Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Fertile Future???

As kids, we have everything planned out, don't we? I mean, playing MASH foretold so many of my potential scenarios. The number of times I ended up in a Mansion with a Ferrari, married to Brad Pitt and having three kids, is unbelievable. (For those of you who don't know, MASH is a game that primarily girls play that determines what kind of house you'll live in, who you'll marry, how many children you'll have and what kind of car you'll drive.). So far, I live in a two bedroom condo, drive a Ford, have never met Brad Pitt and am childless, hmmmm, not exactly what I had planned. As I got older, I learned that out of all of the MASH categories, the only one I could really control was the number of children I was going to have and now that seems to be out of my hands as well.

I’ve dreamed of having kids for as long as I can remember. I was the youngest of fifteen grandchildren on my mom’s side and so I have always been closer in age to my cousin’s kids. I considered myself very lucky in that respect because I loved being surrounded by kids all the time.

Before I was diagnosed, I was a little baby crazy. Once Keith and I were confident in our jobs and in our incomes, I wanted to start trying to get pregnant. At 26 years old, I felt like I was ready to be a mom. My biological clock wasn’t only ticking but it was screaming at me and for the first time in my life, I felt like I could care for another human being other than myself.

Five days after my diagnosis, I sat in a hospital room with my mom, waiting for my oncology surgeon to tell me about surgery, recovery, and a little about chemo. I asked if chemo would affect my fertility, expecting a swift ‘it might’ and instead I was told right then and there that after chemo was over, I would have a 40% chance of having children. I can’t even express to you the amount of tears that fell from my eyes with those odds. 40%? You’re telling me that in order to kill the cancer, I might have to potentially give up being a mother; the one thing that I have been certain of my entire life?

So, I managed to file that 40% in the back of my mind, along with many other cancer variables and effects as surgery approached. And like I have said before, as the cyclophosphamide was being pumped into my veins during each treatment, Keith and I would have a bit of a pep-talk with it, trying to convince it that we were on the same side and if it could focus on the cancer cells and spare hurting my ovaries, we would be so grateful. I also talked to my ovaries, hoping that my talk would prepare them for the chemical warfare that they were about to go under.

Now that treatment is almost a year behind me, that 40% has crept back into the front of my mind. Although I am more than four years away from finishing my Tamoxifen, I have started thinking about having children again. Keith and I have already decided that fertility treatments are not for us. With all of the hormones, injections, procedures, etc. and having already had a hormone based cancer, we are not prepared to put my body through that. And if one more person says ‘there’s always adoption’ like they think they are providing an option that I had never thought of before or like it’s the same thing as carrying a child for nine months, I may scream.

This is about choice. I have some friends who never wanted children and then when they have had that option taken away from them, they were devastated because it is no longer their choice – it is now cancer’s choice. I have had the option to be a mom in my twenties taken away from me and although 32 isn't old to start a family, it wasn't part of the plan, and it wasn't my choice.

I have started thinking about what it would be like not to have children. I have always pictured myself with children because that’s the way it was supposed to be but now that I’ll have to wait until I’m 32 to start trying, I don’t know how I feel. I walk through the grocery store and hear children wailing because they can’t have jujubes or because they’d rather be outside and I find myself thinking about how grateful I am that once I turn the corner, leave the department or go home, I am child-free (and screaming-free). I've never felt like that before. Usually what goes through my mind is, ‘My child would never act like that’ (spoken like a true non-parent, eh?’). I have started to wonder if I am becoming less interested in having children or if I am just using a coping mechanism in case cancer has taken that choice away from me. I just keep coming back to Christmas morning, thinking about waking up without children asking if they can open their stockings at 6am because they can’t possibly sleep another wink, so excited that Rudolph ate part of the carrots that were left with Santa’s milk and cookies, ripping and tearing through presents and in an instant, I become certain about having children again. I have started to wonder what it would be like without children because that may be my reality and I am bracing myself for what might happen. And my biological clock has not only stopped screaming at me, but it’s more like a faint tick anymore. Am I just trying to come to terms with being a childless woman by pretending like it’s not what I want anyway?

Like I have said so many times, cancer doesn’t end when treatment does and the effects of cancer will forever be with me, it’s just a matter of if cancer left me with a fertile future.

*Fertile Future is an incredible organization for cancer patients how have not yet gone through treatment and need financial aid to be able to afford fertility treatments. For anyone who is interested, here is a link

Monday, August 20, 2012

I Am Enough

Ok, write something.... anything! Tell them about your trip to Boston. No, no, this is a cancer blog, not a traveling blog. Right! Ok, tell them how you feel like you are treating this blog as a forum to vent, a place to complain about cancer and that was never your intention. And add the part where you feel like you don't know how to do this whole cancer survivor thing - let them know that you're not good at this, that you don't know your role as a person anymore. Wait! No! No one is supposed to ever find out when you're not good at something, you spend your whole life trying to be great at everything, you can figure out this cancer thing, maybe it'll just take time. Yeah, time, that's what 'they' all say, it will get better in time...

