Mom sacrifices life to save unborn daughter

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When Elizabeth Joice found out that she was pregnant, she and her husband, Max, were ecstatic. A fertility specialist had told her that this would never happen, Max says, because of the chemotherapy Elizabeth underwent to beat sarcoma in 2010.

When Elizabeth Joice found out that she was pregnant, she and her husband, Max, were ecstatic. A fertility specialist had told her that this would never happen, Max says, because of the chemotherapy Elizabeth underwent to beat sarcoma in 2010.

When Elizabeth Joice found out that she was pregnant, she and her husband, Max, were ecstatic.

A fertility specialist had told her that this would never happen, Max says, because of the chemotherapy Elizabeth underwent to beat sarcoma in 2010.

"It very much felt like a miracle," he says. "Bringing a child into this world -- I mean, it wasn't just important for me; it was one of the most important things for Liz."

Then, one month into her pregnancy, Elizabeth's cancer returned, he says.

Surgeons removed the tumors in her back, but she needed a full-body MRI scan to know whether the cancer had spread. Because an MRI's contrast dyes may damage a developing fetus, she faced a difficult decision. She could either terminate her pregnancy to undergo the scan or continue with the pregnancy without knowing her true cancer status.

"We felt that if we terminated this pregnancy and did these scans, if it turned out that there was no evidence of this disease after the scans, then we would have possibly given up our only chance at having a child naturally and would have done it for nothing," Max said.

"It was a calculated risk. We knew there was a possibility of a worst-case scenario, but we also thought there was a good chance that we could have the baby."

Shortly after becoming pregnant, Elizabeth was introduced to filmmaker Christopher Henze. His upcoming documentary on pregnancy and motherhood will include the Joices' story.

"It took about three minutes to realize that Liz was a stellar human being, and I wanted her for my movie," Henze said. "I was impressed by the way she looked at cancer as another problem to be solved."

Even though a shielded chest X-ray taken in November found no sign of cancer, by January, she was having trouble breathing. Another X-ray revealed tumors in her lungs. Her C-section date was moved up, and on January 23 -- six weeks early -- Lily Joice was born.

"It was incredibly difficult to want to enjoy this amazing moment as much as you possibly can," Max said. "Yet to know that you're facing something so incredibly dire, and the chances didn't look good at that point."

After delivery, doctors found cancer in Elizabeth's heart, abdomen and pelvis.

She died in the hospital on March 9. She was 36.

"In the face of this life-threatening illness," her husband said, "she was so optimistic and so strong and so willing to go through whatever fight she would have to go through in order to have this baby."

Henze delivered a eulogy at Elizabeth's funeral.

"Lots of people say 'Liz was'; I say 'Liz is,' " Henze said. "Through her spirit and grace, she is still affecting people, and she will through the movie, will continue to impact people. Liz is."

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5 comments

  • Brittney Bingham Bennett

    Wow what an amazing woman! I think you’re right Robert, the CA spread so quickly and aggressively it was probably not curable. Say her mortality was imminent, that a full force fight would have only resulted in a few extra weeks or months, or even a year…..how absolutely amazing and beautiful that rather then spending her last days being poisoned by chemo, undergoing multiple painful surgeries, being poked and prodded and living with the pain of terminating her pregnancy, wondering who this baby was, feeling the agonizing loss and also thoughts of selfishness and shame (as any woman would feel)……she was able to spend the last part of her life feeling the astounding love for her little one growing inside of her, connect with her beautiful sweet spirit, feel all the amazing emotions, and come to the realization that we as mothers learn…that before we were mothers we only thought we knew what true love was.
    Our capacity to genuinely love another human being so much that it feels our hearts might burst might be the most beautiful feeling we ever know. I can’t think of a better ending to such a tragedy, the closing of Elizabeth’s mortal life was the beginning of sweet Lily’s….and it was because of her Elizabeth’s astounding capacity to love someone more than herself. What a lucky little girl to always know how much her mother loves her. Stories like this is why I love women, God made women endlessly strong and instilled in us an insane ability to love. All my prayers to Max, you lost your best friend, your confidant and greatest love….her spirit lives on inside of your sweet baby girl, the bond between the 2 of you would really be a sight! God bless

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