Cancer Ever After

Musings on Infertility, Adoption, Parenthood and Cancer

You might be undergoing chemo if. . .

Chemo is boring. I was expecting more. More drama, more symptoms during it, for the people getting treatment besides me to look sicker.  Just more. I’ve officially had five Chemo’s now and, well, Chemo day is a bit of a snoozefest.

It’s the days after that bring the not-so-fun.  Here is my fun list of ways to tell if you are undergoing Chemo (as if the five hours hooked to an IV getting tons of poison injected into your body wasn’t telling enough).  What fun things would you add to the list?

You might be undergoing chemo if….

  1. You redefine biker chic with your stylish chemo beanie.
  2. Four-letter words are no longer the dirty ones. Three-letter ones like ANC, WBC, RBC, MCV, and MCH are.
  3. Eighteen hours a day is your optimal amount of sleep. And you can fall asleep standing up, in the shower and at the dinner table (mid-sentence into a pile of spaghetti).
  4. You’re pretty sure you know what swallowing a taser feels like. (But you are way too smart to actually DO this to compare mouth sores to swallowing a taser.)
  5. Orange juice and green olives is your favorite food combination – because the crazy appetite from steroids combined with the weird taste issues from chemo make for very interesting bedfellows. Trust me, you will regret consuming this combo EVERY time.
  6. You entertain fantasies of sawing your legs off from the hip down, just to see if it’s less painful that way.
  7. You sleep with post-its on your face, your mirror and your fridge, because you ask the same question three times in ten minutes and still forget the answer. Chemo brain is REAL. And the reason I keep consuming OJ and green olives is that I forget how the gross the combo is every time.
  8. You have sub-classified the types of vomiting, because one word just doesn’t give you the layer of nuance you need to describe how your day went. And you TALK about vomit and poo. Because body fluids are a big part of your life, and sharing your day is an important way of connecting with others, right?
  9. Attempting a BM feels like a feat of bravery worthy of a Congressional Medal of Honor.
  10. You take a picture of your poo when you finally manage to go, because dammit, it’s worth celebrating!

 

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Can’t Be Sick All The Time

 

At times, it’s overwhelming to have three toddlers and cancer, but on other days it’s so damn wonderfully distracting.  My kids have very little clue what is going on with mama, and just want to play, and laugh and love.  Oh, and go to the park.  Every. Damn. Day.

Luckily, the weather is beginning to cooperate, and my energy levels are holding.

When I was diagnosed and scheduled treatments, there were a couple of events, I wanted to make sure I could do- major life events that I didn’t want cancer to take away from. A big one was Baby H’s birthday.  Birthdays are a big deal in my family.  With five kids, it was the ONE day, that was just for you.  It was my chance to be special.  I want my kids to have that too.

We went all out for the twins’ first and second birthday and Baby H deserved no less- I didn’t want cancer to take that.  But at the same time, I needed to be pragmatic.  There are limitations to my energy and time. My #1 must have, was me being able to make the cupcakes for his birthday. It’s something I love and something I can make just for him.

The problem was, when I originally scheduled chemo I was planning his party for the 26th, and that turns out to be Easter weekend, which meant the kids would miss out on Easter egg hunting- all of the kids, my nieces and nephews.  That’s just not right.  So we had to move the party – to the day after my newly revised chemo session.  And day 2 is a rough one.

My limitations were thrown in my face.  Chemo is what it is. I get tired. I get sick. I get through it, but not always well.  I didn’t want that to detract from Baby H’s big party.

My family knew how important it was to me (let’s face it- a first birthday is really more for the parents), and my sisters and mom all traveled down early to set-up and help me stage  an Old McDonald’s birthday party to die for.  I’ll be honest, it was better than anything I could have pulled together if I wasn’t sick.  It took many hands and ideas to make it special.

The most important thing, was the incredible turnout. 11 nieces and nephews, friends’ children.  The kids all had fun.

Baby H was held and loved and celebrated.  The twins loved the party and want to do it over and over again. After they go to the park, of course.

And for a short time, I forgot that I was sick.

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What Cancer Stole From Me

You have to remember, I’m coming at this backwards from a lot of young men, women and children who are diagnosed with cancer. For far too many, cancer steals their dream of a family, their ability to have children. For someone who is young and diagnosed with cancer, they are often told there isn’t time to preserve their ability to have a family in the future.

