Teen mom quits cancer treatment to save baby


JENNI’S JOURNEY Jennifer Lake cuddles her baby, Chad Michael. She decided to forego cancer treatment to ensure her baby lives. Photo from Jenni’s Journey Facebook account

POCATELLO, Idaho—Jenni Lake gave birth to a baby boy the month before her 18th birthday, though she was not destined to become just another teenage mother.

That much, she knew.

While being admitted to the hospital, she pulled her nurse down to her and whispered into her ear. The nurse would later repeat the girl’s words to comfort her family, as their worst fears were realized a day after Jenni’s baby was born.

“She told the nurse, ‘I’m done, I did what I was supposed to. My baby is going to get here safe,’” said Diana Phillips, Jenni’s mother.

In photographs, the baby’s ruddy cheeks and healthy weight offer a stark contrast to the frail girl who gave birth to him. She holds the newborn tightly, kissing the top of his head. Jenni, at 1.6 meters tall, weighed only 49 kilograms at the full term of her pregnancy.

A day after the November 9 birth, Phillips learned that her daughter’s decision to forgo treatment for tumors on her brain and spine so she could carry the baby would have fatal repercussions. The cancer had marked too much territory. Nothing could be done.

It was only 12 days past the birth—half spent in the hospital and the other half at home—before Jenni was gone.

Even so, her family and friends insist her legacy is not one centered in tragedy, but rather in sacrifice.

This month, her family gathered at their home in Pocatello, where a Christmas tree in the living room was adorned with ornaments picked out just for Jenni, including one in bright lime green, her favorite color. She had passed away in a bedroom down the hall.

Recalling Jenni’s infectious laugh and a rebellious streak, her mother held the baby close, nuzzling his head, and said, “I want him to know everything about her, and what she did.”

Migraines at 16

The migraines started last year, when Jenni was a 16-year-old high school sophomore. An MRI scan found a small mass measuring about two centimeters wide on the right side of her brain.

She was sent to a hospital in Salt Lake City, and another scan showed the mass was bigger than previously thought.

Jenni had a biopsy on Oct. 15, 2010, and was diagnosed with stage three astrocytoma, a type of brain tumor. With three tumors on her brain and three on her spine, Jenni was told her case was rare because the cancer had spread from her brain to another part of her body with no symptoms.

Her parents, who are divorced, were brought into a room at the hospital as doctors discussed her chances of survival.

“Jenni just flat out asked them if she was going to die,” said her father, Mike Lake, 43, a truck driver.

30% chance

The answer wasn’t good. With treatment, the teen was told she had a 30-percent chance to make it two years. “She didn’t break down and cry or anything,” Lake said.  But her mom recalled Jenni did have a weak moment.

“When they told her that she might not be able to have kids, she got upset,” said Phillips, 39.

Jenni started aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments, while also posting videos on a YouTube site titled “Jenni’s Journey,” where she hoped to share her story. She managed to upload only three videos  as her treatments left her tired and weak.

On her second video, Jenni appears distraught.

“Last night, like, I was just lying in bed and I was thinking about everything that was going on and it just like, it just hit me, like everything, and I don’t know, it made me cry,” Jenni says on the video.

Tumors shrink

Her mom is shown burying her face in her hands, then collapsing into tears.

Jenni persists: “I feel like this is holding me back from so much …”

By March of this year, the tumors had started to shrink, the family said.

In a picture taken at her prom in early May, Jenni is wearing a dark blue strapless dress. There’s a silver headband in her hair, which is less than an inch long. Chemotherapy took her shoulder-length blond tresses.

Her boyfriend, Nathan Wittman, is cradling her from behind.

Young dreams

Jenni started dating Nathan a couple of weeks before she received her diagnosis. Their adolescent relationship withstood the very adult test posed by cancer, the treatments that left her barely able to walk from her living room to her bedroom, and the gossip at school.

They were hopeful and dreamed of someday opening a restaurant or a gallery. Jenni had been working as an apprentice in a tattoo shop.  But in May, her visits to the shop grew less frequent.

She had been throwing up a lot and had sharp stomach pains. She went to the emergency room early one morning with her boyfriend and when she returned home, her family members woke up to the sound of crying.

