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When cancer threatened pregnancy, "I would have died from a broken heart"

Diagnosed with cancer during her pregnancy, Michelle Jahnke fought to not only survive, but to try to save her unborn child
Mom-to-be fights cancer during pregnancy 03:13

LEMONT, Ill. - Michelle Jahnke describes herself four years ago as being at the top of her game. She was an accomplished television news producer, world traveler, wife, avid runner and was "as healthy as can be." And to top it all off she found out she was pregnant.

But suddenly her whole world changed.

"The day that I found out I had cancer, I say it was like a death sentence. I knew that if the disease wasn't going to kill me, the choice that they [doctors] were telling me to make would," said Jahnke.

Michelle and Mark Jahnke Courtesy Jahnke family

Even before she received the official diagnosis of stage III colorectal cancer, she described getting a biopsy on a mass in her colon and doctors telling her, "'This tumor needs to go. So you're gonna have to terminate your child.' And I knew that if I was to do that, I would have died from a broken heart," said Jahnke.

Jahnke, who was 31 at the time, was determined to not only survive, but to save her unborn child as well. She spent sleepless nights crying for hours leaning on her husband Mark who kept telling her that it will all work out.

After five doctors told her to terminate she still believed "there has to be another way."

She met with, Dr. Blase Polite, an oncologist at the University of Chicago who "finally shed some light on what had been complete darkness."

Jahnke said he described to her and her husband a specialized treatment plan that would begin with doing chemotherapy during her pregnancy, which could include risks.

Ultimately Janhke knew that this was her best shot at saving both their lives.

"Going to chemo emotionally was one of the hardest things I've ever done," said Jahnke. "It took a lot of faith to know that you're putting so much poison into your body, but yet believe that everything's gonna be OK."

The next few months were an emotional roller coaster for Jahnke. She was often battling depression and at the same time fighting to be strong for her family.

About a month before her due date Jahnke had a planned C-section on November 30, 2012.

Elana Jahnke was born healthy, 19 inches long, weighing six pounds. "Perfect in every single way. Not one side effect from the chemotherapy," said Jahnke.

Michelle and Elana Jahnke Courtesy Jahnke family

With a big smile she calls her their "little miracle baby." "All that treatment, all that uncertainty, it was so worth that moment. And she was so - oh, she was so beautiful," Janhke gushed with her hands on her heart.

Just two months after Elana was born Jahnke had to start radiation. Then more chemotherapy, along with surgery to remove the tumor.

She is now 35 and has been cancer free for two years.

Jahnke wants her daughter to know through her struggle for survival that, "You're always stronger than who you think you are."

"People say, 'You've saved her life. You were the brave one.' She saved my life. Had I not been pregnant, I don't know if I would've fought so hard. But knowing that I had to fight for her, for her life so that... she could be born, and I can see her grow into a woman, I mean, that's every reason to live," said Jahnke.

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