Cancer couldn’t steal that from me.

I am already infertile. I’ve already fought that war, and I’m so blessed to have three amazing children to show for it.
Cancer also shows you that you are mortal. It steals the illusion that you will live forever. It adds a paranoia about your health, worries about cancer coming back, fear about developing a complication. It changes your expectation from living into your 80s or 90s into one (once you survive) of living into your 50s or 60s.

Cancer couldn’t steal that from me.

I have an autoimmune condition that contributions to my infertility, and is quite possibly to blame for me getting cancer. For now, I’m diagnosed as MCTD (mixed connective tissue disorder), but my rheumatologist really believes it’s lupus, even though I don’t meet the clinical criteria. I have no illusions about a life without health complications, because for the last six years, my health has been nothing BUT a series of complications. This is the reason they think my liver failed in pregnancy. It’s why no additional pregnancies are recommended for me.
I’ve poured over the scholarly articles. I’ve read the statistics. My mortality has been shoved in my face for several years now.
Tim’s and my reaction to the cancer diagnosis was shock, followed by “of course, it’s cancer.” That’s just the world we live in. I’m the 2%, medically speaking. I thought my one advantage coming into this battle is that there wasn’t much more that cancer could steal from me.

I was wrong.

Tim and I were in the process of donating our frozen embryos and the process takes a little over a year. We started the process the month Baby H was born because we knew our family was complete, and even if we decided down the road it wasn’t, my body could not sustain another pregnancy. We both wanted to donate our embryos to another couple.

We’ve gone down both paths in this infertility journey: IVF and adoption. We know the heartbreak of loss and we know how much you can love a child who comes to you as a gift from another. Those embryos represent hope for another couple, a chance for someone else to find their family. They are the dream of something more–that one of those embryos could become someone’s sought-after child.

 Cancer stole that from me, and it breaks my heart.

Cancer also took that hope from somebody else and they don’t even know it. One or maybe two couples could have had a chance to find their family.
Our fertility clinic notified us today that we are no longer eligible to donate our embryos. The logical part of me understands. My type of cancer has a genetic component, and, combined with my autoimmune disorder (which is sometimes genetically related), the clinic can’t broker an embryo adoption in which a couple may end up with a child with a possible known genetic condition. If I were looking to adopt an embryo, I wouldn’t take that chance.
My heart is an entirely different matter. I’m sad, angry and whole host of other emotions I can’t even describe. I mourn the loss of hope and want to rage at cancer for taking this from me, from us, from those possible parents-to-be.

 

 

 

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There’s Fire?

6 days prior to the scheduled induction

I woke up in a strange bed with the sound of familiar barking ringing in my ears. It took a moment to orient myself, but the events of the prior evening came rushing back to me. The labor that stopped. Was the baby coming today? Tomorrow? We were about two weeks from the official due date, so the false labor may or may not have been a sign of things to come.

First things first: Tim and I needed to decide our plan of action. Since today was a Friday, we decided to leave our girls with the in-laws and stay near the birth mom. My mother was still out of town and we didn’t want to chance heading home just to turn back around.

That decided, we texted our birth mother and arranged to visit. The poor girl was miserable. She was at that point of pregnancy when sleeping, walking, eating, breathing, everything was difficult and/or painful. She was ready for the baby to be out TODAY.

We were on board with that. Early isn’t ideal, but she was 38 weeks at that point, so it wouldn’t be the worst thing. Over the next three days we walked with her, bought her spicy food, and helped her swing at the park, all in the hopes that she would go into labor on her own. No dice.

5 days prior to induction

By Sunday, we’d determined that Baby H wasn’t going to come out until the induction. While we all wanted him to come on his own, it just didn’t look likely. Tim had used his meager vacation time with the girls’ illnesses and I needed to save mine for parental leave. We had to go back, even if it meant that we just turned right back around if and when labor began.

Mainly this was because we really missed our girls. We had never been away from them for this long. I physically ached being away from them and FaceTime just wasn’t cutting it. Phoebe looked miserable and confused when we FaceTimed with her and it was breaking my heart. I needed to hold my babies.

And yet, I couldn’t wait to hold all of my babies.

4 days prior to induction

The other reason I was grateful that we came back was that I had only hired my replacement at work the week before. The poor girl had mere days of somewhat distracted training on key items. I hadn’t met with the teammates that would be taking over my other responsibilities while I was on leave.

