Normally, Emmy Pontz-Rickert wouldn’t have been too concerned when she felt a lump on her breast. In fact, at age 24, she assumed it was probably just a bruise.
But just three days before, on May 3, 2013, she’d attended a funeral for her aunt who had died from breast cancer, so Emmy decided to get it checked out.
“I experienced a lot of loss in my life,” says Emmy, now 26. “So I didn’t want to take a risk.”
Two years before, her father had a heart transplant and then seven months later, her mom died from a brain aneurysm while she drove home from work.
After she went to her OB/GYN and a radiologist for further exams, Emmy was given the devastating news – she had invasive ductal carcinoma, which makes up 80 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses. Although it’s the most common type of breast cancer, fewer than 5 percent of breast cancers occur in women under the age of 40, according to Susan G Koman, one of the largest nonprofit organizations in the fight against breast cancer. And Emmy’s cancer was growing fast.
As if the news of her diagnosis wasn t difficult enough, Emmy learned that the chemotherapy she needed was known to cause infertility.
“It started off as stage 1 and within one week, it was almost stage 2. But I knew right then and there, I wasn’t going to let this kill me,” Emmy, from Hersey, Michigan, tells PEOPLE. “I also knew I had to have kids. I’ve known my entire life I wanted to have a family of my own.”
Emmy immediately decided to freeze her eggs before beginning lupron injections, which temporarily put her body into menopause. She says the chemotherapy, which began in May 2013, left her bedridden for weeks at a time, adding that she was “basically unconscious” and unable to use the bathroom on her own.
Although she had her dad and sister by her side throughout treatment, one key person was missing from the picture.
But the man whom she says was a “perfect match from the beginning” never left her thoughts – and she apparently never left his.
In April 2014, the same month she went into remission, Emmy received a call from Kelly that would change everything.
“He told me that he never stopped loving me and thought of me every single day,” she says.
A couple of nights later, they went out to dinner, and this time, they knew that they’d never separate again.
“We knew in that moment that we were going to spend the rest of our lives together,” she says. “It just made so much sense.”
The couple decided early on that as soon as they got married they wanted to try for a baby because they thought it could take years to get pregnant due to the effects of Emmy’s chemotherapy treatments.
“I really thought I was going to have use the eggs that I froze and that it would take forever to get pregnant,” she says. “But that wasn’t the case.”
They conceived right away, with the help of tracking when she was ovulating through the Ovia fertility app, surprising their friends and family with the joyous news.
The couple welcomed their daughter, Grace, earlier this year, and they call their 5-month-old baby girl “the rainbow at the end of the storm.”
Emmy, who has been in remission since 2014, says her family unit couldn’t be stronger.
“I have my dad, my sister, my husband, my daughter,” she says. “I have my health. I couldn’t be happier. Everything means so much more after coming so close to death.”
27-Year-Old Breast Cancer Survivor Defies the Odds with Second Pregnancy: ‘It’s a Miracle’
Emmy Pontz-Rickert wakes up every morning feeling lucky to be alive.
In early 2013, Emmy attended a funeral for her aunt who died from breast cancer. Just three days later, Emmy felt a lump in her own breast— which she initially thought was a bad bruise — but she decided to go to her OB/GYN due to her family history and get it checked out. Further tests revealed she had invasive ductal carcinoma, which makes up 80 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses.
At just 24 years old, Emmy was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.
Fewer than 5 percent of breast cancers occur in women under the age of 40, according to Susan G Koman, one of the largest nonprofit organizations in the fight against breast cancer.
“I wasn’t going to let it kill me,” Emmy tells PEOPLE. “I fought for my life.”
At a young age, Emmy had already experienced tragedy and loss. Two years earlier, her father had a heart transplant and then seven months later, when she was just 22-years-old, her mom died from a brain aneurysm while she drove home from work.
“I didn’t just want to live,” she says, “I wanted to start a family.”
After her cancer diagnosis, Emmy decided to freeze her eggs. Soon after, she reconnected with the love of her life, Kelly, who she dated in college. After deciding they never wanted to separate again, they got married and immediately tried to have children.
The couple welcomed their daughter, Grace, now 17-months-old, and are now expecting a son on Nov. 17.SAIGEBRUSH PHOTOGRAPHY
“We have made it through so much together,” says Emmy, now 27. “We went through my father’s illness, my illness, my mom’s sudden death.. Now we’re enjoying the amazing parts of life. I’m so blessed.”
After Emmy had a bilateral mastectomy, she was told she would have to have a oophorectomy, which is a partial hysterectomy, because she has a 40 percent chance of getting ovarian cancer.
“They’re recommending I do that between 32 and 35-years-old,” she says, “so that’s why we’re trying to have kids as quickly as possible.”
Emmy wants to make sure she’s around for long as possible for Gracie and their second child, who’s about to join their close-knit family.
“You got through hardships and it makes you appreciate things on a whole other level,” she says. “Being told that it was possible I wouldn’t be able to conceive has made pregnancy such a gift.”
Emmy has been able to stay active and keep up with rambunctious Gracie, but over the last few weeks, she has started to slow down.
“Kelly has been amazing and so supportive,” she says. “He’s the best dad and husband. When I get nervous, he stays calm. We’re a perfect fit.”
He talks about the history lessons he wants to teach his children, the vacations he wants to go on and how he wants to rebuild cars with them when they’re older.
“He’s so excited for the future, which makes me excited,” she says. “I’m lucky.”