Just weeks into her pregnancy, Athena Krueger was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer.
The 32-year-old Minnesota native began chemotherapy 15 weeks into her pregnancy and delivered a baby girl, Amari, via cesarean at 32 weeks, her husband Ben Krueger told TODAY.
After giving birth, the new mother underwent additional chemotherapy, radiation and surgeries to fight the cancer. But aggressive treatment didn t stop the disease from spreading to Athena’s lungs, lymph nodes and brain.
Throughout her illness, Athena remained optimistic and drew strength from her faith. “At no point until the very end, did she believe she wasn’t going to be healed. She felt God’s power was the only thing that could heal her,” Ben told Minnesota’s KARE 11.
However, shortly before her daughter’s first birthday, Athena knew she was losing her battle with cancer. Despite being in pain, she focused all of her energy on throwing her daughter a beautiful birthday.
“We knew things weren’t real great, and her point was, ‘If this is the only one of her birthdays I’m going to see, I want it to be grand,’ ” Ben told TODAY.
The young parents began planning an elaborate Alice in Wonderland-themed tea party with the help of family and friends. When doctors advised Athena against leaving the hospital for the celebration, she couldn t be convinced.
“We said, ‘Absolutely not. This is a big deal and we’re going to be home,’ ” Ben told TODAY. “They strongly disagreed, but I told them this was the way it was going to be – that they could either help me, or I would sign the forms to take Athena home without their help.”
The doctors eventually relented and allowed Athena to return home for the celebration on May 2. Three hundred guests came out for the garden party – complete with a fancy dress area and Ben decked out as the Mad Hatter.
Ben said that his wife loved the party and was touched by the huge showing of support by her community. “It’s amazing what people do when there’s hard times – the benefit this was for Athena is huge. It sets you back and you’re so humbled by it. I can’t say thank you enough,” he said.
Athena died at home in her husband’s arms just one day after her daughter’s birthday. “I’m hoping that between the pictures of this party and everything, they’ll help me teach Amari all about her mom as she grows up,” Ben said.
Athena also left a message to her daughter on her blog where she chronicled her battle with cancer and her faith in God. “Amari: I want you to watch this, Sweetheart, and remember how special you are,” she wrote along with a video of her daughter’s first weeks. “You are a fighter from the start. Thank you for coming early to help your mom out. You are our precious miracle!”