Cancer Ever After

Musings on Infertility, Adoption, Cancer and Widowhood.

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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Port That You Say?

In the cancer world, to port or not to port is the question. Prior to my diagnosis, I didn’t even realize this was a question. Don’t get me wrong; I knew what a port was, I just assumed it was standard. In fact, during my not-so-short hospital stay for my pregnancy, I begged for a port so that I could forgo my twice daily blood draws.

Ports aren’t universally recommended, depending on the type of cancer and your length of treatment. I’m swimming in a cancer world now. My boss and one of my coworkers at my very small company both also have cancer. For my boss, his cancer is more advanced and the treatment options are limited, so they wanted to hold off on the port as long as they could due to the possible increased risk of infection. For my coworker, it was assumed she’d get a port because the drugs are that hard on the veins and her treatment course was very long.

Me, I live in that gray window. The drugs are harsh, but my treatment is considered pretty short by chemo standards. It was up to me.

Sign me up!

My oncologist barely had the chance to utter the question before I said, “Port, please!” I’ve been there, done that when it comes to blood draws. I’ve had daily, I’ve had gallons taken at once (okay, 19 vials), I’ve had bad sticks where they blew through three veins before they found a good one. IVs are difficult on me because I have small veins. One of my juiciest veins is on a nerve, and I’ve gritted my teeth and accepted the pain every other day for five weeks as they stabbed at it to keep my babies in me longer. Having a port would make this unnecessary.

This was the extent of my conversation about getting a port.

Big Mistake

My port surgery came and went without a hitch. It wasn’t until after the procedure that a key little nugget of information came to light. I couldn’t lift any of the kids, because I wasn’t supposed to lift over ten pounds. WHAT??????? We had no help arranged. I’d considered this a minor procedure, and given the number of procedures and surgeries I’ve had over the last five years, it didn’t even register that there would be any issues other than normal recovery afterwards.

A port doesn’t exactly work like that. I don’t fully understand why, but when they put the port in your chest and then loop it into a vein, it makes your body go haywire. It was excruciating if I accidentally lifted my arms to about chest level. I couldn’t have lifted ten pounds if I wanted to. My arms ached randomly (and still do sometimes).

They sent me home with orders to take Tylenol if I felt bad. I went home and ran for my stash of pain pills from my last surgery. They became my lifeline for the next few days. Luckily, my in-laws rallied and helped with the kids.

Later, I learned that my experience was one of the BEST for port placement. My coworker said hers was more painful than a mastectomy and ached for weeks. Most said the excruciating pain lasted a week or two. Why did none of the doctors mention this? Once again, I realized it’s up to me to ask the questions.

Technically, I wasn’t supposed to lift the kids for ten days. Big surprise–I lasted three. Who are they kidding? I actually think this helped me. The movement made my aches go away. I also slept in a bra because I found this helped to minimize the pain at night.

I need to remember what helped the most during infertility: it’s up to me to ask the questions and up to me to advocate for myself and my family.




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10 Things That Don’t Suck About Cancer

10.) It’s an excuse to get a motorcycle! A motorcycle would go great with my new scars and tattoos, right?

9.) No more shaving! Let’s be real, ladies, we all know we stop shaving in the winter, but now I won’t have to shave in the summer.

8.) I get to try out a Brazilian–without the embarrassment of someone actually giving me the Brazilian. Who really wants someone waxing there?

7.) I may actually get to read a book. Granted, it will be with chemo dripping into me, but I can’t remember the last time I just sat down to read a book. I love to read.

6.) I don’t have to cook. My sister organized a “food chain” and I think it will take a U-Haul to bring down all of the food she solicited from friends and neighbors from my hometown.

5.) People will no longer give me shit for wanting to take a nap. I can play the cancer card. That’s right, cancer = my right to take a nap. Every. Damn. Day.

4.) I’ll get to see my family more. My extended family, that is. My mom and sisters are going to travel down regularly as I go through treatments. My children love all the family that has been coming to visit.

3.) No more itchies!!! I’ve been crazy itchy from the neck down for nine months. I wake up scratching myself bloody. They tell me this should go away.

2.) Cancer is cheaper than adoption. I actually repeat this one quite often (for example, every time I open my mail). My estimates put it at about 1/5 the cost of adoption, provided I can keep working and minimize any time on disability. The plus side is, even if I have to stop working, cancer is covered under short-term disability and leave, unlike my adoption leave time, which was unpaid. I’m pretty sure it will end up being significantly cheaper.

1.) I’ll finally meet my Weight Watchers goal weight. I mean, let’s get real. Cancer is probably the only way to hit THAT unrealistic number.

As an added bonus for my husband, he gets to be married to a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead at the same time. Behold, the power of wigs!

Who am I kidding? I’m pretty sure that just about everything is going to suck about having cancer. And that last one? Apparently, not all cancer treatments make you lose weight, and I might actually gain weight on my treatment. I feel like I’m getting ripped off.

Cancer without weight loss?

For a girl who has struggled her entire life with her weight, that’s just rubbing salt in the wound. Thanks, cancer, now fuck off.


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Please Don’t Think I’m Typical

My one fear with sharing our journey so publicly is that our story will be held up as the gold standard for infertiles. We will become THAT story: “I knew this couple that did IVF and had twins, and then someone just offered them a baby to adopt.”

There is so much more to the story. I started sharing my journey when we already knew we had a happy ending. No matter how this adoption ends, we still have our girls. We are so much luckier than most. A better googler than me could drown you in statistics on how many people simply can’t afford to try any treatments for their infertility. I don’t know how many people there are, but if I told you that’s it’s $300 for a prescription of pills just to try to get pregnant, I bet you would feel that pinch. If you knew that it was usually at least $2,000 per attempt at an IUI (i.e., the turkey baster method), I would guess that you can start to see how daunting it is to try to pursue treatments. And IVF…oh, IVF is between $15,000-$30,000, depending on your course of treatment if you are paying out of pocket.

