Mother who delayed cancer treatment due to pregnancy dies nine months after delivering twins

Confronted with stage 4 Metastatic Melanoma, Danielle Dick decided that she wanted to protect the lives of her unborn children, even at the cost of her own.

                            Mother who delayed cancer treatment due to pregnancy dies nine months after delivering twins
(Source: Getty Images)

When Danielle Dick of Goddard, Kansas, discovered that she was suffering from stage 4 melanoma, she was 17 weeks pregnant with twins.

Doctors gave her a 20% chance of surviving for another five years if she started immediate radiation therapy, the Daily Mail reports. Dick, however, chose to make the ultimate sacrifice for her children.

It all started nearly seven years ago when Dick’s husband Tyler noticed a strange mole on her back. An initial biopsy found that it was benign but soon it grew back. A second biopsy confirmed that it was indeed melanoma. In late 2011, Dick underwent surgery to have the cancerous mole removed.

Five years and multiple biannual check-ups later, she was finally declared cancer-free. In 2015, the physical therapist gave birth to her first child, a little baby girl named Taylor. Everything seemed to be going perfectly fine for the new mother. Little did she know, her life was about to get much better and then much worse.

In December 2016, the family was overjoyed to discover that Dick was pregnant and that too with twins. They prepared to welcome the new additions, all the while blissfully unaware that a great personal tragedy was looming on the horizon.

In April 2017, Dick began experiencing headaches. She grew increasingly frustrated to discover that she had trouble remembering words. An obstetrician dismissed the symptoms as just a case of “pregnancy brain”. However, the symptoms did not abate.

Finally, on April 29, Dick became completely unable to speak and the couple rushed to the hospital. An MRI revealed that the melanoma had indeed returned and was worse than ever. The 32-year-old had no less than three cancerous masses in her brain.

She did not wish to endanger the lives of her unborn children. So she decided that her own health could wait. She told doctors to delay radiation treatment until after the twins had been safely delivered. On May 1, she went under the knife to have the cancers removed.

Doctors managed to remove the three melanoma masses from her brain. Two days later, they also removed two cancerous masses from her abdominal wall. All of them were found to be melanoma and all of them likely came from the same mole that first plagued her.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that begins in the melanocytes, a special type of cell. Metastatic melanoma occurs when cancer has spread to other parts of the body, usually because it has evaded early detection. It is the leading cause of cancer death in women 25-30 years old and one of the most serious forms of cancer.

The twins - a healthy boy and girl- were delivered prematurely via Caesarean section at 29 weeks on July 12, 2017. They were named Colby and Reagan. Doctors immediately started the mother on intensive treatment. The babies were placed under neonatal intensive care until they could get stronger.

“I want people to know skin cancer is not something to be brushed aside,” Dick said before the birth. “People need to get skin checked and wear sunscreen. People think [skin cancer] is more treatable, but if it metastasizes the prognosis isn't good.”

A huge percentage of melanoma cases are caused by exposure to UV radiation. This includes unprotected exposure to artificial tanning beds and natural sunlight. Melanoma is considered to be especially deadly for pregnant women and new mothers.

Doctors tested the twins’ placentas and found them to be free of the cancer. Soon, both the babies and their mother began to show signs of recovery. But subsequent scans showed that the cancer had spread even further.

In March, Dick’s sister wrote on a GoFundMe page set up to raise funds for the treatment and to raise awareness about skin cancer that scans showed a new tumour in her spine and multiple tumours in her brain. At the end of that month, the family moved to MD Anderson in Houston, Texas, for a one-month treatment program.

Because the cancer was believed to have spread to the young mother’s cerebrospinal fluid, the only viable treatment method was to insert a catheter directly into the brain to deliver chemotherapy drugs. She developed an infection after the move to Houston and despite the catheter being replaced she passed away a few days later, just nine months after giving birth.

Dick died peacefully at the age of 32 on April 25. She was lying next to her husband on her hospital bed. He has since started campaigning to raise awareness about skin cancer and to encourage people to get themselves checked and stay protected with sunscreen.