Edmonton woman has life-changing surgery to protect unborn baby

Watch above: A well-known and respected midwife is now becoming a mother herself, but the news is bittersweet. Su-Ling Goh has more on the woman’s selfless decision to giving up part of her sight to protect her unborn child.

EDMONTON – A pregnant Edmonton woman who decided to have life-changing surgery in hopes of keeping a rare form of eye cancer from affecting her unborn baby has undergone surgery.

Chantal Gauthier-Vaillancourt had her right eye removed on Wednesday. Her close friend Helga Himer says the operation went well, and both mother and baby are recovering well.

Gauthier-Vaillancourt’s journey with cancer began in 2009, when she received her original diagnosis. She was in her first year studying midwifery at the time.

“It was a malignant melanoma in my right eye that could spread to the liver and the bones.”

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Gauthier-Vaillancourt went through a number of natural therapies and radiation, before doctors told her she was in remission.

“We were told to wait to get pregnant, which is what we did, and it worked out fairly well.”

Gauthier-Vaillancourt finished her studies and after spending five years in remission, she and her husband found out they were expecting a child.

“We were really excited about that,” she says. “About two weeks later I went for my regular checkup and it was then that we discovered that the tumour had grown substantially in a very short period of time.”

At the time, there was a 25 per cent chance of Gauthier-Vaillancourt’s cancer spreading to the placenta. But because her pregnancy was only eight weeks along, she and her husband didn’t think the options they were given were the right decision at the time.

“Abortion, radiation, surgery [to remove the tumour]: none of those seemed appropriate for us,” says Gauthier-Vaillancourt, who knew if the surgery caused premature birth her child would not survive.
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Gauthier-Vaillancourt went through more natural therapies, but when her pregnancy reached 28 weeks, she was faced with another tough decision; while she knew the placenta was tumour-free, there was now a 70 per cent chance she could pass on her cancer.

“We’re at a point where we decided it’s time: the baby is strong enough to tolerate the surgery and so I’ll be getting the eye removed next week,” she said last Wednesday.

Last week, Gauthier-Vaillancourt had a maternity photo shoot done. Himer, her friend and photographer, also held a fundraiser for her, lending her photography talents to raise money to pay for Gauthier-Vaillancourt’s natural therapies, which weren’t covered by the province.

“To go through cancer… I just can’t even imagine what it would be like,” Himer explains.

“But to be pregnant and having to deal with this, in the time of your life where you should be enjoying your baby growing and becoming a first-time mom… I think she’s handling it like a champ.”

Gauthier-Vaillancourt says the amount of support her family has received has filled her with gratitude.

“It’s been a rough tide, but at the same time, I mean, everyone has problems and I honestly feel it’s just another bump in the road,” she says. “I keep saying, ‘This baby chose me, chose this situation and is very strong.'”

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As of Friday morning, the fundraiser had collected more than $20,000 for Gauthier-Vaillancourt and her family.

With files from Su-Ling Goh, Global News. 

*Editor’s note: This story was originally published Wednesday, June 4, 2014. It was updated at 3:43 MST Friday, June 13, 2014 to include details of Gauthier-Vaillancourt’s surgery. 

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