A Mother’s Day

Yesterday was my third Mother’s Day since my metastatic breast cancer diagnosis. I spent the day exactly as I wanted to, with my son.  For being such a commercial holiday, it really does stir up a tornado of emotions.  I am elated to be here with him, to be a mother. I know how fortunate that I am in that regard, for I, too, was told that I would never be able to have children.

In July of 2009, I received my first breast cancer diagnosis. Although it was early, stage 1b, my oncologist dutifully went over the effects treatment would have on my body.  The hardest pill to swallow was being told that I would likely never have a child, the chemotherapy putting me into early menopause from which it was unlikely I would ever rebound.  Having discussed with my doctor my prior attempts, and failures including a very early miscarriage in 2008, and desire to have a child, he stated that I could look into having my eggs harvested.  That decision would delay any efforts to combat the disease, as chemotherapy would have to wait until that was completed. Obviously terrified, I scheduled my bilateral mastectomy and chemotherapy start dates.

Stolen Dreams

I had always dreamed of being a mother. Never the girl to picture the big wedding and fantasy spouse, my priority always lay with my career, my house, and stability.  I took for granted that I would have a child someday, even researching into sperm donations should I end up walking that path alone.  In my early twenties, I remember dreaming of a blue eyed boy with curly blonde hair that I was mother to…it was so real, I can still see it in my mind.  To be told I would never have the chance to meet that boy was a life altering heartbreak.

Imagine my surprise when, the month following chemo’s end, I found myself with a regular menstrual cycle. For three months, I was like clockwork, leading me to think that not all hope might be lost.  Nevertheless, it was a quiet hope, one I did not even voice aloud to my husband at the time.  Trying as hard as I could not to think about it, I found myself crying, on Mother’s Day of 2010 to be exact, because my cycle did not come that month.  Tearfully, I admitted to my husband that it must have been a fluke getting it the last few months.  I finally admitted that my sorrow lay in not being able to have a child.

A few days later, still nothing. In the past, when I had been trying actively to get pregnant, every time I would take a pregnancy test, I would start my period.  So I figured, I had a test laying around…might as well take it to be sure.  Maybe it will bring it on and I can stop torturing myself, right?  Imagine my surprise when those two little lines showed right up.

I’m pregnant!

What do I do now? Have a mild meltdown, it turns out. My mood went from instant sadness to elation, to raw, primal protectiveness.  I called my OB/Gyn for an immediate appointment, after all, it had only been about three months since my last chemotherapy treatment.  What if there were lingering toxins in my body that hurt the baby?  What if, like the last one, I lost this baby too?  All of the common fears at becoming a parent ran through my head, but most of all I felt a sureness that this was my baby, my son.

He may not have curly hair, but he is definitely my blue-eyed wonder. I have said many times, that I believe that I had to go through what I did to be able to bring my son into this world.  For whatever reason, it was not happening prior to my early stage diagnosis.  I have also said numerous times, that I would do it over, all of it, if that were what it took to be his mother.  To bring this boy into this world has always been my purpose.  It is what I am most proud of in my life.  He is my life.

What I did not realize in speaking those words aloud, was that the universe was listening and apparently felt the need to call my bluff. Cue my metastatic diagnosis when my son was just three years old.  A mother’s life is a constant battle between wanting to protect your child from the world and wanting them to be capable of navigating that world when they are grown.  How do you do either of those things when you know you are dying, that you may be leaving them when they aren’t yet prepared, won’t understand, and likely will not recover from the loss?

Which is worse…not being able to have children at all? Or having them, but knowing you are going to cause them possibly the greatest sorrow of their lives?

Selfishly, I still would not change a thing about my life, because of my son. I do not want to ever leave him and I will do everything in my power to delay that moment as long as I can.  I hate, hate, the thought of him growing up without his mother.  Weddings, graduation, childbirth, all with a black cloud of my absence over them.  I cannot stand the thought of my baby in pain because of me.  I also know the only thing I can do about it is love him NOW.  I try, every day, to love him so much that he will never not feel it, even when I am gone.  I take pictures and video of us together so he will never forget what I look like or the sound of my voice.  I even write all of these words so that one day, he can go back and read them if he wants to.  These thoughts fill up my day, every day.

