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.
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.
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.