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Pregnant Cancer Survivor Risks Recurrence

A New York woman who beat cancer is now risking a relapse so she can have a baby.

Erin Ruddy and her husband, Nick, decided that, until their son is born, she would go off the medication that had driven her leukemia into remission.

He is due Sept. 1.

Maggie Rodriguez spoke with the couple.

They faced a huge dilemma, Rodriguez explained on The Early Show Friday.

As first reported in Glamour magazine, it was either stay on the medication or have a baby. She couldn't do both. The Ruddys decided a baby was worth it. And so began the longest nine months of their lives.

Five years ago, Erin was diagnosed with leukemia.

"I immediately flashed to all the images of sick people and hospitals and losing my hair, and — just thought that my life as I knew it was over," she told Rodriguez.

Nick feared the worst. "I just assumed that it was a death sentence. ... And I thought that she was gonna die."

And, says Rodriguez, Erin might have died but, months before her diagnosis, a drug called "Gleevec" had been approved to treat her type of leukemia.

"I had the option to take a pill, with almost no side effects," Erin says. "And, within a few months, I was — my — my counts were — were down. And within a year, I was in complete remission. And I never lost my hair. I never missed a day of work for being sick."

And Erin and Nick moved on.

They married two years ago. Thoughts of a family soon followed.

"I'm a normal woman with normal hopes and dreams for my future," Erin says. "And that's exciting that we've come to a place where cancer patients can have all that. But, with that comes desires to be a mother, to have a family."

For Erin to do that, she would have to stop taking the very drug that had saved her life.

"My knee-jerk reaction was, 'Definitely not, ' " Nick remembers. " 'We're adopting or we're figuring out a way to just not have you go off your medication. 'Cause there's no way I'm taking a chance with your life.' "

But Erin had been virtually cancer-free for three-and-a-half years. After months of research and soul-searching, she decided she would stop taking her cancer medicine.

One of her doctors, Stephen Nimer of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York says, "I'm very optimistic about Erin's future. If you look at 100,000 or more cells in her blood or bone marrow … you can't even find one that's the type of leukemia, and so that also factored into her decision to go off the drug and get pregnant."

Erin's mother, Cindy Zammett, wasn't so sure. "I wanted her to be able to have a baby, because it's the most wonderful thing in the whole world," Zammett says. "But yet, to risk her life was just something that as a mother I couldn't say, 'Yes, do it,' " but yet, as a mother, I couldn't say, 'Don't do it.' "

Not everyone agreed.

Erin had been chronicling her battle with cancer in Glamour, where she works.

And she was shocked at some of the responses to a column asking what she should do.

One e-mail read, "Dear Erin: Frankly, it disturbs me that you value your own life and your husband's lifetime commitment so little that you would risk everything you've accomplished so that your eggs may be fertilized. How selfish."

"(That) one was hard to read," Erin admits. "I just — you start doubting yourself for a second. … But I think that nobody really knows what it's like to be in my situation."

In the end, Rodriguez points out, Erin and Nick believed a baby was worth the risk.

As soon as Erin became pregnant, she went off Gleevec.

"I will feel incredibly blessed and incredibly lucky if I get through these nine months feeling healthy, and have a healthy baby," she says.

"Has there ever been a moment when you've doubted your decision?" Rodriguez wondered.

"No, not at all," Erin immediately responded.

To monitor Erin's health, she has blood drawn every month to check for signs of cancer. So far, Erin has "not" relapsed.

"I feel good and things have gone well," Erin says. "I mean, I know, from the outside looking in, it seems like this is, you know, oh, such a …"

"It is a big deal," Rodriguez interjected.

"Yeah, I know," Erin concurred. "It is. I know. I know it is. I think that's just my coping mechanisms."

Erin's had a "normal" pregnancy so far, with sonograms, a baby shower, and getting the room ready for the big day when she and Nick will meet their special son.

"I want him to know that he was really wanted, and — and that we, you know, wanted to have a family so much that — that we were willing to — to risk my health," Erin says. "And … hopefully, by the time he's big enough to understand all this, you know … I could be cured."

Erin has to go back on her medication after the baby is born, and stay on it the rest of her life, or at least until she decides to get pregnant again, which she and Nick haven't ruled out.

Erin and her doctors stress that her experience is unique; before anyone makes a decision like that, it's important to get as much information as possible, then decide.

Erin says her own research found many women who'd relapsed when they got off the drug.

Help name Erin's baby! click here.