i have a lot of time on my hands now, which is both good and bad. good that i’m starting to process a lot of what we’ve been through, whereas it otherwise feels i’ve mostly been levitating above the experience. bad that i can get a little mad. which actually is not bad, but natural.
children, babies, kids, etc tend to be on my mind a lot. not so much around wanting them, but they are just present. maybe it’s because our nephew jonathan turned 6 yesterday and niece brecken is turning 9 today. i also looked back over the past few weeks and realized there were quite a few more welcomes to the world to offer up: evelyn to brian and clare; ann monroe to mary and eric; joseph to susan and joe; and chocorua to jill and jason. a quick count adds up 9 other friends who are going to have a brand new baby in the house over the next few months. it’s the time in our lives when this is, and should be, happening. and, i couldn’t be more happy to see friends become parents, especially when it’s something many have wanted for a long time and identify with, to see the miracle of a baby being born, to feel as though these new little people have always been part of our lives in some way yet simultaneously be amazed that they are immediately in the mix of the world. it is, simply, cool.
the jury was still out for mike and i on whether or not to become parents one day. i never grew up dreaming about becoming a mother. mike always saw himself as a dad, coach, mentor. i love kids though and taught and tutored middle schoolers through and after college; mike did similar things too. childbirth freaks me out (despite the millennia of it happening) and have always been open to adoption; mike was never sold on adoption solely. we both find kids clever and cute and hilarious (like jonathan, pictured here, and his insistence on wearing a tie to school for his birthday to look handsome).
when i shared our perspective on kids ~5 years ago with our friend mike visiting from portland, he said something sarcastic like, “yeah, good work. way to give back to society. it’s not like 2 smart people could have a smart kid that could do something amazing one day, like cure cancer.” that comment has so many layers i can’t even touch it.
something that i never realized, until now, about cancer in young adults or children is that chemotherapy risks taking away fertility, because chemo targets rapidly dividing cells, like some of those in my ovaries that surround my eggs. my heart breaks for so many kids–in the true sense of the word–who become infertile even before they have their first girlfriend or boyfriend.
when we got my diagnosis, it was one of the first things asked of us: do you have children? do you want them? um…what? we were too busy wondering if i was going to live to think about that kind of future. when we mentioned adoption, one doctor said we might not be a “good adoptive family,” now given my health history. once we were told my prognosis is good, then the wheels really started going. do we preserve our options as an insurance policy, on the chance that the chemo permanently shuts down my ovaries? do i have time, in the most literal sense of the word, to go through a few weeks of daily hormone shots and the egg harvest? will those hormone shots speed up my cancer growth? oh, and do we want kids? (side note: hearing things from acquaintances after diagnosis like, “thank god you don’t have children!” actually sucked. whose to say it wouldn’t be a blessing to have children as a beacon to keep a person going through all these treatments? i try not to preach from a blog pulpit but that one really got me, even as a person who wasn’t sure about the kid thing).
we agonized over this decision. no one could make it for us. we met with a special fertility psychologist at UCSF and asked all sorts of questions.
Q: why wouldn’t someone freeze embryos? A: for financial or religious reasons, beyond not wanting children.
Q: why does it feel a little dirty to put a price tag on future options and shell out $14,000 to preserve embryos (and that including a 50% off special for cancer patients!) A: you didn’t ask for this.
Q: what happens if i die before we use the embryos? if mike dies? A: you have to confirm and decide that now, signing it in legal paperwork. the surviving partner could still use them, you could donate them to another couple, or destroy them (this one caused, as you can imagine, a lot of discussion. would mike want our child, through a surrogate, without me and vice versa? we have different opinions on it. i would, he would not. or at least that’s what we concluded in august. i frankly can’t recall what else we decided. to us, destroying them doesn’t feel awesome, but knowing that our biological child is out there being raised by another couple, beyond the amazingness of fulfilling someone’s dream, is also upsetting).
Q: what if my ovarian function returns? A: we would want you to try and have a natural baby, having you go off cancer treatment/the pill tamoxifen for a few months. if that doesn’t work, we’d implant the embryo (or embryos…our doctor said don’t worry, no octomom in our future. twins at 40 doesn’t sound particularly energizing anyway. but, we’d cross that bridge on how many to implant if/when we get there. and then figure out what to do with the rest of the embryos).
this is heavy stuff for anyone, yet alone a couple who just was wrapping up celebrating their first year anniversary in marriage. we decided to go for it and figure the rest out later, also recognizing that we were unlikely to do something without doing something (if that makes sense–like, if we’re going to freeze embryos, we’re going to use them dammit!). we had time, but not a ton of time, to make the decision. so after what was not an awesome 2 weeks of shots and the egg harvest surgery and fertilization procedure, 11 totsicles (er, fertilized embryos) remain on ice somewhere in an earthquake-retrofitted building (i had to ask) in SF. i’ll repeat, mike is fertile and his swimmers did the fertilization part just fine. as any guy would, he’ll be happy to hear that again and again (given our 11 potential kidlets, i entertained the idea of getting mike 11 one-sies or stockings for the mantel for christmas but thought a case of wine was even better this year).
today’s onion headline, “obnoxious friend won’t stop attaining major life milestones,” cracked me up and spurred this post. what all this adds up to, and why i’m sharing it, is that i’m mad. mad at stupid cancer. and especially mad at stupid cancer in young people. even though mike and i know we would not be having children now or in the next few years had i not been diagnosed, we don’t even have the option to have children right now (end emphasis). it would be against medical advice. we have to wait a few years and see how my treatment continues to go. bottom line is: you always want what you can’t have. grass is greener. etc etc etc. or, cancer sucks.
by sharing this, i don’t want friends to avoid us or avoid sharing their happiness. of the things that are certain: mike and i remain steadfast in our happiness, excitement, and support for all of our friends who are moving to this life step, so please keep sharing the good news with us.
i just wanted to share some perspective on this whole fertility thing that is growing in recognition in the medical field but among a patient’s social support, isn’t necessarily widely known.
in other updates, i got my expander filled today for the first time. it’s pretty amazing – the doctor uses a little magnet to find the matching magnet/entry point of the expander inside my breast. he inserts a needle through the magnet and slowly injects whatever amount of saline is appropriate for the day (today was 50cc). because all the nerve endings in my breast are shot for good, i didn’t feel the needle go in. i did, however, feel the liquid stretching out the expander, thereby stretching my pectoral muscle on top of it. and looking down, my boob has grown. it’s like the turkey is almost done! it’s like he watered my boob (thanks for that image, matt)! science! as the saline flowed in, mike and the doctor chatted about their membership at the olympic club, golfing rounds, and the like. totally normal wednesday.
even though reconstruction is far from over and there are a lot of risks still left to navigate, i’m glad i’m doing it. i am bothered by how flat one side of my chest is, both with and without clothes on. i have images of my grandma GG who didn’t do reconstruction and didn’t wear a prosthesis in her bra (everyone has reasons to or not to…hers likely being that she was 80 and facing a lot of other treatments for stage iv cancer. oh the things i wish i could talk to her about now). my grandma nana didn’t do reconstruction either but she wore her prosthesis so things were balanced.
one. day. at. a. time.
thanks for listening in today…and what feels like every day really.