As Lauri and Garon Coalwell tickled their 15-month-old son Thursday afternoon, the little boy belted out deep belly laughs. The young Atascadero family beamed — the perfect picture of relaxation and happiness. All things that seemed unlikely seven months ago.
When The Tribune last spoke to the Coalwells in September, the odds were stacked against the 28-year-old new mom.
Lauri Coalwell was diagnosed in February 2010 with a quick-growing cancer in the uterus six weeks after the birth of baby Trajan. A whirlwind of chemotherapy, blood tests and doctor visits ensued.
“You’re so young and you think nothing is going to happen to you. It’s shocking when it does,” Lauri Coalwell said. “Our family life was just starting and suddenly I didn’t know if all that would be taken away.”
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Her rare cancer, which began as an abnormal cell in the placenta and was thus spurred by the pregnancy, also turned up as tumors in her liver and lungs.
In September, she had to stop chemotherapy because it was damaging her kidneys. The family was worried about stopping the treatment, but knew they had to because it was making her so ill.
“We actually just got lucky that her cancer was at zero when we needed to stop chemo,” her husband, Garon Coalwell, 34, said.
For the next three months, Lauri Coalwell’s immune system was down, so she suffered a relentless string of colds and ear infections.
“I’d want to get out and do something and would have to take a nap after only an hour,” she said.
With time, though, her strength returned and the family could once again enjoy biking and walks to the park.
She still undergoes weekly checks for the cancer — traceable through blood tests looking for the pregnancy hormone. She also gets scans every three months. So far, the tests have been clear.
Because the cancer started in the placenta, it can’t grow back like other forms such as breast and colon cancer, a placenta not always being present in the body.
But if the couple chooses to get pregnant again, doctors say there’s a chance that it could return.
“We made a pact not to talk about it until the one-year mark,” Lauri Coalwell said with a small sigh. “It’s a little fresh and scary to talk about it (right now).”
Despite the ups and downs, the Coalwells are also the picture of hope.
In the bright living room of their home, a chalkboard hangs on a freshly painted wall.
The message, “Only after tasting the bitter can you understand the sweet,” is displayed in delicate handwriting.
Garon Coalwell said his wife hung it up after she came home.
“I’ve learned, just don’t sweat the small stuff,” she said as she made her son a bottle and snuggled with him on a beanbag chair.
“And just how fragile life is.”