Cancer Ever After

Musings on Infertility, Adoption, Parenthood and Cancer

Suicide loss survivor

Did you know there is a special word for who I am now? I would have thought suicide victim, but that’s the phrase for him, not me. Don’t believe me, just google it. Suicide Loss Survivor”. That’s who I get to be.

If your wondering what it feels like to be here, imagine you have been planning a special date night or romantic getaway for your spouse, and then get a call to find out they died in a car accident. When you get to the scene, they have died, but in a terrible twist, there are divorce papers in the car with him.

That’s what this feels like. I was blindly happy. Our life wasn’t perfect, but it was good, and I was planning that special evening. And the loss is brutally sudden, with a heavy dose of betrayal. I question everything now, how did I not see?

The hardest part is when I begin to feel happy. Happiness hurts, physically hurts and almost always has me in tears. I took the kids to a trampoline park, they were having some damn much fun, and he wasn’t there to enjoy it with me. I should have been chatting with him as they played.

Each memory that I’m building and will treasure now has a hole in it.

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Lavender and Black

B.K. (Before Kids) – I read voraciously. Nothing to improve my mind, that is seriously overrated. I mainly read trashy romances. Historical, Paranormal, Modern, you could say I’m a connoisseur.

The historical romances always seemed to find a way to work in mourning clothes, or going into mourning. I understand that better now.

I full on lost my shit at Target today.  Finding chicken bullion led to a breakdown in aisle 8.  It reminded me of the last day, where I was so frustrated over what my husband bought when he went to the grocery store. I was mad because he bought ground pork instead of ground sausage and 20 pounds of potatoes instead of 5.  I said something in my irritation, I can’t remember what. It was small, I was blowing off steam.

But is that what he heard? That’s the funny thing about depression. I had no idea he was depressed, but I’ve been there once, very deeply, myself. I understand what it is like to twist what you hear or to focus on particular items. Did I make him feel less than?

Every conversation we’ve had replays in my mind. Any time, I turned away from cuddling, or being woken up for a 2 a.m. romp and said no. Did that feel like rejection? I know what I meant, but how was it heard? What did he think? I used to think we understood each other. Now I question everything.

Hence, the breakdown in Aisle 8, at the McDonald’s drive-through, and in the school entryway.  Now I understand why they wore mourning clothes. It wasn’t about the mourner, it was to warn everyone who came into proximity with them.  I have picked two fights with strangers over small things I would normally let slide.

I still walk, I still talk, and I can still smile. But I’m no longer me inside. What was once filled with love and happiness is now an empty void that occasionally fills with anger, grief, or sadness. I go through the motions, but I’m not really me. I can’t help but wonder, is this how he felt inside and I couldn’t see it?

 

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Which is worse? Cancer or Infertility?

One study of 200 couples seen consecutively at a fertility clinic, found that half of the women and 15% of the men said that infertility was the most upsetting experience of their lives. Another study of 488 American women who filled out a standard psychological questionnaire before undergoing a stress reduction program concluded that women with infertility felt as anxious or depressed as those diagnosed with cancer, hypertension, or recovering from a heart attack. – Harvard Health

I heard many sentiments similar to the study above when we attended support groups for infertility, but I’ll admit, it seemed hard to believe. I’m here to tell you it’s the truth, at least for me.  Some of this may simply be a matter of what came first.  Infertility was the first battle this type A could not finagle her way around, or circumvent.  It took all of my strength, research abilities and resources to find our family.  I couldn’t stop the miscarriages, I couldn’t make myself get pregnant.  

The impact that had on my life, my friendships, my family relationships is hard to quantify.  The experience forever changed me, and changed the very core of who I am.

Cancer is quickly shaping up to be  the same.  Yet, it’s a little easier. I’m familiar with not being in control. I’m familiar with pouring through medical research. I’m familiar with peppering doctors with questions and researching side-effects of drugs.

So far, cancer treatments are also easier than infertility treatments were- in terms of quantity:  it’s fewer doctor appointments, fewer heartbreaks, fewer disappointments and far less money.   That’s right folks, cancer is going to cost me about 1/5 of what our adoption did, and about 1/10 of what it took to get our girls. This is part of why cancer is not as stressful.  So far, we aren’t worried about having to sell our house, having to sell a car, having to make some really tough choices.

