The Tough Conversations We Have

Just a word of warning, should you choose to proceed: this blog post will be somewhat graphic and cover the content of reproduction in scientific, biological and emotional facets.  But I assure you, whether you’re male or female, single, dating or married, with or without children, this will pertain to you–or someone you love–somehow.

I realize that yet another great expanse of time has gone by since the last post, and I can go through all the lines of why that is (work, work, work, wedding planning, family in town, I’m lazy, it’s not as exciting to write when the potential for vomit has decreased…) but the truth is, I just don’t want to write this blog.

I promised to be honest because I know that every human faces their own struggles in life and somewhere along the lines this site and one or many of the posts will pertain to you–we can all connect on so many levels and in so many ways.  Yet this topic is just so tragically difficult for me.  It is fraught with confusion and decisions that must be made which quite literally are life or death: my life or death or the chance to create another life.  So many “or’s,” when do I get the “and’s”?  My life and another one.

To back us up a little bit… I am in a committed relationship to Mr. Sean Sultan and we will be married in Maui on October 27th.  We are registered on Amazon.  Oh, there’s that east coast sarcasm again!  And, well, while we love our dog Scupper very much and hope to have twenty more on a huge property like Cesar Milan, I’d also like to produce a small human (yes, a baby) as well.  Just one.  Once upon a time maybe I wanted more but I think I’ve bartered and pleaded my way down to just please let us have one.

Pre-cancer, I was happy to assume these things would be determined in time and that I would not have to be in a rush to determine when and how a family would appear in our lives.  We were happily gliding on the dating-get-married-when-we’re-ready-maybe-buy-a-house-some-day-talk-about-the-kids-thing-later cloud.  And then, of course, we all know what happened.  Cancer was dumped in our laps and with the threat of chemo potentially taking away any and all chances for kids, we had to look at things abruptly and make some harsh decisions.

You see, friends, chemo forces the body to go into survival mode and while many of you know this means no more hair shall grow and the stomach lining shall remove itself with dramatic force (as the body purifies itself of all toxins and focuses all minute energy gleaned from the small amounts of food that make it in and stay in on survival), it also means that that if we aint usin’ it, we losin’ it.  To spell it out for you: this body is unfit for babies and thus shall not have a menstrual cycle.  Depending on a woman’s age, my period would come back or be gone forever.  How I wish the Doctors had a better answer for me there!

I started chemo in June, had an IUD (ladies know what that is; guys, you can google that for your knowledge) placed around that time and had my last period in July.  As much as we all think PMS and menstruation sucks and is annoying–painful, inconvenient, requires us to buy embarrassing boxes of materials and unusual amounts of cookies while the Safeway guy tries to pretend he hasn’t noticed…–it is kind of wonderful to know that as a woman we hold the best of the power of progeny.  Like, if we really wanted, we could create an entire HUMAN BEING (and I don’t mean to discount men on this, but really, how hard is it convince a man–ok, ok, some men–to… donate… if a lady was really set on this?).  So, I was pretty bummed to say bye to Aunt Flo because, truth be told, I felt a little less than.  I felt like that whole mystery-of-life opportunity was taken away from me and my fate of its return was unknown.  That coupled with my hair loss made me feel like less of a woman (thank God for nail polish and lip gloss!).

Fast forward to October and the end of really-super-tough chemo.  I fall into a holding pattern as I watch my hair slowly start to re-grow, my mouth hurts less, my stomach realizes that I will no longer be torturing is.  And all that time I’m just waiting for one more pre-chemo thing to come back.  And it doesn’t.

Until April.  (Oh, how you all held your breath on that one!)

And it came back with a vengeance!  It lasted an entire month.  But that makes sense, right?  I mean my body went on pause for nine months, it had a lot to say after that.  I hated it and I loved it all at the same time for everything it meant.  I could maybe have kids!  But it’s very frightening to have a period for a month and (gross part) a very heavy one at that.  I didn’t think a human being could lose that much blood and survive (you wanted honesty… I warned you!).