She had learned she was pregnant. An ultrasound would show the fetus was 10 weeks old.

Journey for 2

Jenni’s journey was no longer her own.

Jenni had always wanted to be a mom. She had already determined to keep the baby when she went to see her oncologist, Dr. David Ririe.

“He told us that if she’s pregnant, she can’t continue the treatments,” Phillips said. “So she would either have to terminate the pregnancy and continue the treatments, or stop the treatments, knowing that it could continue to grow again.”

Ririe said in cases in which a cancer patient is pregnant, oncologists will consider both the risks and benefits of continuing with treatment, such as chemotherapy.

“There are times during pregnancy in some situations, breast cancer being the classic example, where the benefits of chemotherapy may outweigh the risk to mother and baby,” Ririe said. “There are other times where the risk outweighs the benefits.”

There was no discussion about which path Jenni would choose. Her parents believed that since the tumors had already started to shrink earlier, she had a strong chance of carrying the baby and then returning to treatment after he was born.

No regrets

Jenni and Nathan named the baby Chad Michael, after their dads.

Jenni didn’t show regret for her decision, not in the final weeks of her pregnancy as she grew weaker, and not when she started to lose her vision as the cancer took its course.

Jenni’s last words were about her son as he was placed beside her a final time, her father said. As she felt for the baby, she said: “I can kind of see him.”

Jenni’s Journey: www.facebook.com/jennis.journey

Jenni’s YouTube videos: http://www.youtube.com/jennisjourney

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Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of INQUIRER.net. We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.

  • susanchi2

    Rest in peace Jenni.

  • zoiloperez

    Brave young Mom. I admire you.  You will have a peaceful afterlife.

  • tumbokin

    Let the highest award from the greatest university (University of Life)  be bestowed to Jenni. Rest in peace deary.

  • Philo_talks

    I’m happy for Jenny for showing us what true love is.

  • raddi01

    She could have replaced Rhian Ramos as a new GMA7 talent..

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WJYBIWJNVO47MDOVHUSLIQ6HSI Francis Allan

    It is a joy reading this article. God bless, Jenni.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PBOZBBLRVEOTWHXEXOAXJR3Q3Y Dana

    This is old news you guys are reporting.

    • Ricci Santiago

      it is because some of us here are not die hard FB users.. this is news for some

  • WeAry_Bat

    waah. this article took away my fighting mood. i’m done for the day.

  • thinkthru

    So heroic for one so young.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TAFVA5LSGQ32CVNIPT5DYIKLEY Dan

    They post this because of the RH Bill.

    She don’t have a choice. She know that even going thru the therapy it will just extend her life a few years/month she might even die during the therapy. She was diagnosed with stage 3 astrocytoma on October 15, 2010 and give birth on November 09, 2011. That is 13 Months, which mean her partner knows she has cancer and suffering but still impregnated her even though she is weak, this makes her suffer more. This is the same problem in overpopulation, men doesn’t care about their partner’s well being, they just want to satisfy their sexual desire – and there are sectors that want this to continue.

    • SomeAnonymousGuy

      why do we automatically assume that the female is passive?  Why do we speak of the partner as “impregnating” her as if she was just lying there doing nothing?  Why do we not speak of the act as consensual?  While it is true that there are times men don’t care, why can we not assume that at least, in this case, Jenni herself “wanted it” (the lovemaking) and, perhaps, at the time, due to emotion, didn’t consider the consequences of the action?

      Then later, when the consequence came (pregnancy), she made a choice.

  • Guest

    She chose life for her child. Heroic and saintly.


    brave and kind heart.  god be with you, sweet jennie.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OHOD5EA75DBBUH53UKLRXRK764 Mang Teban

    It is a beautiful story of a mother sacrificing for her son.
    She knew that she was going to die but she chose to have her son live and be delivered as a normal infant.
    I offer prayers for Jenni that her soul will be accepted in heaven and for baby Chad Michael that he may grow up grateful for his mother who gave him life over her own.

  • Iggy Ramirez

    This is Gloria Arroyo’s fault!

    Sob. I can’t find anyone to blame.

    Reminds me a lot of a girl named Jenny who was the mother of a really smart boy named Forrest.

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