Yep, that's what I've been doing for the past four weeks, thinking about where I stand in this whole cancer world. I am feeling less defined by it but I still can't figure out what to do now. And every time I think about what to write, the script from the first paragraph plays through my head. The thought of admitting that I am not great at something, especially on a public forum, terrifies me but it is also the reason that I haven't written anything in over four weeks. I feel like I can't write about anything else until I write about the truth.

I've been asked by a number of people, 'why haven't you been writing your blog?' and I guess part of me feels like a broken record and I am trying to find a way that I can convey my feelings without sounding like Debbie Downer.

Back in March, I was talking to one of my girlfriends and she said 'I feel like I'm a perfectionist who can never achieve perfection.' That has stayed with me and I think about it quite often. I have always felt this way about myself but have never been able to but it into words. I am slowly realizing that no matter how many people tell me 'you're the best (insert blank here) I've ever met', or 'I've never seen someone (insert blank here) as quickly as you have', I am never going to feel like I'm enough. I think the same can be said about being a cancer survivor, I want to be the best cancer survivor there is and yet, I don't even know what the hell that means.

I'm at this weird point in my life where I feel like I understand 'life' a little more than the average 28 (just turned 28 on Tuesday) year old and yet even though I know how precious life is and how important every day can be, I continue to live my life the way I used to; a boarderline workaholic, constantly worried about money, insecure, obsessed with weight, etc. I have recently found out that I am not the only one who puts pressure on myself to be a 'good' cancer survivor.

I recently watched a TED Talk that my good friend Terri Wingham (author of A Fresh Chapter) told me about. The speaker's name is Brené Brown and she discusses the correlation between being whole hearted and vulnerability. Now I'm going to warn you, this might get a little deep...

Brené discusses some of her research and the way the whole-hearted live. People who were considered to be whole-hearted saw vulnerability as a necessity - they are the type of people who are willing to say 'I love you' first, they have the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees, the willingness to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out, etc. To be honest, this scares the sh!t out of me. For example, Keith was the first to say 'I love you' - I mean, what would I have done if he didn't say it back?... Brené goes on to say vulnerability is the opposite of controlling and predicting and that is why I am not a vulnerable person - that is why cancer and I didn't get along so well, because it wasn't part of the plan, it wasn't predictable or controllable...

She says that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our sense of worthiness... but it seems to be the birth place of joy, creativity, of belonging and love... and that we can't selectively numb portions of vulnerability so when we numb the shame, the fear, and the pain that's associated with vulnerability, we also numb joy, the creativity, the belonging, the happiness and love. That makes so much sense to me. I am trying to selectively numb vulnerability but how much joy and happiness am I numbing at the same time? By not putting myself out there, how many opportunities are flying by me simply because I'm afraid?

People who were whole hearted and who found vulnerability to be a necessity have a sense of worthiness and have a strong sense of love and belonging and therefore believe they are worth love and belonging. They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were - you have to absolutely do that for connection.

At the very end of the talk, there is a slide from Brené's powerpoint presentation that shows a woman with the words 'I am enough' written across her chest. I will forever remember that image. I am enough. I am enough. I am enough. I don't always believe it but saying it to myself reminds me that I don't have to be a rocket scientist or a heart surgeon or find the cure for cancer to be enough or to be worthy of love.

I guess the reason for sharing all of this is to say that what I am slowly learning is that there is no right way to do this whole cancer thing. If I spend 20 days locked in my room, crying, maybe that's the right thing for me at the time. If I take five weeks off from writing and focus on relaxing at a cottage or take a road trip with my mom, maybe I need that to graduate to the next step in survivorship. If I choose to laugh my way through the hard times, maybe that's the right way (for me) to deal with cancer. I can't keep punishing myself for doing or not doing things a certain way because of what I think is the 'right' way of doing them.

Have I totally lost you yet?

Like I had mentioned at the start of this blog, I took a trip to Boston at the end of July and on the day before we left the city, I saw a billboard as I was crossing the street and I had to take a picture. (I tried to upload the picture but it said it was too big and I have no idea how to change the size). Anyway, it said 'Do More of What Makes You Happy' and it had a cupcake and cross bones at the bottom. Do more of what makes you happy - why didn't I think of that? Why am I doing things to make it through the year, why not do things to fill the year?

About two weeks ago, I heard the following expression three time in one day 'It's not about the destination, it's about the journey' and it's so true. What if I'm diagnosed with terminal cancer next year, am I going to be happy with how I lived my life this year? Will I be able to reflect on 2012 and think 'I am enough'?