Of course, since cancer has made me a hypochondriac in some ways, I called my OB/GYN and went right in.  I will take a moment right here to tell you that I do not accept anything less than getting seen and/or tested within two or three days anymore.  None of the “machine’s broken” or “we’re all booked.”  Oh, hell no; refer me out, fix the machine, make time but I am coming in to be seen by a Doctor!  Shit, I got a life to live and damned if anyone is going to tell me my priorities aren’t important.

I ended up with a wonderful gynecologist Dr. Rogers, who is very kind and sweet and understanding.  I had blood work done and everything was normal and then I had my uterus looked at (enough said).  And she determined that the uterine lining was indeed very thick and that this much bleeding was normal after so long, that I could let it run its course which should be one to two more weeks (a little less than 4 weeks total).  If it got worse I was to call right away.  The other option, which is normally used, is progesterone by birth control pills to chemically balance everything but that is not something a hormonally-based cancer can handle so I had to stay clear of that.

She also found something else.

Because when can I ever just get through one thing–cancer–and let the universe finally say, “ok, that’s it, we just wanted you to pass that ONE challenge test and you did it all and now we’re done.”

Each of my ovaries has a cyst.


So I had an ultrasound to look at the uterus, ovaries and cysts (which involved drinking 48 ounces of water, and feeling like I would pee the table, just so my bladder was full and they could see the cysts better; f-ing tests…).  Then I got the results.

This was the phone message from Dr. Rogers: “Everything looks normal!  Have a good day!”

WTF?  When are newly-occurring cysts on the ovaries of a breast cancer patient who wants to have kids NORMAL?

After a long game of phone tag, reassurance from my chemo nurse (still every three weeks until July) that cysts are normal, I finally spoke with my doctor.  “Your cysts are 2.4 cm and 2.6 cm which is a little bigger than usual.  Call us when you get your period next and we’ll be able to look at them and tell more from there.”

That’s not the same as “normal”!  Normal is a terrible word, Doctors.  Normal is a joke.  Cast it from your vocabulary.  Stupid normal.

Where are we at now?

I’m awaiting a call from my oncologist to hear if there is a potential correlation between Tamoxifen and ovarian cysts (lord knows I’d love to stop taking that crap BUT it’s potentially improving my chances of survival).

I’m awaiting the triumphant return of Aunt Flo for round 2 post-chemo (BUT cysts on the ovaries can mean irregular cycles and thus the calendar will be useless in determining when this will be).

And I still don’t know what’s going to happen with having kids.  I thought I had made great strides with my oncologist when he had told me new studies indicate that tamoxifen is effective for 7 years, instead of the previous 5 years, and I had nearly cried and said, “but I want kids!” to which he finally replied that yes, well, life does go on and that chemo was my best bet; tamoxifen was just an added benefit.  I thought we were finally edging away from drugs-drugs-must-take-drugs-through-all-your-best-reproductive-years and towards a happy have-a-baby-sooner scenario.  Yet here we go again.  All the ups-and-downs of this particular part of cancer are the hardest part.  I would do chemo over and over if I was just given the chance to have a child and be alive to see that child grow up.  But to have to choose…

Every Doctor says the obvious choice is my life, that that is most important.  Because if I’m not around I won’t get to see that child grow up.  But as a scientist, this absolutely baffles me.  That line of logic is completely backwards.  All living things–for the most part–are programmed to do three things: 1) eat; 2) seek shelter; 3) reproduce.  That’s how extinction is avoided!  To tell me that my survival is more important that producing a child goes against what I believe to be one of the reasons I exist.  I think they call that maternal instinct… though it may be an extreme analysis of it.  🙂

I think about this every day.  Most of the time I stay busy with work and wedding things or reading and watching tv and hanging with my boys.  But I always come back to this drive and desire to have a family; it’s what I should be focusing on at my age.  I’m just waiting to take the next steps and see what the medical community has to say and see what my body has to say and see what time has to say.  I’m trying to finish chemo (July) and take a much-needed vacation (September) and plan a wedding (October) and fuel a career (always).  But through it all, there’s always the baby question…

And the answer isn’t here yet.

Because if the answer is that I can’t have kids, well, then, I’m too stubborn to listen.  And the universe should know that by now 😉