Northwestern Medicine

Chicago Woman Delivered Baby, Underwent Cancer Surgery All in One Day

Northwestern Memorial Hospital May 09, 2014

CHICAGO, IL – When she was three months pregnant, Robin Garren learned she had a rare, aggressive form of bone cancer. She also discovered something she never knew she had -- courage.  

When Robin Garren celebrates Mother’s Day on May 11, it will be just a month shy of her youngest daughter Sophia’s second birthday – and the two-year anniversary of the surgery that saved Garren’s life.

In 2011, Garren was three months into her pregnancy when she fell on some ice while shopping. She headed to the ER where doctors said her baby was fine, but decided to X-ray her knee that was in pain following the fall.

“As soon as the doctor walked back into the room, I knew something was wrong,” said Garren, who is 30 years old and lives on the northwest side of Chicago. “He seemed anxious and wouldn’t look me in the eye. Then he told me that the X-ray showed a shadowing on my bone.”

Garren’s next step was to see Northwestern Medicine orthopaedic oncologist Terrance Peabody, MD. At 22 weeks, she learned she had an osteosarcoma, an extremely aggressive form of bone cancer. The tumor was in her femur just above the knee and was spreading into her muscle.

“Osteosarcoma is a very rare and very serious form of bone cancer,” said Peabody, chair of orthopaedics at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and the Edwin Warner Ryerson Professor of orthopaedic surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.  “Even though Robin was pregnant, she needed treatment because if untreated, it would kill her. And Robin had to figure out a way to deal with this diagnosis in the best way for herself and for her unborn baby.”

Watch a video of Robin Garren’s story below:

Peabody assembled a team of orthopaedic, oncology and high-risk obstetrics experts to determine a course of action to treat the cancer while protecting Garren’s unborn baby. Chemotherapy was necessary to prevent the cancer from spreading, but the physicians warned Garren that her baby could be at risk for heart defects or other physical and developmental issues.

“I just remember thinking, I will love my baby no matter what,” said Garren.

In addition to chemo, Garren would need surgery to remove the cancer from her leg and replace the bone with a cadaver bone. To minimize surgical risk, Peabody performed the cancer surgery on the same day that Garren delivered her baby via C-section. Garren went under general anesthesia and did not wake up to see her baby until both surgeries were completed. Peabody and his orthopaedic team stood by in the operating room while the obstetrics team performed the C-section, then went immediately to work after the baby was born.

Mark Agulnik, MD, was Garren’s oncologist. Because she came to Northwestern Medicine, Garren benefited from all of the resources of Northwestern Medicine Memorial Hospital and the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center including surgeons, oncologists, psychiatrists, social workers and nutritionists, Agulnik said.

“Robin is simply an incredible woman and an incredible mother,” said Agulnik who is also an associate professor in medicine and hematology/oncology at the Feinberg School of Medicine. “One day Sophia will know her mother went through all of this treatment and a surgery that lasted almost a day and that she did it all for her.”

After eight hours in the operating room, Garren had a healthy baby girl named Sophia and the leg surgery had been a success. Today, she takes four-mile walks around her neighborhood with Sophia and is looking forward to a summer full of pool time and zoo trips.

She remains cancer free. 

 “The courage of Robin going to sleep, having all that done and not knowing whether the baby would be healthy – she’s got some tremendous courage,” Peabody said. “I can’t imagine bigger challenges than these and having to make very important decisions. It was very clear in her mind that she was going to have this child, she was going to beat this cancer and then she was going to move on.”

Learn more information about orthopaedic care at Northwestern Medicine Memorial or connect with us on social media. To make an appointment or find a physician, call 312.926.0779.

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