And yet, this may change.  Right now the path seems straight forward with cancer. Finish the treatments, kill the cancer. And yet, it doesn’t always work that way.  If my PET scan shows activity in the next couple of week, I may retract these words, but for now Infertility is far worse than cancer has been. Even with the horrible side-effects from cancer. Because I can tell myself they are temporary.

Statistics are on my side.  For infertile couple the national success rate for IVF hovers around 40%, the clinic we ended up at was closer to 60%.  The chance my doctor quoted of me surviving this cancer is 97.5%.  I’ll take those odds.

What makes infertility so much harder than cancer?

Almost everyone is supportive when you have cancer.  It seems like everyone knows someone who had cancer, they are familiar with chemo and radiation and they offer to help. There are also far more resources for people who have cancer. Livestrong, Cleaningforareason, Susan G. Koman. Cancer is an ugly, terrible disease that impacts far too many.  And everyone has rallied to find a way to cure it.

These same voices were silent for the most part as we underwent infertility treatments, or even when I was on bed rest through my pregnancy.  Not once, did someone say, “When can I bring you dinner?” “Why don’t I help you mow the yard.” I went to the doctor 3-4 times a week, constantly had shots and mood-altering medicine and most treated it as if I was just having a lot of sex.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Infertility is clinical, invasive, painful and involves a ridiculous amount of needles.  Some of it is simply unfamiliarity.  Infertility is not spoken of as often, it’s often treated as a source of shame or blame. It took our families a long time to see  the strain infertility put on us emotionally and financially.  When I was on bed rest, it simply didn’t occur to people that my husband was visiting me every morning and evening and still taking care of the dog, the house, cooking meals (so I would eat) and getting the nursery ready.  Very few came forth to help during that time. I was on bed rest for five months, and few visitors darkened our doors.

You get far fewer offensive sentiments offered to you. “If God wanted you to have a baby, you’d have one.” This one riles me the most, it implies that God is punitive.  That he deliberately chose me to lose three babies because of something I’ve done.  I don’t believe that. Others simply share stories of people that kept trying and one day got their miracle baby.  It does happen, it depends on the root cause of the infertility.  As I’ve said before infertility is not the same thing as sterility, there is a small possibility.  7% of infertile couples who forgo treatments do get pregnant on their own.  Yet no one felt the need to share the stories of the other 93% who weren’t able to get pregnant without help.  Their stories are far greater and yet they were silenced by lack of support and heartache.

It’s just a matter of life and death. This one may seem strange, but because I don’t feel like I’m dying, I’m simply not worried about it. With infertility it was my entire future at stake, it was my hopes and dreams. I worried every second of every day, that I would not find a way to have children.

While I have no plans to leave my husband and children behind, if treatment doesn’t go as planned, I can find contentment in the fact that I have a husband and children who will survive me. My greatest hopes and dreams are part of my life each and every day.  They are the reason I fight, they are the reason I will win.  If my family is my reason for living, imagine not having that taken from you.  That is why infertility is worse. It takes away the life you dream of.  It robs you of your joy.  Cancer can’t do that- not to me.  I have too many blessing in my life to be thankful for.  My children remind me to smile and have fun even as I go “blech.”

 

 

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Embrace The Suck

Apparently a very rough twin pregnancy is a great warm-up for chemotherapy. At this point, I’m hard-pressed to say which is worse.  They are both things I hope you never experience.  That being said, there were times over the last four days, when I was glad to be able to say, “It’s bad, but I’ve had worse.”

At the same time, it’s sad that my pregnancy was as bad as chemotherapy.  Telling my doctor that, pretty much shocked the hell out of him.  There are so many ways that they are the same: constant nausea, random vomiting, tired as hell and falling asleep at the drop of a hat.

And then there are the little ways that it is different. There are no chubby babies at the end of this road.  But I will get more time with my babies, so there is that. The big differences are:

1.) The TASTE– Imagine a dead raccoon is rotting in your mouth.  No matter how much you brush your teeth or swirl with mouthwash, it’s carcass continues to decompose.  This is my new normal.  I was warned about the taste, but I’m not great with bad-tasting medicine, let alone this taste.  This adds to my constant nausea and makes it hard for me to drink enough liquid, which is a big deal.

