Cancer Ever After

Musings on Infertility, Adoption, Parenthood and Cancer

Questions

There are two questions I’ve been asked recently that threw me for a loop.  The first, had me actually doubling over in a fit of laughter, as I attempted to answer.

“You do know what causes that don’t you?”

This question accompanied a gesture toward my three very rambunctious children.  I was tempted to show the scars on my arms from the numerous shots and bloodwork that accompanied each attempt to have a child.  This scar tissue presents a problem in accessing my veins these days.

There are also the scars that don’t show.  The losses, the cumulative effect of three pregnancies in three years.  The fear of being able to carry to term, the worry that our adoption would fall through.  The sadness over not having a “normal” pregnancy. Grief at not having a “normal” birth experience.

I was tempted to show my latest budget as we continue to pay the bills that brought us these three wonders.  My retirement is decimated, we refinanced the car.

Instead, I doubled over in laughter, shook my head and said, “You have no idea what causes this.”  The gentleman looked at my strangely and walked off.

These days, I don’t have the time or energy to educate on infertility, which I would have done in the past.  My life is too blissfully full. I just love that you can’t tell when you look at our family all that came before. We look fertile. We look blissfully normal.

Which leads me to the other question.

Is he yours?

So far, I’ve only been asked this once and I thought I was prepared for when the day would come.  Because we fundraised for our adoption, pretty much everyone we interact with knows our son is adopted.  I don’t mention it to strangers, because it doesn’t matter. He is my son, and saying adopted son feels like a qualifier.  It will be part of his story and he will have his own thoughts on the matter as he grows, but I will not introduce him as adopted.

I have, through the course of work, met a couple people who mentioned they had adopted and then I’ll share, but it’s personal and it’s at my discretion.

My son doesn’t look like me.  I have blue eyes, the palest skin you’ll ever see, and surprisingly, still have some hair.  It’s blondish-brown. He has a warm, olive complexion, and the cutest brown curly hair you’ve ever seen with dancing brown eyes.

I’m sure this is what spurred the question.  But there are so many better ways to ask.  “How old is your son?” (and then let me correct).”What’s your son’s name?” Assume he is and let me say otherwise.

There is a final question, I get these days as it’s becoming more apparent that I am sick. “How do you do it all?” There is no magic to it.  I just take it one day at a time.

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It Was the Best of Times. It Was the Worst of Times

From everything I’ve read and from talking to other Cancer patients, the second round of chemo is typically worse.  For some of the meds, it’s more of a cumulative effect and you might not feel them until the second round.

Because of this, my mom had offered to take the kids after my second treatment.   With Tim having bronchitis and me having chemo, we both thought this was for the best, but DAMN it was hard.

Turns out, Chemo #2 was both better and worse.  They adjusted my anti-naseau meds, so that part was a lot better.  But we still had my lovely constipation issues which have more of a cumulative effect.

See that lovely pregnant-looking belly? No I’m not pregnant, that’s what the side-effectsof chemo can make your belly look like.  It’s as uncomfortable as it looks.

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So while, I was glad the the med changes helped with how I felt overall after chemo, I must say, some problems were rather, well,  large.

It was hard without the kiddos.  I didn’t realize how much they distract me from how I feel and how I manage to force myself to do more when they are around. And my mom had them for a week, which feels like forever when you are throwing a pity party of one.

While I missed them greatly, I had a really happy/sad moment when we tried to FaceTime them.  The girls were having so much fun, they couldn’t be bothered to talk to us, and Baby H started crying when he saw our faces.  Needless to say, it was a very long week because we didn’t try that again.  I had to resort to picture updates.

Cancer is teaching me a lot about letting go and letting others do things for me.  Prior to this, we’ve spent very few evenings or nights away from the kids.  We both work and it feels like we already get so little time with them. But we are a man down in our house and we need the break.  This is stressful for us in a thousand little ways, and I just get so tired.

I can only  play “Let’s put mommy to bed” as a game with the kids so many times. They want to run and play.  Even Baby H is walking now, they are constantly on the move, and when I’m tired I have trouble keeping up.  It’s not fair to choose only sedentary activities.

So despite wanting to spend all of my time with them, I have to let go, at least a little.  This helps me make my time with them the very best time.  I can be rested so that we can do fun stuff together. And that’s what counts.

 

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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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Nectar of the Gods

So far, the worst part of treatment has been managing the side effects from the medicines. At this point, I think you could say my side effects have side effects. One of my biggest challenges is getting enough liquid in.

I have a complicated medical history and getting enough liquid in was an issue prior to treatment for a variety of reasons. With chemo, this has gone from a small problem of “I can barely get enough liquid in,” to a crisis of epic proportions.

Two of the possible complications from the medicine are constipation and diarrhea. Maintaining a healthy amount of liquids is paramount to maintaining a balance between these.

I guess you could say my inability to drink anything has led me to the bowels of despair.

What? Not funny? Trust me, if you were my bowels over the past week you’d be howling with laughter over this. I just spent $50 on a variety of medicines my doctor thinks will turn my bowels into an obedient child, and am now on “bowel watch.” That’s right, folks, my BMs are so important that I get to check in every other day until we find the magical mixture to balance the pendulum.

Thank you, chemo, I didn’t already talk about shit enough in my life.

Oh, wait? Was it just this morning that two little girls shouted “Poopie butt–hee, hee, hee” across the table at each other? I guess I do talk about poop plenty already. Since I’m already obsessed with the daily BMs of three people, why not add a fourth to the mix? At least I’m not in diapers.

Back to liquid. Water tastes disgusting. I can’t drink anything carbonated. Flavored waters have always grossed me out. Gatorade–depends on the day. Ice-cold seems to help. Don’t ask me why, but cold seems to mask the flavor.

And now I’ve found it: the nectar of the gods. McDonald’s iced tea. Just enough flavor to mask the dead raccoons/metallic blech in my mouth, and not enough flavor to cause my nausea to turn into a full-body rejection.

If you need to find me during the next four months, I’ll be in line–at McDonald’s.

 

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