Now that another Mother’s Day has passed, I can only hope to be here for the next one. My heart goes out to all of the mothers with this horrific reality, struggling to hold onto their babies as much as time will allow.  In addition, my heart goes out equally to those who wish so badly for their own baby to hold onto.  Both situations, and everything in between, are so hard in this life.  Neither are to be made light of.

 

And Colin, if you are reading this, I love you more than all of the stars in the sky, my sweet boy.

A Case of the Blahs

It has been three years and eight months since I was told that my breast cancer had not only recurred, but had metastasized to my bones.  All this time spent with my mortality staring me in the face, precariously perched on the edge of a precipice.  Over three years of being grateful to wake up, yet waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I know I am one of the lucky ones.

With the median life expectancy for metastatic breast cancer at 36 months, I know how lucky I am to be here, to have woken up today.  I got up, showered, took my son to school, and headed into work.  My hips hurt and I have this electric shock-like pulse in the back of my skull, but I am here.  I shouldn’t complain.  Yet here I sit, in a sort of numb wariness, feeling just blahhh.

If I had my choice, I’d still be in bed, possibly crying, most likely just staring at the wall.  I don’t want to be that person, but sometimes I know my inner, secret self is that girl just trying to pretend this isn’t happening.  Today, I can already tell, will be one of those days where I just go through the motions of life, not really feeling as though I am living it.

This week has been a spiral of negativity.

Two days ago, I received my PET scan results from my oncologist.  While not horrible, it is his wording during our discussion that is haunting me.  Per my scan, I am about 90% stable, however three of my largest cancerous lesions on my bones are growing.  I was actually surprised by this as I’ve been feeling relatively good and active lately.  My oncologist does not want to change my current treatment regimen of Aromasin and Affinator because, as he said, my next option is chemo.  According to him, I have “blown through my aromatase inhibitors too quickly”.

This statement is like a shovel full of dirt from my grave.

For those who don’t know, my cancer is hormone (estrogen) receptor positive.  Because of this type of cancer, I have been on medications (called aromatase inhibitors) for the last almost four years to decrease the amount of estrogen my body produces in order to give the cancer less to feed on, limiting its ability to grow and spread.  I have already been on Tamoxifen, Ibrance, Letrozole, and Faslodex prior to the current two I am taking.  I have also had surgery to remove my ovaries to even further hinder estrogen production.

With cancer treatment, you can never go backwards.  Once I have used up my last anti-hormonal option, it’s all chemo, and progressively worse chemotherapy at that.  I know that I am fortunate to be here this long and to have been able to get here with the treatments I have had.  I have even been told (more times than I care to think about) that I have the “good” cancer because it is only in my bones.  Never say this to anyone, there is no good cancer.

In my mind, I cannot help but think about what this means for me, for my son.  In theory, not all chemotherapies force you make major life changes or have the visual evidence of cancer present.  Hopefully, I am still a way off from having to stop working, losing my hair, or being unable to play with my son in the backyard.  Hearing those words just forces me to see it all as I did, the fear of what is to come, the same way I saw it when I was first diagnosed.

I am scared.

To add to this already difficult week is the minutiae that comes with living.  An argument with a friend that you put a lot of faith in, now fractured.  The need to pick up groceries and clean the house.  Trying to figure out how to get my adorable dog to stop chewing up every damn thing she can get into her mouth. Bills. Pain. The damn ending of Avengers Infinity War (I have a 7 year old son, y’all).

The irritants and disappointments in life are mere pebbles when faced with the falling boulder of terminal cancer.   I am not thinking about fractured friendships or cleaning my house…I am thinking about my son, having to see his mother bald and sick.  I am scared of dying, but it is leaving my child that tears me apart.  Hearing those words from my doctor was a fresh reminder of what this life has in store for me…and my son.

So today may be hard, but I will go on.

Actually, every day may be hard, but it will not deter me from living my best life.  I will laugh when I catch my son singing “Jones BBQ and foot massage” (thank you internet, for that one), and I will get groceries because the thing about kids is you have to feed them.  My house may not be as clean as I want it, but no one is calling the health department anytime soon.  I watch Hoarders, I know I am still good.  As for a falling out with friends?  As any cancer patient will tell you, we lose friends all the time.  It is how we know that the ones still there are our real ones…and I have plenty of real friends.

As for my head…well, the doctor did say my recent brain MRI showed I had a normal brain, so I am sure I will get past this.  I have learned to live with fear.  My normal brain and I will focus on the 90% good news and whatever comes next, I will face that too.

I always do.