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Life out of cancer: Care gives Ottawa woman hope, time and her baby

Life out of cancer: Care gives Ottawa woman hope, time and her baby

Jillian O’Connor’s newborn son, Declan, was borne despite his mom’s diagnosis of terminal breast cancer four months into the pregnancy.

Declan O’Connor came into the world on Sunday, Feb. 1, at 4:16 p.m., weighing 7 pounds 6.5 ounces. His mom, Jillian O’Connor, counted his fingers and toes. And then did it again. “He is absolute perfection,” she said, as any mother of a healthy child would.

But for O’Connor, it meant something more.

Her third pregnancy quickly became a bid to save her baby’s life as well as her own. The 31-year-old felt a lump in her breast and, after a whirlwind series of tests 16 weeks into her pregnancy, was told she had cancer. And then she was told it had spread. It was terminal.

She and her husband, David, couldn’t bear the thought of terminating the pregnancy in order to treat her, but they also didn’t want to risk harm to their baby. It was a Catch-22 situation. Then they met Dr. Mark Clemons, a leading breast cancer specialist and researcher in personalized medicine.

Dr. Clemons created a customized chemo cocktail for O’Connor that would treat her cancer without harming the baby.

In the past – and even in certain cases now – terminating the pregnancy is recommended. “But we are learning more all the time,” Dr. Clemons said. “With my experience and training, we were able to offer Jillian a different option.”

What Dr. Clemons offered her was time, hope and her baby.


Jillian O’Connor introduced Dr. Mark Clemons to little Declan on Feb. 9 in the Cancer Centre of The Ottawa Hospital.


“He’s a miracle worker,” O’Connor said. “He did everything he could to get me through my pregnancy, and now Declan is here. We couldn’t be happier!”

What’s next for O’Connor’s care? “We are scanning her from head to toe to determine the extent of her cancer,” said Dr. Clemons. “Our hope is that by giving her the best possible treatment in the world, Jillian’s disease can be controlled and she can watch her children grow up.”

As for O’Connor’s plans, she said, “I just want to live life and be a mom. My greatest hope is that someday I talk to my kids about cancer the way we talk about polio – as something well in our past.”

She knows making that hope a reality requires research. And she hopes researchers like Dr. Clemons will be supported to do that work.

Research at The Ottawa Hospital involves more than 1,700 scientists, clinical investigators, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and staff who are working to improve the understanding, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of human disease. Support our research. Give to the Tender Loving Research campaign.


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