Elizabeth Larcom has six children, but it’s the youngest that she calls her “miracle baby” – and with good reason.
In August 1997, the Army moved the Larcom family to Alaska with five kids under 12 and mom Elizabeth pregnant with the sixth. Soon after, husband and dad, Chuck, left for Army training in Louisiana. Extreme fatigue led Larcom to the doctor a month later, and she got more news: a diagnosis of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
“The first thing I thought about was the baby,” Larcom recalls. “Then I thought about all my kids, and how I might not live to see the oldest one finish middle school.”
Larcom had heard about Dana-Farber from her brother Austin, who had ridden for years in the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC). With help from the Army and Dana-Farber, Larcom, four months pregnant, quickly flew to Boston. There she and her unborn baby met David C. Fisher, MD, a specialist in hematologic oncology – blood cancers including non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Fisher had been treating patients with the disease for more than a decade, but this was one of the first pregnant women he had seen.
“Though we did not have extensive data, we did think that the baby could tolerate exposure to chemotherapy after the first trimester,” explains Fisher. “Elizabeth bravely accepted the challenge. As stressful as chemotherapy can be, we tried to minimize side effects so as not to risk a premature birth. The nursing staff at Dana-Farber was, as usual, wonderful in helping Elizabeth both medically and psychologically.”
“We did our research and knew there were risks, to me and the baby,” Larcom adds. “But we had so much confidence in Dr. Fisher and his team that we felt confident that things would be okay. My only real side effect was feeling tired, and I could handle that.”
There were nervous moments. Larcom remembers caregivers expressing concern when the baby didn’t move a lot, or seemed to be moving too much. Patients usually have a port-a-cath inserted beneath the skin near their chest for doctors and nurses to easily administer drugs and take blood, but nurse Kecia Boyd, RN, MSN, did not want to risk hurting the baby through this procedure, and instead administered Larcom’s chemo intravenously each time.
“Kecia was so wonderful and protective of me, and was the best at finding the perfect vein for my IV line,” Larcom says with a smile. “She always made me feel special.”
Family took turns caring for the five children back in Alaska, until the entire group surprised mom by moving to the Boston area late in her treatment. Fisher timed her treatment so Larcom’s last chemotherapy infusion was Jan. 5, 1998 – about five weeks before her Valentine’s Day due date.
The baby, however, had other plans. Born a month early on Jan. 16, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, she was initially monitored in the neonatal unit there before being declared healthy. In deference to the remarkable road Larcom had traveled to that moment, she named her daughter after herself. Larcom now goes by Liz; her daughter by Beth.
The family eventually relocated permanently to New England after Chuck retired from 26 years of military service with the Army, and they all became dedicated PMC riders. Now 19, Beth has also coordinated a local PMC Kid’s Ride near their home for several years, and has stayed close to home as a freshman at Harvard College. Recently, she and her mom made the short trip from campus to Dana-Farber, where Boyd and Fisher are both still working, to surprise them.
“This is what it’s all about,” Boyd said as she hugged her former patient. “We were a team working together when you were here, keeping you safe, and it’s great to see the end result.”
Fisher added: “It’s hugely rewarding to see Elizabeth doing so well after all this time, and to see her daughter makes it doubly special.”
And, as Dana-Farber did with she and her mom, Beth has become adept at saving things – especially pucks. She was a goalie on the U.S. Women’s National Under-18 Team that won the 2016 International Ice Hockey Federation Championship, and just finished her freshman year in net with the Harvard women’s squad.