There has been a lot of talk on the YACC website this month about young adult survivors and fertility—or maybe better put, lack of fertility. This is a topic that resonates hard with me.
I was diagnosed December 19, 2008 when my first child was only four-and-half-months old. I was in the midst of my maternity leave, and in the midst of starting my life as a young mother. Then I was diagnosed with cancer, and the direction my life was heading was completely changed. Cancer was not part of my vision!
Before cancer, my husband and I often discussed our life together, and it always involved children. I wanted four, but we knew we decided to get to at least two and then see where things carried us from there.
All of those plans instantly changed the day I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. I said to my husband, “I don’t care what it takes. They can do a full hysterectomy. I will do whatever it takes. The most important part for me, is for us to be here for the one child we do have.” I came to terms very early on in my diagnosis that one child would be all we had, and I was okay with that—at least I thought I was.
Since that day, my loss of fertility from cancer has taken me on an emotional roller coaster. I usually like roller coasters, but this one was anything but fun. It started with my doctor telling me there was a new procedure for cervical cancer that would make it possible for my husband and I to have more children. Great! Decision made. I went into my cancer treatments thinking it was going to be one surgery, followed by six weeks of recovery, and then I would continue my life just as I had before cancer.
Then came the news that probably had a larger effect on me. My doctor told me the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes, and that I would now require another surgery, 25 rounds of radiation therapy, and five rounds of chemotherapy. He also told me that as a result of these treatments, I would no longer be able to have more children.
I was given the option to delay my cancer treatments by a couple of months to undergo fertility and hormone treatments in order to preserve my eggs and freeze some embryos. I couldn’t even consider that—I had just been told the cancer had spread, and the idea of delaying anything was much too scary for me. I moved ahead with the next round, and still felt I would be okay with the decisions I was making.
All the choices I had made so quickly in three short months came crashing down on me two years after treatment. I couldn’t move past the grief and regret that I was now dealing with at the loss of my fertility. My daughter was now two years old, and this was the time—in my life vision before cancer—that I was supposed to be having more children. Now that wasn’t even an option—or was it?
My body had defied everything the doctors had predicted it would do. I was getting a regular menstrual cycle, and producing follicles, and so they started to wonder if maybe I could have more children. They sent me to a fertility specialist who told me my only option was in vitro fertilization. After reviewing the details, we decided this was a less than ideal option. It would involve more surgery due to my unique anatomy, and after spending 10-20 thousand dollars, there was less than a five per cent chance that it would actually work. It wasn’t something I wanted to pursue, and so I made the choice again to move forward with my life blessed with the one child we had.
It’s never that easy, though. I continued having complications as a result of my surgeries, and each time I visited any of my doctors, fertility was always part of the discussion. “You can’t get pregnant.” “Maybe you could get pregnant.” “It would sure be interesting if you could get pregnant.” None of them were familiar with the situations my body had presented to them, and—at no fault to them—no one could ever give me a straight answer. I started regretting my decision to have the new surgery instead of the full hysterectomy; I figured it would have prevented me from being on this roller coaster, and I could have just put these emotions to rest years ago, and moved on from the cancer like I had always intended.
The truth is, I don’t know if it would have worked this way. I can’t say though that I wouldn’t still grieve the loss of my fertility, and the next child I never had, because I don’t know that.
I still often fight feelings of sadness and grief, but I recently started seeing a new specialist who is extremely thorough in testing me for any possibility of having more children. I know the answer may still be “no,” but I feel good that this time, there is actually going to be an answer. There is no more maybe in this equation. I feel like whatever the outcome, I am finally going to be able to close this chapter of my life, and move forward from it.
As I’ve read other people’s statements this month, I’m realizing that even when you are given the definite answer that you will never have children, there is an unrelenting sense of loss and grief over what cancer has taken from you, and the path you will now never get to explore. The best part is, with the voices and stories I have heard in the past month from my fellow YACCers, I know that I am not alone, and you all have my back!