Skip to main content

Carrying hope for two: Jennifer was pregnant when she learned she had breast cancer

Thanks to her care team at Northwell Health, new mom and baby Marlowe are thriving.

A new mother holding and sweetly embracing her baby daughter as she looks through a window.
Jennifer embracing a beautiful, new beginning in her arms.

At 30 years old, Jennifer Murphy’s life was on track. She was married, working in Manhattan and running a successful wedding planning business. It was the perfect time for her next big venture—starting a family.

Three generations of women in a family, including a mother, daughter and granddaughter
Jennifer, her mom, Donna, and baby, Marlowe.

Having a close-knit family means everything to Jennifer. Growing up with all brothers, she formed an unbreakable bond with her mom. “She’s my best friend,” says Jennifer. “We see each other every day, and often plan trips and weekend getaways together.”

It was on one of those trips that Jennifer discovered something unusual. “We were in Italy when I felt a lump on my right breast above my nipple,” she recalls. “It was something I never felt before, but I didn’t have a family history of breast cancer.” She decided to look into it when she returned home.

But upon her return, Jennifer discovered something else—the exciting news that she was pregnant!

As overjoyed as she was, she grew worrisome about the lump she found. At her eight-week OB/GYN appointment, she brought it up to her midwife who thought it might be pregnancy related. But Jennifer was still concerned. After noticing some swelling in her lymph nodes, she requested a sonogram. “I had no idea what I was in for,” says Jennifer. “When the radiologist told me I should get a biopsy, that’s when it sunk in.”

A few days later, she received her diagnosis. It was stage 3/grade 3 breast cancer—and she was 16 weeks pregnant.

“I just thought at that point, cancer is cancer. People die from cancer. And we didn’t know if we could keep the baby. When you’re young and pregnant, you never think you’re going to be in a position like that. I felt so hopeless and confused.”

With her family by her side, Jennifer met with Northwell breast surgeon Dr. Karen Kostroff and medical oncologist Dr. Jane Carleton to find out the type of cancer and recommended treatment. It was estrogen positive and HER2-negative, which meant she could start chemotherapy during pregnancy. Jennifer also worked with maternal fetal medicine specialist Clarissa Bonanno, MD, who followed the health of the pregnancy during her treatment.

“My doctors were so comforting and they explained everything,” says Jennifer. “I knew they would hold my hand through this whole process. Being a first-time mother, I needed that reassurance and personal touch.”

Jennifer completed eight weeks of chemo. Luckily, she experienced very minimal side effects, but often worried about the health of her unborn child. “For Christmas, my brother got me a Doppler fetal monitor. After chemo, I’d come home and listen to my baby’s heartbeat to make sure she was OK. It gave me the peace of mind I needed to keep moving forward.”

New parents on a couch beaming with joy, as mom playfully lifts laughing baby in the air
Jennifer, husband Kevin and Marlowe sharing laughs—it’s all about the giggles!

Although she came five weeks early, Jennifer and her husband, Kevin, welcomed a healthy baby girl—Marlowe Donna Hope—into the world at North Shore University Hospital. “I named her Donna after my mom and Hope because she gave me the faith to keep fighting every day,” she says.

Her hard work and resolve paid off—a postpartum sonogram showed the tumor had shrunk 90 percent and a bone scan came back 99 percent clear.

Jennifer was even able to breastfeed before starting another round of chemo. “Every small thing is a huge thing for my family now. Before, I used to sweat the small stuff. Now, I don’t even complain about the sleepless nights, because I know what it took to get to this point.”

To see if her cancer was hereditary, Jennifer went for genetic testing. The results confirmed she was BRCA II positive, inherited from her father’s side. That means the women (and men) in that family line should be tested to evaluate their risks. BRCA also causes a higher risk for reoccurrence and new cancer growth, so Jennifer had a double mastectomy (removal of both breasts). Her next step is reconstruction, followed by five weeks of radiation and monthly hormonal treatment.

Nine members of a family, sitting and standing together in a living room
Spending quality time with family means everything to Jennifer.

With a long road ahead, Jennifer continues to focus on the positives. “You just have to stay grounded to the things that matter most,” she says. “I am so grateful to Northwell, my family and husband. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. As strong as I have been, they have been my rock.”

Today, Jennifer supports women in similar situations. She volunteers at the Manhasset Women's Coalition Against Breast Cancer, a charitable organization that unites Long Island women in the fight against breast cancer.

“I’m just so lucky to be alive and blessed with a loving family and healthy child. And who knows—maybe there will be another baby in our future. It’s definitely something we’d like to explore.”

To better treat cases like Jennifer’s, Northwell has established the Center for Cancer, Pregnancy and Reproduction—a dedicated program for the extremely complex treatment of cancer during pregnancy. The center offers highly specialized care and support for women who are facing this unique condition, so they can focus on their growing family and all the wonderful things that lie ahead.

Go to top