Look at any of the photographs taken during Jenna Hinman's pregnancy, and one fact is clear: The Port Byron native could not wait to be a mother.

In a fall photo, Jenna sits in a rocking chair and holds two small, painted gourds up to her stomach — illustrating her two twin girls.

As she moved from trimester to trimester, Jenna took a series of photos posing from the side to track the progress of her growing baby bump. In multiple shots, her husband, U.S. Army Sgt. Brandon Hinman, grins widely as he kisses or puts a protective hand on her stomach. In another photo, Jenna proudly poses next to the two cribs which will eventually hold her baby girls.

On March 3, Jenna and Brandon realized they were going to meet their daughters earlier than they had expected.

About 10 weeks before her due date, Jenna went into premature labor and was rushed to Good Samaritan Hospital in Watertown, about 20 minutes away from Fort Drum, where Brandon is stationed.

The 26-year-old woman gave birth via an emergency cesarean to twins Kinleigh Ann and Azlynn Mary — who, though healthy, were quickly taken to the neonatal intensive care unit for treatment.

Jenna only enjoyed a short visit with her girls before it became clear the young mother was not OK.

After labor, Jenna started having difficulty breathing. When she started to cough up blood, she joined her babies at Crouse Hospital in Syracuse, where doctors made a shocking discovery: Jenna was suffering from choriocarcinoma, a rare form of cancer.

She was placed into a medically induced coma, and onto a machine that did the work her lungs were unable to do.

Three weeks after they entered the world, Jenna had still not been able to hold her babies.

•••

"Hanging in there."

That's how Brandon responded Wednesday afternoon when he answered the phone and was asked how he was doing — sounding tired, but hopeful.

Brandon, a 2002 graduate of Weedsport High School, said he met Jenna Blaisdell while visiting Curley's in Auburn. He was visiting home after graduating from college, while Jenna, who graduated from Port Byron High School in 2005, was hanging out with friends.

"She's the best person I've ever met in my life. She actually changed my life and saved my life," Brandon said. "I owe her everything."

After 18 months together, Brandon and Jenna were happily engaged. In December 2010, before Brandon was deployed to Afghanistan, the couple tied the knot.

"It was hands-down the best decision I've made," Brandon said.

The couple — who currently call Fort Drum home — had been eagerly awaiting the arrival of their first children.

Much has happened in the nearly three whirlwind weeks since his wife was diagnosed with cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, choriocarcinoma is a form of gestational trophoblastic disease — a group of rare tumors that start in the cells that develop into a placenta during pregnancy. It is rare, and spreads quickly.

Although the cancer sometimes forms in women with normal pregnancies, it is more often found in a mass that forms in the womb during molar or ectopic pregnancies, or following miscarriages.

By the time doctors discovered Jenna had choriocarcinoma, the cancer had spread beyond her womb, riddling her body with tumors. A chest infection that caused Jenna to bleed internally and prevented her lungs from functioning further complicated the young mother's condition.

To save Jenna's life, doctors formed an aggressive treatment plan. While heavy doses of chemotherapy attack the choriocarcinoma, a machine does the jobs her ailing lungs cannot currently perform.

Wednesday, Brandon said the plan seemed to paying off.

"Jenna is slowly, slowly, slowly getting better," he said. "We're heading in the right direction."

Brandon said Jenna's lungs were "finally working" — doing 30 percent of the work while the machine did the rest. Doctors hoped to gradually turn down the machine and ease back her lungs into full functionality.

Once her lungs start working independently, Brandon said, the doctors will consider waking Jenna up.

"That's the goal — to get the lungs going to and start fighting the cancer," he said.

But hours later, Jenna's health took an unexpected turn.

According to the moderators of Prayers for Jenna, a community support page created on Facebook, Jenna was in critical condition and rushed into emergency surgery. She survived the night, and eventually stabilized.

"It was an incredibly scary and a rough time for the family," one of the moderators wrote. "The doctor had informed us that this would be a rollercoaster ride, and it certainly has been."

But Jenna, the moderator wrote, "proved once again that her will to live is way greater then any obstacle that comes her way."

•••

Choriocarcinoma was not an obstacle Brandon anticipated he and Jenna would have to face. The swell of support his young family has received was just as unexpected.

Since her diagnosis, Jenna's story has been shared around the world. Her battle has been covered by a range of local, national and international media organizations — including ABC News and the New York Daily News.

The Prayers for Jenna Facebook page has received more than 112,000 likes. Posters hailing from as far away as have Italy offered up prayers for the young mother and lit candles to show support.

A page created by Jenna's uncle on gofundme.com, a crowd-funding website, has already netted more than $138,000 for the Hinman family.

Dozens of donors shared words of encouragement on the page. Rebecca Brown, one of the posters, said she was diagnosed with choriocarcinoma. Although it spread to her lungs, she survived.

"Jenna, you will be in my prayers constantly. You will fight this and survive," she wrote. "I fought it and came out victorious."

The worldwide reaction, Brandon said, has been "absolutely overwhelming."

"It's turned into something so magical," he said. "It's absolutely wonderful."

And after Jenna wakes up and holds her girls, Brandon has little doubt that she, too, will be grateful — and will use her experience to help others.

"This horrific thing happened in my life, but I know once she's out of this hospital, they picked the best person to be an advocate of a rare cancer," Brandon said. "She'd be the best advocate they'd ever seen."

Staff writer Samantha House can be reached at (315) 282-2282 or samantha.house@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @Citizen_House.

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