Summerville High School teen's cancer death serves as medical lesson

By Stacy

JEDBURG, S.C. (WCIV) -- Pictures of Rachel Reynolds cover her family's Jedburg home. They ensure the glint in the 17-year-old's eye will not fade out of sight or from memory.

"We used to call her the princess," her mother Julie Reynolds said.

Julie and Larry Reynolds looked through photos of their beloved only daughter while sitting on the couch in the room where she died. During the last five months, they watched Rachel go from a smiling Summerville High School senior to a girl hunched over a hospital bed, connected to countless cords and tubes.

But through it all, her beauty never faded, her parents said.

"Everyday life, she embraced it. She wasn't going to give up. She didn't want to die. She had a lot of dreams," Julie Reynolds said.

"She was a really beautiful girl, both inside and out," said Dr. Michelle Hudspeth, pediatric oncologist at the Medical University of South Carolina's.

Doctors diagnosed Rachel with a rare form of cancer in January. She fought hard for months.

"We went through four rounds of chemotherapy. Every time we would go through the chemo, the cancer wouldn't stop. It just kept spreading. But she just wanted to keep fighting," her mother said.

Rachel lost her battle in May, days before Summerville High School's graduation. She had just earned her nursing certification and fought to live through taking her last breath. She inspired others to keep fighting in her memory, in light of something she told her mom.

"About three weeks before she passed away is when she came to me," Julie Reynolds said.

Rachel told her mom she took a pregnancy test last summer, about six months before being diagnosed with cancer. The test was positive. She was confused because she used protection and took birth control.

But she never saw a gynecologist.

"She assumed she miscarried. But the germ cell tumor that was growing inside Rachel, it lets off that HCG hormone. It's the same hormone that a positive pregnancy test would show," Julie Reynolds said.

"In very rare situations, there are tumors that can make that hormone as well," Hudspeth said.

Dr. Hudspeth treated Rachel after her diagnosis. She said it was likely that Rachel's pregnancy test was a false positive, even though the chances of that happening are less than one percent.

"Even though it's rare, it just can't happen to Rachel," Julie Reynolds said. "We've lost our only daughter. I would like to see someone else not lose theirs if we could prevent that."

Experts said telling a doctor could be the key to prevention.

"You always want to make an appointment with your OBGYN when you find out you have a positive pregnancy test," MUSC gynecologic oncologist Dr. Whitney Graybill said.

Rachel's mother wondered what might've happened if she had shared her situation with them.

"If she had just come to us and told us, then we might've saved her life," she said.

But after Rachel was gone, it became clear why they lost their princess.

"We have to be strong. Because if we didn't, I feel like what she went through would've been for nothing," Julie Reynolds said.

In her death, she gave them the greatest gift they never expected: strength and dedication.

"I asked her one time, I said, 'I wonder why God chose us.' She looked at me and said, 'Because he knew we were strong enough to get through it,'" Reynolds said.

Doctors urge women, if they have a positive pregnancy test, to see a gynecologist, even though chances of them not being pregnant are less than one percent. They also urge other medical providers to be aware of the possibility of having a false positive, and to always refer women to a gynecological specialist for pregnancy matters.