week of chemotherapy, Carried suffered a massive stroke and lost consciousness. Although she showed some responsiveness to people’s touch, she never woke up. A feeding tube and breathing machine were brought in keep her alive.
On Sept. 6, an ultrasound showed her baby in distress and Nick agreed to let doctors perform a caesarean section. Life was delivered at 24 weeks, five days.
She joined five other siblings, who range in ages from 2 to 18.
Carrie and her husband met as children through their church, said Nelson, whose faith continues to help her and her brother through their grief.
“Nick said to me today, ‘I’m just so angry. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to serve the Lord anymore, but why do I have to keep suffering?’ We don’t understand,” Nelson said. “It’s tough stuff. They’ll say to us, ‘How do you still believe in God? Well, you know what? We just do.”
Nelson, who set up a GoFundMe site to help her brother, wants people reading about her family to know that despite the tremendous tragedy, they still find hope.
“Carrie’s other five children will carry on her legacy, so there is still hope,” she said.
“Carrie was an amazing mom. She was an amazing wife, and sister and an amazing friend. She is going to be greatly missed. There is definitely a void in our lives.”