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Jian and family

Beating All Odds to See Her Daughter Grow Up

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Jian's journey with El Camino Health began a decade ago when she and her husband Andy found out they were pregnant. Their excitement over their growing family quickly waned as Jian began to experience intense pain. Her OB/GYN, Sarah Azad, MD, ordered an ultrasound on her left leg and discovered it was filled with blood clots, which could be life-threatening to Jian and her baby. Jian was immediately admitted to El Camino Health's Mountain View Hospital where she was given blood thinners that successfully broke up the blood clots.

Not long after, Jian developed a persistent cough, which remained despite antibiotic treatment. Then, in August 2012, Jian began to experience contractions. Dr. Azad determined her body was readying for labor even though she was only 22 weeks pregnant.

Doctors stopped Jian's contractions with IV fluid and performed more tests, which revealed excess fluid surrounding her heart and lungs.

On August 20, 2012, Dr. Azad visited Jian's room with medical oncologist Shane Dormady, MD, who gave Jian life-changing news: Jian had stage IV lung cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes and bones.

Despite the devastating news, Jian was determined to see her unborn child grow up, and she set her sights on doing everything she could to treat her cancer.

Collaborative Care in Extreme Situations

Dr. Dormady and the team of experts at El Camino Health Cancer Center collaborated with the maternal-fetal medicine team at El Camino Health and designed an aggressive treatment plan that would be safe for Jian's unborn baby. Jian started her cancer treatment within a matter of days.

The morning after beginning chemotherapy, Jian woke up with a very painful contraction. She was in labor. Her daughter was born at just 23 weeks and 4 days, weighing only 1 pound, 2 ounces. Jian and Andy named her Ella.

Ella spent one month in the El Camino Health neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), where she battled many infections but was cared for 24 hours a day, seven days a week by the expert pediatric nurses and doctors. At the end of September, Ella went into organ failure and was transferred to a nearby facility that could perform a series of specialized surgeries on a premature baby.

While Ella was fighting for her life in the NICU, Jian was fighting for hers at the El Camino Health Cancer Center.

A Mother's and Daughter's Will to Survive

"I was doing chemotherapy, but I was more focused on my daughter’s health," says Jian. "My tumors were beginning to shrink, but I found out I needed surgery to relieve fluid that had built up around my heart and lungs once again."

Jian made it through the surgery, but three days after the procedure, she had a massive stroke. She lost mobility on the right side of her body along with the ability to speak.

She began an intensive stroke rehabilitation program at the El Camino Rehabilitation Center in Los Gatos to learn to walk, talk, climb stairs, read and write all over again.

"Cancer had not yet defeated me, but stroke almost did," says Jian. "I thought: I can't give up. I have to get better for my daughter, my family and myself."

While Jian was completing her stroke rehabilitation, the cancer care team at El Camino Health continued to adapt to the extreme circumstances Jian was in to manage her lung cancer treatment.

After undergoing four surgeries herself, Ella was discharged from the NICU in January 2013. She began to grow and thrive. She quickly learned two languages and excelled in the classroom once she started preschool.

Jian received chemotherapy during her rehabilitation and partially recovered from her stroke. She remained in steady condition for nearly three years, during which time, she continued to receive chemotherapy for her cancer.

Fighting Through Another Series of Severe Setbacks

In 2017, doctors discovered Jian had developed a tumor on the right side of her brain, which controlled the side of her body that had been unaffected by her stroke.

Jian underwent CyberKnife radiosurgery treatments, performed by radiation oncologist Robert Sinha, MD, which completely removed her brain tumor. She also began targeted therapy as another line of treatment for her cancer.

In 2020, doctors discovered a tumor in Jian's hip. A biopsy of the tumor showed a cellular mutation that doctors could treat with an advanced treatment called immunotherapy. Immunotherapy treatment was effective, and Jian began radiation in the spring of 2021.

"I went to radiation every day for six weeks," says Jian. "It made me very weak and tired, but Dr. Sinha fought with me, and after treatment, the hip tumor was completely gone."

Hope on the Horizon

Today, Jian continues to receive immunotherapy every three weeks and injections every six weeks to prevent new tumors from developing. She undergoes regular scans to check for the presence of new tumors.

"My El Camino Health cancer team is wonderful," says Jian. "Dr. Dormady has treated me for almost 10 years, and I think of him as family. He doesn't give up. He keeps fighting for his patients."

After a decade, thanks to Drs. Dormady and Sinha and the entire cancer team at El Camino Health, along with Jian's determination and perseverance, the quiet hope Jian held all along is becoming a reality.

"I'm in remission," says Jian. "I can take care of my daughter and be with her."

Jian is keeping busy — cooking, caring for her family's home and tending to their garden. She is working on a book chronicling her journey. As for Ella, she is a happy and healthy 9-year-old who loves to read and draw.

"I deeply appreciate all the doctors, nurses and therapists at El Camino Health," says Jian. "They saved our lives."

"One of the most memorable scenes of my career is seeing Jian and Andy huddled over Jian's phone in the Infusion Center while Jian was receiving her chemotherapy. They were just beaming and oozing with love as they looked at photos and videos of baby Ella, who was still in the NICU at the time. And now to see Ella — she's so smart that when she started school, she skipped Kindergarten and went right to first grade!"

- Katie Kuhl, Nurse Practitioner, El Camino Health Cancer Center