HOUSTON -- Dr. Jennifer Arnold is famous world-wide to TV audiences as the Texas Children's Hospital neonatologist whose life as a little person is profiled on the TLC show The Little Couple. But now the doctor, TV star, wife, and mother has one more role: cancer survivor.
"Now that I'm doing better, getting back to normal life, I think it's actually starting to hit me more," said Arnold in an interview Wednesday with KHOU 11 News. "Wow, look at all this that I went through."
She went through months of chemotherapy after the diagnosis of a rare form of cancer - stage 3 choriocarcinoma. The cancer develops in just one in 50,000 pregnancies. After an unsuccessful pregnancy, Arnold developed complications. Specialists discovered that cells that should have developed into a placenta during pregnancy developed into a uterine tumor instead. When diagnosed the cancer had also spread to her lungs.
Chemotherapy was the first line of attack. Doctors did not want to perform surgery because of concerns about potential complications that her dwarfism might pose. But doctors did eventually opt for a hysterectomy and chemotherapy.
"She has been cancer-free for about six weeks and her prognosis is excellent," said Dr. Concepcion Diaz-Arrastia, Director of Gynecologic Oncology at Baylor College of Medicine who directed Arnold's treatment at Texas Children's.
Doctors made the unusual choice to treat Arnold at her own hospital because doctors felt their equipment and their pediatric expertise would be more suited to someone her size. It was. Diaz-Arrastia said one of the only complications was deciding which dosage of five chemotherapy drugs would be appropriate for someone of Arnold's stature. The original dosages based on a patient's size and weight didn't prove entirely effective. Doctors say they experienced more success when they also accounted for Arnold's size combined with an adult metabolism.
"I think the decision to treat her at a children's hospital might have been a little counterintuitive but I think it was well justified and it certainly worked out well," said Dr. Mark Kline of Texas Children's Hospital.
Arnold will still have weekly blood screens to see if the cancer has returned. She says if it does make a reappearance it would most likely happen in the first 18 months so she will continue to be monitored closely.
And as she and her husband have done for the last five years to show the world that little people lead normal lives too, Arnold also allowed a television crew to chronicle her cancer treatment journey.
"Honestly it was very hard at first to make the decision to let cameras back into my life," she said. But Arnold said she wanted other cancer fighters to see that it is a winnable battle.
"It also just allowed me a little bit of emotional release to know that OK everybody knows now. I don't have to hide it. I don't have to explain myself. And it made it a little bit easier going through the recovery phase."
Arnold hopes to return to work full time at Texas Children's Hospital next month were she is a neonatologist at Texas Children’s Newborn Center and director of Texas Children’s Simulation Center. For now the self-proclaimed work-a-holic and proud mom of two adopted children says she is trying to rebuild the strength that the cancer treatments robbed.
"Do all the things I need to do as a mom. That's gonna keep me busy enough. In addition to getting back to work and you know doing my job again. That in and of itself is going to be crazy enough. I'm ready to get back to normal life."