Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Natural Ambition

Having cancer in your twenties presents issues that you may otherwise not face if diagnosed in your fifties or sixties. Issues include; worrying about student loans, being isolated from your peers, the loss of your womanhood in your prime (in my case, part of it was surgically removed) and the ever-looming (in)fertility.

I had six rounds of chemo and Tamoxifen has put me in a medically induced menopause. Ah, menopause at 27, 28, and now as of last Wednesday, 29. Yep, sure am living the dream these days. I still get my period and (because they just don't have the research about young women on Tamoxifen) they aren't exactly sure if that is a good thing or not - I've been told two opposing viewpoints by two different oncologists. At the start of each period, I have a sense of relief because for another month, I have managed to avoid permanent menopause at 29 years old.

With social media, I am bombarded with pictures of babies. When I see friends who post pictures of their 'positive pee stick' (yes people do that), or their growing bellies or their newborns, 1 year olds or the first day of school pictures, I feel lost.

Not one part of me is angry with friends or frustrated with them, shit if I had a baby, I'd be plastering those pictures on Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, can you post pictures on LinkedIn?,;you get my drift. But, it seems that if my double mastectomied chest wasn't reminder enough that I may never have children, Facebook and Instagram are right there to reinforce it.
Although I know that being pregnant would not be the safest thing right now, I think about it all the time. In an alternate universe where I didn't have cancer, I would be pregnant with my second baby and in love with my first. But we don't live in an alternate universe and here's my reality; last month, after I was about four weeks post-op, I missed my period. That is my first missed period since chemo ended. On about day three of being late, the thought crossed my mind that I may be pregnant. I have an IUD in place but weirder things have happened. I'm not going to lie to you, day three to five was a bit of a mind-fuck (excuse the language but I have devoted a solid three minutes to coming up with a less abrasive, equally descriptive word to describe my feelings and I couldn't). I kept thinking 'I can't be pregnant, I'm on Tamoxifen, I have an IUD, I only have a 40% chance, there's no way' and the other part of me was cheering, 'I could be PREGNANT.'

On day six, I took a pregnancy test and although I knew better, I had hope (for some twisted, delusional reason). I stared at that test waiting for the second line to appear to signify pregnancy and although the test said results would appear in 90 seconds, I gave that second line at least seven minutes to appear. The second line never showed up but on day seven, my period did. It was late (I'm assuming from the anesthesia and myriad of prescription drugs that I was on after my second mastectomy only weeks before). I know that I can't get pregnant right now (not 'can't' like it's impossible but 'can't' like I'm still in treatment [Tamoxifen]) but that second line would have meant that pregnancy was possible.

I know women who have had babies after chemo, I have even met said babies. I know this isn't impossible and although I am not one for statistics, I had a less than 1% chance of getting breast cancer at 26 so a 40% chance of getting pregnant seems pretty high with my track record. So many friends are enjoying the happiness of parenthood while I'm waiting for my next surgery; being the one who has loved kids since I was six years old and being surrounded by so many people who seem to get pregnant by what seems to be just laughing too hard is heartbreaking.

So in true Katie fashion, in heartbreaking times, I like to torture myself with music that really drives the point home. You know when you hear a song and it’s like it was written for you? Look at these lyrics:
It felt like a given, something a woman’s born to do
A natural ambition to see a reflection of me and you
I'd feel so guilty, if that was a gift I couldn’t give
Could you be happy if life wasn’t how we pictured it?
And sometimes I just want to wait it out to prove everybody wrong
And I need your help to move on ‘cause you know it’s so hard, so hard.

Yep, lyrically, that about sums it up!

The thing about cancer is that it affects so many lives, regardless of whose body it’s harbouring. Keith has had so many choices made for him without ever being asked (and without ever complaining) but how do I not feel guilty for making him wait, for not knowing if I can give him the gift of life?

A few months ago, Keith and I were lying in bed and I asked him if he could picture his life without kids. The conversation went like this:
Katie ‘If I can’t give you children, will you still be happy?’
In true Keith fashion he said ‘It’s not a matter of you giving me children, we can either have children or we can’t.'

Keith and I have stuck with the idea that ‘if it’s meant to be then it’s meant to be'. I will be done Tamoxifen when I'm 32 and although that is not old when it comes to reproduction, chemo accelerates the aging of your ovaries and they could be 'as old as' 44 when I'm only 32.
On March 16th, 2011, my oncology surgeon told me that chemo would significantly lower my chances of having a baby so much that it was more likely that I wouldn't have children. I cried more that day than the five days prior when I found out I had aggressive stage two breast cancer.

I've talked with a few girlfriends about the way we used to see the world. When we were in high school we imagined graduating from university, getting a good job, marrying our prince charming, having a few kids and living the dream. Life was easy, dreams were attainable, the future was definite. Now, some of us have dealt with loss and pain and hurdles that have not only tripped us but have made it hard to get back up. I know that cancer has taught me lessons about life that many adults twice my age still haven't learned but I beg the greater powers at be not to teach me the lesson of being a childless woman.

And sometimes I just want to wait it out to prove everybody wrong
And I need your help to move on ‘cause you know it’s so hard, so hard.