The obituary for Cathie Doroshenko, who died in her home on Sunday December 17, 2006, 3 ½ years after giving birth to her daughter Victoria Faith, said she "cherished motherhood" – a statement that was proved in a striking way by the unusual way she brought her daughter into the world.
While Cathie died over three years ago, her story has been given fresh life by photojournalist Bob Karp, who documented Cathie’s pregnancy, illness, childbirth, and death, and in the process became a close friend of Cathie and her family. This past Dec. 30, Karp reminisced about his experiences with Doroshenko on his blog at the Daily Record , recounting the story that he said "would become the most influential assignment of my 25 year career in photojournalism."
At the same time, the Daily Record has done a follow-up story about Cathie’s daughter, who was saved from premature death only through her mother’s stubborn refusal to get an abortion, over and against medical advice to the contrary.
In 2003, when Cathie was 11 weeks pregnant after years of trying to conceive, she was diagnosed with Stage III lung cancer.
After being advised by doctors at the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York that it would be in her "best interest to abort her fetus" before beginning treatment for cancer, she told her husband Peter that she was not going to give up on herself or her child because of the cancer.
"I want to think about living not about dying," Cathie told Peter.
Karp relates how Cathie’s father, Mike Beresky, told him about his and his daughter’s reaction on the day of Cathie’s diagnosis. "My wife and I were in the hospital when doctors gave Cathie the diagnosis," he said. "Cathie said ‘I don’t want to lose my baby.’ I said ‘I don’t want to lose my baby.’ It was mentioned that a victory was needed. I said we need a lot of faith. ‘Victoria Faith’ was named."
Karp reports that at the time only 15 cases of lung cancer during pregnancy were on record, and that there was no known case in which a woman gave birth after receiving the radiation treatment necessary to combat such cancer.
A story in the Daily Record at the time said that, "Cathie Doroshenko was prepared to make medical history to have her baby."
According to Peter Doroshenko, a shield for Cathie’s abdomen was created to protect the baby while she received radiation treatments and used chemotherapy drugs meant for treating breast cancer.
Victoria Faith was born on May 9, 2003, weighing 5 pounds 5 ounces, and in perfect health.
Karp said that though he knew Cathie would eventually die of cancer he was not prepared for the phone call saying she had passed away.
"Everything possible that cancer threw at her, Cathie always found a way to fight back," Karp said, and added that Cathie’s sister Marybeth Doyle summed up Cathie’s determination and selfless love for her daughter best.
Doyle said: "She was very strong and determined through this whole ordeal, rarely asking anyone for help. She was focused on living her life, believing that if she let her guard down, the disease would win."
She added, "It was the selfless love for Victoria that kept Cathie going each day. I had tremendous admiration for my sister during this time. I never understood what it felt like to have your heart broken. I understood, the day she died. And now I miss her every day."
"Cathie became an inspiration to everyone who knew her and many she had never met," Bob Karp observed. "Cathie once said, ‘Maybe someday there will be a little statistic here or there from what happened to me that will help someone else.’"
"Cathie Doroshenko was a woman whose only wish was to carry her child to term. Against all odds and the wishes of a few New York oncologists, she was given the gift of motherhood for three glorious years, time which she gave back a lifetime of love to her beloved daughter."
Victoria Faith is now six-and-a-half, weighs 48 pounds and stands 3-foot-11 high. Her father Peter says that his daughter only knows in a vague way that her birth was in any way unusual. However, he keeps newspaper clippings about the "miracle baby," which he intends to show her one day.
Bob Karp concludes his photo-essay with the words, "Victoria Faith is the legacy of her mother’s courage."
See Bob Karp’s photo-essay of Cathie Doroshenko’s motherhood here.