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Blessed by a Diagnosis | Kelli Whitley

March 28, 2023

A wide range of emotions flooded Kelli Whitley within a six-day period in 2022.

There was the Monday where she received life-changing news – a diagnosis of Stage 1 breast cancer.

There was the Sunday where she received life-changing news – a confirmation that she was pregnant.

Kelli, an Elm City native who was at the time 26 years old, was told that she needed to undergo rounds of chemotherapy treatment to battle the cancer. That, she could handle. What she refused to accept was the medical information that suggested she would have a higher chance of becoming cancer free if she terminated her pregnancy.

“I’m a huge believer in the power of prayer,” Kelli said. “I knew God laid this baby on us for a reason. There wasn’t anything I doubted that she was brought into this world for a purpose.”

In fact, one of the reasons why Kelli said her OB-GYN detected the lump in her left breast during a checkup was because of the pregnancy, which she was told made the mass more detectable. Kelli, who had been trying to conceive a baby with her husband, Dakota, for three years, knew she owed the baby every ounce of strength she had.

“My baby saved my life,” Kelli said. “How could I terminate the pregnancy and not save hers?”

Kelli fought. She underwent a mastectomy during the 10th week of her pregnancy. Dakota and Kelli Whitley are now proud parents of Jessi Kate, a healthy girl who was born at 32 weeks with no complications.

Along the way she met Wilson Medical Center Patient Navigator Lisa Herndon. Herndon’s role is to become part of a patient’s health care team when they are coping with a possible or confirmed cancer diagnosis. Patient navigation was needed as Kelli continued chemotherapy treatments into her second trimester.

“Lisa has been a huge blessing to our family,” Kelli said. “Any questions we have, she has been on it. Even on a personal level, she will text us, and she has been wonderful. All of the people in the chemo department make you feel welcome, and they are very personable. I really enjoy being at Wilson.”

Kelli will continue to rely on the Wilson team. Soon after Jessi Kate was born, Kelli found out that the cancer spread into her liver. She now receives immunotherapy treatments to keep the cancerous cells dormant.

“The radiation staff is just as friendly and welcoming as the chemo staff,” Kelli said. “I meet with Dr. (Margaret) Metts every Monday to make sure my skin is handling the radiation okay. Dr. (Keith) Lerro is always very friendly and upbeat. I could not ask for my experience with them to be any better.”

Some days are better than others, but Kelli said with the support of her family, faith and confidence in Wilson Medical Center, the journey has been worth it.

“Being pregnant helped me stay above water,” Kelli said. “I tried to look at it as a blessing instead of a negative, because we were going to get a sweet baby at the end.”

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