Cancer Ever After

Musings on Infertility, Adoption, Cancer and Widowhood.

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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The Secret is Out


Santa apparently told the girls that they are getting a brother for Christmas.  I don’t think they are pleased.

Merry Christmas!

P.S.  Ellen, why oh why didn’t you select our pic?

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Thank you infertility

If you had told me five, three or even one year ago that someday I would be thankful for my infertility, I’m pretty sure I would have clawed your eyes out. That, or punched you in the junk.

But I am.

I think this is probably true for anyone who experiences a significant challenge in their life or a health scare. So thank you, infertility:

  • For making me a more patient parent. After years of waiting and 141 days of bed rest, what’s a tantrum? My employer has also noticed the improvement!
  • For helping me not sweat the small stuff. With so much that has been out of our control over the last several years, we’ve learned to let small stuff ride.
  • For showing me who will stand by our side. I’ve been so lucky in my support through our journey.
  • For giving me strength I didn’t know I was capable of. After my girls were born, I went to the mat negotiating for a new job. I wouldn’t have done that previously.
  • For showing me what my priorities are. Because of the wait to get our girls, I insisted on a long maternity leave. And it was long enough for me to know that I am happiest as a working mother. Part of me will always want to stay home, but I am content in my choice. However, even though I want to have a career, my girls are my priority.
  • For making me infamous. To this day, I’m pretty sure that everyone thinks my hubby and I had a quickie in the bathroom at a wedding. We only wish it were that glamorous–we were giving me progesterone injections in the hope that my body would sustain the pregnancy.
  • For forcing us to focus on our finances. Prior to infertility, we were your typical Americans: charging on cards, tons of student loans. The process of paying for treatments and getting qualified for loans helped us focus on what really mattered when it came to our money. Discipline is easy when your priorities are focused.
  • And most of all, thank you for bringing us two (soon to be three!) wonderful children. Had the journey been any different, it wouldn’t be these specific children and we know we are blessed.
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An Unexpected Option

Tim’s story:

Nichole and I tried for several years to have kids and when we finally were pregnant again, and with twins, I was cautiously optimistic.  It was a roller coaster for nine months.  It seemed that everything that could go wrong in a pregnancy did go wrong.  I spent many sleepless nights wondering if we would lose two more babies, or if I would lose my wife, or both.  When all three were finally safely home, I was a very happy father and husband.

As soon as Nichole and I looked at each other– each with one of our daughters in our arms– and said, “We’ve got this.”, Nichole started pushing for a third kid.  I think our girls were about 4 months old.  In her usual fashion, she set out to wear me down over the long haul.  Regardless of tactics, time, reasons, begging, pleading, and relentlessness; I was not going to give in.  I could not find it in me to go down that road again and risk the life and health of my wife and future child.  Especially when we were blessed with two perfect little girls.

I am not opposed to having a larger family. I love being a dad.  It is by far the best thing I have ever done on every level.  I’m just opposed to being a single dad with twin girls.  That whole “…till death do you part” thing should be decades down the road, not something we willingly jumped into with two toddlers in tow. We looked at all of our options, from a 2nd dog, to international adoption, to another round of IVF, to domestic adoption.  Money, time, and failure rates kept all options over the horizon. (That and Nichole still wants a Pug and I still want a bird dog.)

We discuss our options and dreams for the future at least once a week.  I didn’t think anything of it when Nichole said she was forwarding me a text, and that I should think about it and we could discuss it later that night.  When I finally received the text, I was stunned.  “Someone would like to know if a member of the family would be interested in adopting their baby.”  It sounded crazy.  It sounded like  a hoax. It couldn’t be true, but it was. And I was full of hope!  A way to grow our family and fulfill our dream was just offered to us!  I know that adoptions fall through, or are “incompleted”, all the time and for various reasons. However, it also circumvented all of my concerns and fears regarding another pregnancy. I was all for it.

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