Please share your story.:
"You have cancer". Three words nobody ever wants to hear. Three words that changed everything for me in 2014, at the age of 33. Just when I felt as though my life was coming together, my world fell apart. In the days leading up to my diagnosis, when I already had a biopsy and was just waiting for the confirmation it was indeed cancer, I remember so clearly researching treatment for young women like me who get breast cancer. The surgeries, the chemo, radiation, the medications. And then, I read what felt like an immediate dagger to the heart. That chemo often destroys the fertility of young premenopausal women like myself. That the medication most take following treatment would cause birth defects if you were to get pregnant, and the recommendation would be to take that medicine for 10 years after chemo. I physically dropped the computer out of my hands. I was preparing myself to lose a breast. Lose my hair, my eyebrows and eyelashes. I was not prepared to lose my ability to be a mother. Some people just know that they are meant to be a parent someday, and I have always been one of those people. And now, I found myself facing the threat of infertility caused by cancer. A few days later, when my cancer was confirmed, the first words out of my mouth was, "but I haven't had kids yet." My surgeon recommended I talk to the oncologist about fertility preservation before starting chemo. 1 week later, I was in their office with my boyfriend talking about freezing embryos and having our blood drawn. In a normal, non-cancer world, women undergoing IVF take medications for a month prior to an egg retrieval. I had 1 week. That was my first miracle- my body responded well to the medications, and 8 eggs were saved; 5 were successfully fertilized and frozen in time until the day I would get permission from my oncologist to stop medications and try to have a baby. Two years of surgeries, chemo and radiation went by; those years were tough, and put a strain on me and my relationship with my boyfriend that our relationship could not withstand, and we separated when my treatments were over. Months went by that I would cry myself to sleep at night over all of the losses I had suffered in the past 2 years. So many losses. But nothing compared to the loss I was feeling about becoming a mother.
Fortunately for me, my ex agreed to sign the rights of the embryos over to me as they were my only remaining possibility of biological children. But choosing to use them would mean single motherhood. Was I prepared for that? Emotionally, physically, financially...? It was not a decision to be made in haste. I sought therapy, and had lengthy conversations with my parents, my sisters and my close friends. At the end of the day, it was clear to everyone- especially me- that my biggest regret would be to let life pass me by without attempting to be a mom. Being a mom was my lifelong dream. The odds were against me, and I knew that. The odds of a successful pregnancy using frozen embryos after cancer treatment is low- for my age, ~30%. But after everything I had been through I had to try. I underwent the transfer on Friday, January 13th. I went alone. I remember sitting in the office by myself thinking...well, if I am going to be a single parent, I need to get used to this. 2 weeks later I got the call. THE call. My blood levels were elevated, indicating that I was pregnant. I WAS PREGNANT! Only 2 weeks pregnant though, and I had a long way to go before I could ever feel "safe". I lived blood test to blood test, ultrasound to ultrasound, for weeks. For months. It wasn't until I was at least 20 weeks along that I finally felt it was really real. Being pregnant and single was harder than I imagined. I knew it would be difficult, but little things were hard. Like the exhaustion you feel throughout the first trimester. Walking my dog and making myself dinner were a challenge some days. And then there were the comments and questions I wasn't prepared to answer from strangers or people who didn't know "my story." Assumptions about "my husband", then me trying to figure out what to say, what not to say. It never got easier. I moved in to my parents house a few months before my due date, which was an incredible help as my pregnancy only got harder the closer I got to my due date. And on October 10th at 4:52pm, my miracle baby entered this world- healthy, beautiful and perfect.
I’ve only been a single mom for a few months now. There are times I look down at his sweet, angel face and shed some tears that he doesn’t have a dad. Times I feel guilty that I brought him in to the world without one. But then I have to remind myself is that truly, what he doesn’t have is a family defined by old societal norms. My son has a family. He has a mother who fought for her life first, so she could then fight for his and would do anything in the world for him. He has grandparents who adore him more than life itself, who have given up their house for him to live in and help raise him. He has aunts that left work the second they knew his mom was in labor to be there to hold her hand and witness his birth, and are here to snuggle him and love him and spoil him at every opportunity they have. He has an uncle and cousins who adore him. A great grandmother, great aunts and uncles, 2nd cousins, family friends…all who would drop everything to help him. He even has a fur brother, my rescue dog Riley (who is adjusting to having to share the spotlight). My son is loved. So very loved. Love makes a family.
How has your story shaped who you are today?:
I have always wanted to be a mom, as long as I can remember. In the few months that I have been blessed with that role, it has exceeded every expectation I have ever had. My son has filled my heart with more joy than I ever knew was possible. The road to being a mom was not easy, but as one of my favorite sayings goes, "anything worth having comes with trials worth withstanding".
What compelled you to want to share your story with us?:
I wanted to share my story for 2 reasons. One, to help encourage other young cancer patients to pursue fertility preservation. I was fortunate enough to be treated at a large, research hospital where it was an immediate option. But if it's not wherever you are, if you want to be a parent someday you should not have that taken from you when there are means to save that chance. The other reason I wanted to share my story was to encourage others to make the choice to be a single parent. Family looks different to everyone, and in my case, one mom with a gigantic extended family full of love. It's not easy, and comes with some heartaches and challenges. But the reward...oh the reward is better than you could ever imagine.
What encouraging words would you give to someone who shares a similar story?:
A few years ago, I was in a deep depression after nearly losing my life to cancer, then losing my boyfriend whom I had loved so dearly. And, I thought I had lost my ability to be a mom. There were days...many days...that I wanted to give up. That I felt hopeless. But I kept going. I got up every day and kept going. I just kept fighting and believing that things would get better. And they did. You have to keep believing even in the darkest of times. God comes through.