I Won't Let Cancer Keep Me From Being a Mom
When my husband and I decided to start trying to have children, we had no idea what the next five years had in store for us. I was 34 at the time and was already being told that my “clock” was ticking. I didn’t let it phase me; we decided it would happen on its own time. Fast forward 3 years and suddenly I was pregnant! I had a lot of personal stress going on at the time but was beyond excited. We started telling family and friends, we wanted to shout it from the rooftops. My husband and I cried together knowing that the three years of patience were about to pay off.
Week 11: I had just shared the news with my boss as well as a few other close coworkers I was headed to North Carolina for work and to spend a weekend with a close friend who I was excited to share the news with.
Week 12: I was back in the office and had my official week 12 check-in. Something felt off to me, but I couldn’t explain it. I shared my concern with my husband and he didn't miss a beat: he was positive and supportive, wanting to wait and see what the doctor said before we got worried.
Week 13: There was no heartbeat. I went through the weekend in pain and miscarried on my own. It was horrible, painful, emotional, and so much more than I can even begin to put into words. It was the hardest thing I've ever been through.
A year later we had not been able to get pregnant on our own again, so we decided it was time to take it to the next level and get support from a fertility specialist. I acknowledged that I wasn’t getting any younger and that clearly my body wasn’t functioning like it should. We went in to meet Dr. G and quickly decided that the dermoid cyst I had in my right ovary should come out. Even though we hadn’t seen much growth in the 4 years the OB had been monitoring it, he hoped that by removing the cyst would help and that we would have a better chance of conceiving.
I went in for surgery July 26th, had that little cyst removed, then returned to the doctor's office for my follow up and to confirm next steps on August 10, 2015. I went alone; my husband started a new job that day and after all, it was just a follow up. The doctor asked where Dan was and how I was doing. He seemed nervous. I got nervous. Then he said it.
“Vicki, I’m sorry to say this, but you have ovarian cancer.”
My heart went into my throat. What? I’m sorry, I don’t think I heard you correctly. It can't be… cancer.
Well, it was. Apparently that little dermoid cyst had a cancerous Stage 1A tumor behind it that had not been seen on any ultrasounds in the past. My world was rocked. Not only had it taken me so long to go to the fertility specialist to fulfill my hopes and dreams of becoming a mom, but now I had cancer and may never have kids. Cancer may have been the reason all along why I couldn’t get pregnant and couldn’t carry. So many emotions started to swirl: anger at the OB who wanted to “watch” my cyst, anger at myself for not seeking help in conceiving sooner, sadness for the loss I already had and may never even get to experience again.
I decided to remove my ovary and get a staging surgery (biopsies) to verify that nothing else was within my uterus, stomach, etc. Unfortunately, small cancer cells were found on my abdomen wall, and since it was on the opposite side of the affected ovary they recommended chemo. I was upped to stage 3A and the cancer was on the move.
I rushed to save eggs, went through the IVF process, spending money we weren’t sure we would need for other things in the months that lay ahead. I was very much aware that this could have been our only shot and I was going to do everything I could to make sure we got it. We retrieved 8 eggs, fertilized them and waited.
Day 8: none of them survived. My final support fell through and we now had nothing to hang on to as I started chemo. I felt like I had just been punched, slapped, kicked and told "Sorry honey, it’s just not your time."
That's when the going got tough. I survived my six rounds of chemo, lost my hair--as well as my dignity at times and my memory-- but I never gave up. My dream of having kids was just a flickering memory in the back of my mind as I struggled to make it through chemo and stay strong. But it’s been six months since my last chemo and my hair is coming back. My strength is too, plus my memory is much better and my one ovary – she is hanging on, too. She is working, not what they would call 100% but my husband and I have an ounce of hope that we can conceive and we're holding on to it fast. If we can’t, then we will look into adopting in the years ahead.
My husband and I are a team and that's how we plan on tackling the road to recovery ahead. We are going to give it some time and see if my body can give us what we hope and dream for on its own now. If I had any advice to anyone about to walk in my shoes, I'd say this: You never know what life may have in store for you, but you've got to keep on pushing through. Every day is a new beginning.
Did you struggle with fertility during cancer treatment? Share in the comments below or sign up here.
Photo courtesy of Drew Hays.