Life after cancer. Cancer changes you. Cancer changes your family. We all have this illusion of control and cancer changes that too.
In my early twenties, I was steadfastly against having children. My naive reasoning? Because I didn’t have all of the answers. And, if pressed, I would strongly say I was not going to have a boy. I don’t know boys and my relationship with my brother is strained. That was that.
Fast forward to one ectopic pregnancy, two miscarriages, and three rounds of IVF later and I found myself firmly in boy territory. Truly, nothing in my life has been “as planned.” When cancer hit it was a doozy. What do you mean I can’t drive my child to mommy’s morning out and go to my spin class? What do you mean I have to drive 2 hours for treatment every day? Isn’t it possible to just go local and get this taken care of? As if it was an eyebrow waxing.
So many months later, with the daily doctor appointments in the rearview mirror, life settled into a normal rhythm again. Life after cancer begins. One day after work and dinner out with my husband, I told him I was going to stop by CVS to grab a pregnancy test. My period was very late and I knew my doctors were going to want me to pee on a stick prior to calling them for this anomaly. They told me that Tamoxifen pushes you into menopause, so I expect changes. After all, I had been taking the little white pill every day starting May 9th. It was September now and this was the first time I had missed my period by a couple of weeks.
In the spirit of “checking the box”, I went into the first-floor bathroom right outside of where my husband and kids were watching television. I opened the package with zero expectation or trepidation (my goodness was I in for it). There before me lay two tiny blue lines, right next to each other. It literally took no time at all for them to show up. I panicked. What did it mean to be on this estrogen-blocking drug and to be pregnant? I rushed out to show my husband, a kid under his arm. As I handed him the pregnancy test, I can still remember the deep brown leather couch where he sat, a mop of blond hair under his arm. What is this? He looked. A maniacal laugh was all he could muster, he couldn’t stop, it was terrifying.
I immediately contacted my oncologist. His response was, “get to a neonatologist immediately.” As though he washed his hands of us. I scour the internet searching, tamoxifen, and pregnancy and low and behold I find that it actually a type of fertility drug. Would have been good to know before I began taking it. We had donated every piece of baby furniture, clothing, Boppy’s, Bumbos, and bouncy seats, gone. Bassanettes, binkies, and birth plans, heck no!
I got in with my OBGYN immediately. I was so grateful when she told me, “you don’t have to do this. Your body has been through so much. You have options.” She was right, and I was grateful. Never had I ever thought about terminating a pregnancy. But seriously? I just finished cancer treatment, my nuclear grade 2 out of 3 (moderately aggressive).
As I drove 90 minutes north to the neonatologist I talked myself into it. If the results are bad, we can’t do this to our children. The potential outcome of this pregnancy would be a handicapped child, at best, and a baby that could not survive outside of the womb at worst. That was not fair to the children we worked so hard to conceive. They performed a sonogram and amniocentesis. Days later I returned to their office for results- all clear. They suggested I needed to perform a chorionic villus sampling (CVS), but it comes with a high risk of miscarriage. I was out. This had been cleared through amniocentesis and I was done being poked, probed, radiated, and cut on. It was a wild year. If this is what is meant to be, so be it.
Our beautiful baby was born just one year and 13 days after I started Tamoxifen. They were born 16 months after lumpectomy and 19 months post-diagnosis. I struggled with breastfeeding (yes, I tried from one breast). I struggled with fatigue and depression. But in the end, we are blessed with an incredible human who the world needs. After all the stress, fear, worry and doctor appointments, our beautiful fourth caboose is placed on my chest. Our baby’s warm, wet, hot, pink body on my heaving chest. While they are still cleaning me up, I cradle their head and kiss their still wet scalp. A tear runs down my face. Thank you for keeping them safe. Thank you for giving me life after cancer.
If you are just now joining my journey, start here.