And the success rate is not what you think. It’s specific to each couples’ issues, but the national average for success for IVF treatment hovers between 30-40%. I’ve had friends that were given less than a 10% chance of success. Not all couples who pursue adoption end up with a baby, either. I have friends with more than one failed adoption under their belt, and another attempt simply isn’t an option.

The reality is, most people simply never make it as far as we have. They are tapped out before they get there. We got lucky because insurance helped cover part of what we’ve gone through. Instead of being tapped out at the IUI phase, we were able to try IVF not once, but twice. And that extra round means that I now get wet sloppy kisses and baby hugs. There are countless other infertiles who still wish for those.

There were also hard conversations between my husband and me, decisions you face as an infertile. Are we willing to sell our home to finance treatments? How about selling a car? Can we work two jobs or three just to have a chance at an IUI or to try to save for adoption? People can and do go bankrupt trying to have or adopt a child. Once again, Tim and I got lucky–this was one area we were never in agreement on. I was willing to sell the house, I was willing to sell the car. No matter what, in my mind, the end of the journey had to involve a child. I do not think that I could have made peace with a childless life. And I have plenty of children in my life, tons of nieces and nephews I adore. I was willing to try almost anything, do anything. Me, who works in the financial industry, who has counseled others on how to make smart financial decisions, was willing to commit financial suicide in order to have a family.

Tim was not willing to go as far. These were the hardest arguments we had in the pursuit of a family. Arguments like this can break the strongest of couples. Once again, we are lucky that it didn’t come to that for us.

I also want to point out that adoptions do not typically fall out of trees or come via random texts. It usually takes a lot of time and patiently waiting to be selected. The agencies that we’ve worked with told me that Tim and I might take a little longer than most if we went through the agency matching process because we already have two children. A lot of the time, families without any children are picked first.

Once again, we got lucky, so incredibly lucky. But this is rare, random and so very wonderful. Do not for a moment think it’s typical. Most adoptions take at least a year, if not two or three, to be finalized. A lot of couples wait close to a year just to be selected by a birth mother.

Instead, as you think of our story, I want you to remember that we worked, we prayed, we sacrificed and most of all, we had help to get where we are. And for every story like ours, there are countless others out there that did not find their happy ending.

I challenge you to make a difference for all those whose stories you haven’t heard–those who have gone to sleep after crying themselves sick yet another night. If you want to make a difference, ask your employer to offer fertility coverage and adoption benefits, even if you don’t need them. Do it because it’s the right thing to do. Consider donating to an organization that helps finance infertility treatment or adoption. Speak up against personhood legislation that would outlaw infertility treatments. Take action to make someone else’s journey just a little easier. Help someone else grow their family. Be mindful in your questions to others.

And please, please, please do not offer our story up as an example. We aren’t typical. We are blessed beyond words to have found our rainbow babies. We can’t wait to add a son to our family. We are a family of four, soon to be five. We are so many things, but typical we are not.

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I received an email from the counselor letting me know our birth mother had canceled her next visit with her. And then the counselor will be on vacation. Two weeks with no visits and the adoption is less than two months away. My heart sank and I texted Tim immediately. He quickly called me over his lunch hour so we could discuss it.

This could have been as simple as our birth mom not feeling up to it that day, but as possible parents, we weigh and measure every interaction with our birth mom to see if there is a sign she will change her mind. I promised that Tim and I would start talking about when, not if, we have Baby H home with us. This is harder to do than I thought.

We came into this adoption with scars from our previous losses. In our home, we have a closet that we can’t bear to open because it contains the mementos from our other babies. Babies that we didn’t name because that made the loss even more real. I regret that now. There are certain days that I will be in a funk because the memories just pile on–the dreams of what might have been: our due dates, meeting a child who is the age they would be now, seeing a set of identical toddler twin girls, the anniversaries of our miscarriages.

We both thought that we had healed from our losses, but little events like this bring those losses to the forefront. Should we be worried that she canceled? Have we done something wrong? At the end of the day, we want to make sure that we have done everything we can to reassure her that we want this child more than anything and will love him completely.

I can’t imagine the pressure to choose parents to raise your child. How do you know that you are picking the very best ones? I can’t promise that we will be the very best parents out there. I can only promise that we will try. We will work hard to raise him right. I know that we will love him completely.  We already do and he is not even here.

So I called. I spoke with her. I’m going to drive down after the girls’ bedtime this week so that I can go with her to her next doctor’s appointment. In an ideal world, Tim and I would both be there, but we can’t swing that. She and I are going to go out to lunch together and spend a little time getting to know one another better. We’ll have two visits instead of one this month. She needs to know that she is giving him to parents that will love him. She needs to feel comfortable with us. She deserves to learn more about us and what kind of parents we will be.

Baby H deserves this too. For our open adoption to work, we need to build a relationship that will last through the years. We need to make sure we have a common goal: doing what is right for Baby H. We need to be able to have comfortable and cozy visits throughout the years. We need to expand our hearts and our minds so that we can all become part of one big family for his sake. He deserves this.

For now, we’ll start one step at a time. Tim and I will both visit with her in two weeks to continue to build that bridge. We will take small steps that will help us lay the foundation for the rest of his life. I’m starting two baby books–one for us and one for him. I’m going to put pictures of his birth mom and family in one book for him. As he gets older, we can update and add pictures together throughout the years. I want him to have a place for pictures of us and his sisters, but also pictures of his birth family throughout the years. Hopefully, one baby book will turn into several.

And hopefully, canceled is just that. An inconvenient appointment, not a sign of something more.


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