2.) Weird electric currency– So far, I think I’m among the few to complain of this one.  I think it’s a side effect from the “V” drug.  My jaw keeps locking up and it feels like someone is jabbing my jawbone with a cattle prod.  It makes it hard to open my mouth or chew because it can be excruciating. Luckily, this one is fading, so maybe it will only last a few days after each treatment.

3.) Mouth sores– I don’t have actual mouth sores (not yet anyway), but the drugs make your mouth really sore even if there aren’t sores.  Does that strike you as odd? It’s a little like the sensation described above, but more of a mild shock feeling on your tongue or sides of your mouth.

4.) The fog– It’s hard to describe the fuzzy brain that I got.  The best way I can describe it, is that my “Give a damn” is broken.  I’m fuzzy, slow thinking, I swear my IQ has dropped 30 points and nothing matters that much to me.  Outside of my family, not much can move me to do, well, anything.

I’ve begun to see why people lose weigh on chemo.  Eating is a chore and all of these symptoms make food and drink the enemy. The good news is that there are only three major side effects outside of what I’ve dealt with before.  I also suspect that I’ve begun to see the pattern that treatments will follow: Day 1 – feel okay. Day 2- feel bad, Day 3- feel like hell, Day 4- start feeling better.

At least I hope it follows this pattern.  We outsourced the kiddos for Day 3, Saturday, and it ended up being the best thing we could do.  It really scares the kids when I puke and I have to smile and tell them mommy is okay.  I’m not sure I could have pulled that one off on Saturday.

Luckily I was better by the time they came home, and we managed bet time and snuggles.

Baby snuggles cure everything.  

My family is going to be what allows me to get through this.  I need those moments of joy to puncture the fog and distract me from wallowing in my misery.

 

 

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“Mommy are you tired?”

My heart broke the first time I heard these words from one of my children. Even though the surgeries have been small, they’ve taken their toll. I’ve been tired, been under lift restrictions (no more than 10 pounds), and on some days, been simply wiped in the evening when I normally play with the kids.

This won’t be the last time I hear this, but hearing it for the first made me want to cry. We were simply sitting at breakfast, doing our normal morning routine of laughter and chaos. I wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary. I think H was asking to gauge my mood for the day. When I said, “No, Mommy isn’t tired,” she gave me the biggest smile.

I know that I’ve been more short-tempered in the evening. Two-year-olds can be trying on a good day. Potty-training twin two-year-olds while going through a cancer diagnosis has proven to be trying on both my husband and me. Would we have been this irritable and lose our cool this often without all of the medical mumbo-jumbo going on? I’d like to think no, but it’s hard to say how much cancer is changing our parenting and personalities.

H has noticed the most. She’s my watcher and observes everything. She asks questions obsessively to see if there is going to be a change in our routine. “Mommy go doctor again?”, “Mommy still have owie?”, “Mommy hurt?”, “Mommy not happy?”

We’ve already began to notice some behavioral changes over the past week. H has been solid on the potty-training for a while and though that still seems to be going well, she’s just more clingy. She keeps asking to be rocked and held. She now holds back and stays next to me when I do drop-off at daycare instead of running to her friends. Normally, I would assume she was sick, but we aren’t seeing any signs of that. We think she just senses a change is in the air and needs reassurance.

Baby H struggles with Mommy not always being able to hold him. And hitting my port constantly. He’s learning to walk and if I’m not ever-vigilant, he will, without fail, hurl himself hands-first on my port and I can’t help but yelp in pain (which confuses him and often makes him cry). Luckily, the scar is healing and this is no longer excruciating.

Outside of dying, these changes are my biggest fear. I fear not being the parent I want to be because I’m simply out of reserves. I can’t wait to get my first chemo session under my belt so that I can figure out how we make my treatment seem seamless to the kids while using friends and families to distract them from the normal things Mommy isn’t doing that day.

I know they are resilient and I take comfort in the fact that they are too young to remember me going through this, but I’m their mom. I worry.

 

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