Cancer Took My Fertility, But It Can't Lay a Finger On Our Family's Love
As a bright-eyed newlywed, my vision of the future resembled a scene out of Laura Ingalls Wilder: three, maybe four, scrappy kids tucked away in a rustic (aka ramshackle) home in the country. Chicken coop out back. Garden, obviously. Dogs. Afternoons spent refereeing games of freeze-tag with my curly haired littles.
Five years, one baby, and a cancer diagnosis later, I found myself sitting across the desk of a fertility specialist discussing the now dismal prospect of expanding my family.
I hear that fertility preservation is a frequently overlooked issue for young cancer patients who are rushed into treatment without being told that they do, in fact, have options when it comes to having a family.
This was not the case for me. Everyone on my medical team encouraged me to harvest and freeze my eggs before I started chemo. Because I was young. Because I had all this life ahead of me. Because what if I regretted NOT doing it. They even seemed slightly miffed at my hesitation to do so.
To my doctors, the road forward was perfectly clear:
Step 1: Freeze my eggs.
Step 2: Kick cancer’s rear.
Step 3: After a couple of years I’d have a kid, name him after one of my favorite novelists, and live my version of happily ever after.
For me, though, there were a few snags to this approach: one being the not-so-minor fact that my husband was already a cancer patient himself. Diagnosed with an incurable cancer just months before our wedding, my husband has gone through all sorts of chemotherapies, immunotherapies, and clinical trials over the last several years. Although he’s never had his fertility tested, the likelihood that it’s been compromised is almost certain.
Also, his cancer is terminal.
So, if I were to go ahead and pour tons of money (that I didn’t have) into the costly procedure that fertility preservation is, essentially what I would be saying is this:
“Someday, I'd like to have another child. After you die. With somebody else.”
With all the chaotic decision-making and research and tears that go on within the first two weeks of a cancer diagnosis - that was something I couldn’t bring myself to say. Or to think about, even. It was too much to consider, sitting in that office, just three days post-diagnosis. It was too much to think about my husband dying. It was too painful to imagine myself getting over his death and moving on and maybe even, yes, falling in love with someone else.
At that moment, I couldn't go there.
So I didn't.
I have zero regrets about my decision. Although, a year later, I’m still heartbroken over it.
I'm angry that I can’t have the family my husband and I always hoped to have. Coming from considerably large families ourselves (I’m one of five. My husband is one of eight), we’re sad that our daughter will grow up as an only-child. And even though I know it’s the ugliest and most useless emotion, I still feel the occasional pangs of jealousy bubble up when I sit behind a big, fidgety family at Sunday Mass.
Heartache aside, I’m striving to appreciate all the goodness that surrounds me daily: the rapid expansion of my toddler’s vocabulary. The days when my husband has enough strength to stand outside and feel the sun, even if only for a minute or two. The unceasing supply of chicken noodle soup stockpiled in our freezer: testament to the generosity of our supportive community.
Those things are enough. Absolutely, they are.
Would I like to have another child? Sure.
But I kind of hit the jackpot with the one I’ve got. And I am constantly surrounded by love. Seriously - my life is filled with so much love, it’s borderline ridiculous.
Cancer may have taken my fertility, but it can’t lay a finger on that.
What is your experience with infertility and cancer? Share your story in the comments below.
Image courtesy of author.