Pregnant Mom of Three Hears the Unimaginable: You Have Pancreatic Cancer

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Karalayne Maglinte Was 21 Weeks Pregnant When She Underwent the Complex Whipple Surgery to Remove the Tumor; Today, Both Mom and Baby Are Doing Well

Dennis and Karalayne Maglinte with their children, Ian (8), Isaac (3) and Emlee (1) at the PurpleStride Los Angeles event on May 2. Karalayne had the Whipple surgery while pregnant with Emlee.

Like many others who’ve been impacted by pancreatic cancer, Emlee Maglinte has considerable determination. She’s got boundless energy and a respectable amount of sass; not much slows her down. She’s likely to wear lots of purple most days. And she’s hardly shy – when a stranger approaches, she’s quick to grin and flash her pearly whites.

All three of them.

It is often said that babies are miracles, but little Emlee, who just turned 1 year old on the second day of spring, is the epitome of the word.

Her mother, Karalayne Maglinte, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when she was 20 weeks pregnant with Emlee – and underwent a grueling seven-hour Whipple surgery to remove the tumor just one week following her diagnosis. A little more than four months later, she went on to deliver 7-pound, 1-ounce baby Emlee without any complications.

Her first thought when the baby was born wasn’t about whether she had all 10 fingers and all 10 toes. It was simply, “I’m so grateful and relieved that she’s safe.”

Karalayne was safe as well, and today, there’s no sign of pancreatic cancer. But she acknowledges that if it wasn’t for Emlee, her situation might have gone differently.

She likes to think that Emlee was her lifesaver.

“Because I was pregnant, I was much more aware of my body’s cues that something wasn’t right, and I was quicker to react than I might have been otherwise,” Karalayne said.

Itching in her hands and feet about 15 weeks into the pregnancy was one cue. Jaundice, a more serious harbinger, was another. Karalayne wasted no time getting to her doctor.

May the force be with you! Ian, Isaac and Emlee Maglinte channel favorite “Star Wars” characters on Halloween 2014.

May the force be with you! Ian, Isaac and Emlee Maglinte channel favorite “Star Wars” characters on Halloween 2014.

Because of the jaundice, gallstones were initially suspected. But in time, Karalayne began to experience such excruciating pain that she was taken by ambulance in the middle of the night to UC Irvine Health, in Orange County, Calif.

Once she was there, a team of specialists – including her obstetrician, a high-risk pregnancy specialist and an expert in diseases of the liver, pancreas, bile ducts and gallbladder – quickly gathered to discuss her case. Karalayne, who was 36 at the time, remembers a physician telling her early on, before she was diagnosed, “You’re too young for pancreatic cancer.”

But soon, a biopsy revealed that she did indeed have pancreatic cancer.

Her healthcare team immediately conferred to discuss next steps. Because the tumor was confined to a small part of the pancreas, the Whipple surgery was, fortunately, a viable treatment option.

But when to move forward with the surgery?

Performing the Whipple during pregnancy is extremely rare; before Karalayne’s case, there had only been two published cases of successful Whipple surgeries in pregnant women. If doctors waited until after the baby was born, the cancer could have spread, and surgery might not have been an option.

Doctors also knew that if the Whipple were to be performed during Karalayne’s pregnancy, they had a very small window of opportunity – between weeks 20 and 22.

Karalayne was 21 weeks pregnant.

Her team agreed that the safest course of treatment for both mother and baby was immediate surgery. And roughly a week after her diagnosis, she was wheeled into the operating room.

Although Karalayne had been a nervous wreck that the baby’s life would be jeopardized, her husband, Dennis, said he intuitively knew everything was going to be OK.

“I had had a dream that my daughter was born right before I found out Karalayne was pregnant,” he said. “Plus, our oldest son had also had a dream about a baby sister before he knew that she was pregnant. So when Karalayne was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I was comforted by these dreams. I knew she and Emlee were both going to be OK.”

Seven days post-Whipple, Karalayne was back at home in Pomona, Calif.

Baby Emlee Maglinte is credited with being her mother’s “Lil' Lifesaver.” Karalayne Maglinte experienced the unimaginable while pregnant – a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Early detection likely saved her life.

Baby Emlee Maglinte is credited with being her mother’s “Lil’ Lifesaver.” Karalayne Maglinte experienced the unimaginable while pregnant – a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Early detection likely saved her life.

The recovery period was “brutal,” she said, but both sets of grandparents were on hand to help the family as much as possible.

For the remainder of the pregnancy, Karalayne tried to get plenty of rest (no easy feat for any mother), while giving attention to their other two children. Ian was 6 at the time, and Isaac was 20 months; they were also trying to cope with the difficult situation in their own ways.

Luckily, the pregnancy went nearly to full term, and Karalayne’s “little lifesaver” came along on March 24, 2014.

Both mom and baby are doing well today. Karalayne has a few lingering issues as a result of the surgery, but she said they don’t begin to compare to what she’s already been through.

This past March, Emlee and Isaac celebrated their birthdays together (their birthdays are just a few days apart) with a Mickey and Minnie Mouse-themed party. Emlee donned a bright, frilly tutu for the occasion, handmade by her mom.

This month, as Mother’s Day approaches, Karalayne and Dennis are looking forward to spending that day together as a family and counting their many blessings.

“We’re so lucky,” Karalayne said. “We have three beautiful children, and it’s a true gift that I get to be here to see them smile and hear them laugh.”

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, please call Patient Central at 877-272-6226, Monday – Friday, 7 a.m. – 5 p.m. PT, or email a Patient Central Associate at patientcentral@pancan.org.

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