I went in to the office in the wee hours of the morning, prepped file after file, and then conducted a brutal day of client handoff meetings. I was frantic to make sure everyone know what needed to be done while I was out on leave. These extra few days would make this possible.

3 days prior to induction

I received a text: “Doctor has decided to induce a day early.” I laughed when I received the text. That was the day we had been lobbying for all along. A Wednesday induction worked a lot better with regard to getting the necessary court order to release Baby H into our custody.

I called Tim and we quickly modified our plans to get there early. We were so ready.

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Where There’s Smoke

7 days prior to our scheduled induction date

In retrospect, I wonder if I somehow knew that something was going to happen. We’d been talking to our birth mother all week and she had definitely reached that point of pregnancy where absolutely everything hurt, sleeping was impossible, and she was begging for the baby to come out. I’m known for letting the battery run dead on my cell phone and I rarely have the ringer turned on because, well, twin toddlers. But this evening, I made a point to plug in the phone and turn the ringer up as high as it would go so that I would be sure to wake up if needed. We were nearing the end, and I read once that most labors start at night because that’s when babies are most active.

The call came at 1:30 a.m.

Our birth mother was in tears and said, “The pains are bad and I need to go to the hospital NOW–I think the baby is coming.”

I shot out of bed immediately and woke Tim up (quite possibly with an elbow to the kidney–oops!). I tried to stay calm and talk her through our plan of action.

“Do you have a bag packed?”

“How far apart are the contractions?”

”How long are they lasting?”

“Do you think you could eat something before you go to the hospital, because they won’t allow you any food after that.”

I promised to make sure her ride was there shortly and we hung up.

Of course it would be now. My mother had been coordinating all of the travel for our birth mother since she lives closer, but Mom was on a humanitarian aid trip to Panama–the first she’d ever been on. And now this.

We had a plan A, B and C for a ride in case this happened. Luckily, Plan A answered her phone immediately and said she could be there in 10 minutes. I called our birth mother back to let her know.

HOLY COW! We’re going to have a baby! I started to get super-excited! You’ve probably realized by now that I’m an over-organizer. All week, Tim and I had been packing “go-bags.” We had our master packing list for the girls that we lived by after our disastrous “no pack-n-play” trip and had packed their suitcases the night before. We had packed Baby H’s bag earlier in the week. We just hadn’t got around to packing ours. That was on the agenda for tomorrow.

My adrenaline was pumping. We frantically packed our bag and began calling people to see who could come over to stay with the girls. Since we were planning on an induction, most of our conversations with my husband’s family had involved them coming over to get them. Apparently, we failed to stress that a late-night phone call was a possibility. We called six cell phones and two home phones with no luck.

At this point it was 2 a.m. Our options were limited. Try to put the girls in their car seats and figure out childcare when we got there? Try to find someone else? Luckily, a friend had volunteered to be our late night call just one week before and I cockily stated, “My in-laws will take care of that.” But my friend had young children, so she was used to waking up in the middle of the night. I called her cell phone–no answer. I called her husband’s cell phone–pay dirt!

It’s the sign of a really good friend that she was there in fifteen minutes. We finished packing, grabbed the dog, and headed out the door. It’s a four hour drive to the hospital where she was going to give birth. Let’s just say we made it a little faster than that. Throughout the drive, we received text updates.

“Contractions are two minutes apart…”

“Now they are three minutes apart.”

We stopped at my mom’s house to drop off the dog and pick up the car seat for Baby H. In our rush, we forgot to call my stepdad and let him know we were stopping by. As it turned out, neither of us had his cell number (he and Mom don’t have a home number anymore). So we killed the headlights, crept slowly up the drive, and Tim quietly went into the house to retrieve the car seat after letting the dog out in the yard. After a few minutes, he was back with the car seat, and a little shaken up. We weren’t as stealthy as we thought, and Tim was met at the front door by my stepdad and his pistol. We now both have his number programmed into our phones!

Tim threw the car seat into the car and we were off to the hospital. Just as we pulled out of my mom’s driveway, we received a text saying: “Dilated to a four, but contractions are not progressing. They are sending her home.” Our driver for our birth mother was understandably freaked about driving 30 miles with her back to her house, but did it anyway.

We looked at each other, turned around, and crawled into bed at my mom’s house. We’d figure out things in the morning.

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