Cancer Ever After

Musings on Infertility, Adoption, Parenthood and Cancer

The Fight of My Life

The battle lay before me, and I tried to steel myself.  Tim and I looked at each other and reached out to hold hands.  You could visibility see ourselves gird our loins.  It’s a battle we fight nightly these days.

It didn’t use to be this way.  Before.

Bedtime.

Before the twins turned two, bedtime was a bit of peace after a hard day at work.  It was something we looked forward to.  Bedtime meant singing and cuddles and then my girls crawling obediently into bed, while I went and rocked the baby to sleep.

These days, bedtime has turned into a war of wills. If we don’t time it perfectly, there is a battle over getting dressed, getting hair brushed, brushing teeth, taking a bath, not taking a bath, reading another story, rocking, not rocking, mommy singing, mommy not singing.  Anything is game depending on the moods of my little dainty dictators.

Last night was a doozy.  I misjudged the level of exhaustion in my children (Baby H was simply not tired, H and P1 were ridiculously overtired.) This simple misjudgment turned the three minutes of getting jammies on into a 30 minute battle of wills with tears, hairpulling and over-the-top wails.

For ease, one of us usually takes Baby H while the other does bedtime with the twins. Normally this isn’t an issue.  However, our twins have taken it into their heads to pick which parent is theirs.  I’m P1’s, Daddy is H’s.  On a rough night like last night, there are meltdowns if each kid doesn’t have “their” parent rocking them for bedtime.  Queue meltdown.

Bedtime was 60 excruciating minutes of tough love, comforting, rocking and trying to get a very untired baby to sleep.  We both were completely wiped by 9:00 p.m.  How that hell are we going to manage this if I’m sick?

These days happen.Bbedtime is sometimes a breeze, and some days it’s the seventh level of hell.  That’s life with a toddler. Their moods change faster than the wind.  This is my worry and my fear.  Normally, I reach deep and try to maintain calm in the midst of all of this chaos.  I’m not sure I can do this if I’m nauseous, exhausted (more so than the norm), or in pain.

Time will tell.

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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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Don’t worry, it’s the good kind.

Being told this makes my head want to explode. After the radiologist’s verbal throw-up, breaking the C word, we quickly had another visit with the ENT where he also confirmed I had cancer and he went on to explain:

But it’s the good kind- Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It’s considered curable in almost all cases.

Don’t get me wrong this was a huge relief,  I had already researched the various types of lymphoma and knew this was the best news we could ask for. Having this type of cancer gave me the best chance of getting what I prayed for- a chance to watch my babies grow up.

But somehow being told cancer is “good” when you know that you will have poison injected into your body to kill the cancer, and know that it’s likely you’ll have radiation that will burn your skin and can damage your organs, is incomprehensible. Both treatments may lead to  future cancers or additional long-term complications. If you ask me,  “it’s the good kind” is a load of crap.

This phrase should have been stitched on a pillow over the next week. We broke the news to family and friends and used it shamelessly to reassure them.

At same time, when someone familiar with this type of cancer says it to me, it raises my hackles.  I know my odds of survival are phenomenal, but I feel like this phrase trivializes the fight that is ahead. It’s survivable only because they know exactly what treatment it responds to, you still have to do chemo and radiation. You don’t get to push the easy button.

The survival rate lets me know that my fight should be worth it and I plan on clinging to that in my darkest hours. I appreciate that I know going in my fight will be worth it, and I love having less uncertainty.  But I don’t doubt for a minute that there will be a very real battle with some pretty shitty days.

It may be the good kind, but that doesn’t make it easy. It’s still cancer.

 

 

 

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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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Baby’s on his way – a Dad’s perspective

“Are you excited?”  My mom asked.  “Yes, but this time it feels different.” For us this pregnancy has only been five months.  We have been so busy working to make the adoption happen that the time has just flown by.  Between work, our girls, normal housework and upkeep, fund raising, trips to see our birth mother, getting our son’s room ready, and everyday life something feels lost, missing.  The awestruck wonder of becoming a parent, again?  Maybe it’s different because we know we can handle another baby?  Maybe its due to how rapidly this process of adoption has been moving along?  Maybe it’s that we have a game plan and are following it?  Could it be shear exhaustion? I paused and looked back at our journey to become parents and the year and a half since our girls were born.

Discovering that we were infertile and coming to terms with it was a painful and lonely process.  Most of our friends and family have children and did not have any issues doing so.  Understanding and true compassion seemed to be in short supply.   The ordeal seemed to alienate us from many of our friends and co-workers.  Until we opened up completely to our families and gave them day-by-day updates on our last pregnancy, they did not seem to be able to understand or relate.  Many of our friendships did not survive the process of getting our girls and the first year of their lives.  However, the fun we have as a family has replaced the nights of hanging out with friends and going to parties.  And we’re meeting new friends through the various mommy and parent groups that Nichole has joined.

When our girls were born numerous people commented to me that we could try again and have a son.  Several people seemed to pity me or be saddened that I have two girls and no boys.  This did not bother me as I love my girls more than I though possible.  It did, however, make me sad for the people making the comments. However, when I heard that baby H was going to be a boy, I was thrilled.  While I look forward to introducing my son to my interests and hobbies with the hope that at least some of them will resonate with him, I know he will be his own person.  Just as my girls are developing their own personalities, my son will be unique.  Someone that I will get to know and love as he grows.  I hope that he is able to introduce me to new interests and hobbies, that I will be able to discover a whole new world with him.  I do not want a “mini me”; rather a new piece of the puzzle to fit into our family creating a clearer and ever-developing picture of our future.

My friend John once told me, “Being a dad is the best thing in the world.  You come home and your kids stop what they’re doing, run over to you, and jump up and down singing, “Daddy’s home!, Daddy’s home!” at the top of their lungs while grinning ear to ear.  No one else has EVER reacted like that when I showed up at work, or anywhere else.”  I’ve seen his daughter Maddie and son Ryan do this on numerous occasions.  Until I became a dad, I thought John was just being funny. Now when I enter a room after being gone for a while, and my girls reach for me and shout “Da-da!” I know exactly what John meant.  It may be selfish, but I look forward to one more voice being added to the chorus.

They most common thing that I hear when people see my twins is, “Boy, you have your hands full!”  While this may be true, I have learned to adapt.  I have become quasi-ambidextrous,  plan several steps ahead for everything that I do, and encourage the girls to be independent and do as much on their own as possible.  It also helps that they are in the “it’s fun to help phase.”  Dealing with twins is not the exhausting ordeal that it used to be, it’s just the way it is, and we do quite well.  Adding another to the mix will be challenging, but not impossible.  While my hands may be full as I care for my girls my heart swells with love and pride every time they learn something new – a word, a task, figure out how to use something, or understand a question or request and respond in a positive way.  There is still more than enough room in my heart for another child.

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