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A family's grace in crisis

Minnie and Paul Narth have an unusual family. Six months into Minnie's pregnancy with their now-2-year-old son, she was diagnosed with an advanced case of lymphoma. Thanks to close collaboration between the high-risk obstetrics team at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital and the oncologists at Stanford Hospital & Clinics, Minnie was able to receive chemotherapy during her pregnancy and deliver a healthy Kieron Anthony in August 2009. Soon after delivery, more cancer was found in Minnie's kidneys and brain, and she had more chemotherapy, radiation and an autologous stem cell transplant to save her life.

As amazing as their medical journey was, what struck me most when I interviewed the Narths for my new Stanford Medicine magazine feature, "The Unexpected: Cancer During Pregnancy", was their grace and extreme teamwork in living through a situation that could only be described as a nightmare. A little of this comes through in the story:

During one ER visit, Paul rattled off a string of Minnie's recent lab results to the medical resident attending to them.

"Are you a doctor?" the resident said, startled. The Narths laugh about this now.

"My friend Anna Mae says, 'Go, Paul!'" Minnie says. "He knew my history inside and out. I don't think I would have survived anything without him."

But I couldn't fit nearly as many anecdotes as I would have liked into the magazine piece. From beginning to end of our conversation, as Minnie and Paul shared their memories, finished each other's sentences, and took intermittent breaks to hug and talk to Kieron, the strength of their bond came through. It was there in the smallest exchanges: Paul describing the night he had to check Minnie into the hospital instead of taking her out for a promised birthday dinner; Minnie reacting to Kieron's glee at seeing Paul by saying fondly "There's no world when his daddy's around"; both of them describing how they handled their feelings about the threat to Minnie's life.

"It took me a while to find Paul and to even think that I was going to have a child," Minnie says. "It's such a gift - there was no way I was going to give that up without a fight."

"She's my hero," Paul says.

"It's difficult to be strong, but I would find myself just ... singing and being grateful for the task at hand," Minnie said. "What's the word? Something to fight for, something to overcome."

Photo of the Narth family by TrujilloPaumier

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