I’ve had a lot of time on my hands in the last four weeks, hiding in my childhood room from my retired parents (who ask 5.MILLION.QUESTIONS the minute my eyes open each morning) to reflect on my life. It seems mine has been filled with a series of “OOOPS, just kidding, let me take that back” moments.
When I was 16, and my oncologist said, “You have Hodgkin’s, your next six months are going to be hell, BUT, afterwards, you’ll be cured…” YEA, just kidding.
I’ve had not one, but TWO long-term boyfriends in the last 10 years swear to me, “Mary, you’re the love of my life. I want to marry you, start a family with you and make you mine forever.” YEA, just kidding. They both changed their minds when push came to shove.
My OBGYN in May told me, “Great news! Your biopsy showed you don’t have breast cancer, but you do have atypical cells, you should see a breast specialist.” YEA, just kidding… you actually DO have breast cancer, after all.
The medium, who pointed to my left breast when I was in my late 20s and said, “There’s a lump there, BUT, it’s going to be nothing. It’s good you know now, so you’re prepared when this actually comes to fruition.” YEA, just kidding. It’s totally not nothing. I’m still eternally grateful for the heads up.
That same medium also asked me then, “Are you afraid you’re not going to have kids?” Surprised, I told her it was definitely something that had crossed my mind, given the chemo I had at 16 (freezing my eggs was a conversation we had with my oncologist back then, he said it wasn’t necessary). The medium’s exact words: “You’re SOOO gonna have kids.” YEA, she might have been KIDding. Time will tell…
She also said I’d have my first child at age 34 (and would marry at 32). I’m 33. Just KIDding, Mary.
Surprisingly, it’s that last one that seems to sting the most… here’s why.
My Oncotype DX test gave me a score of 7. LUCKY 7. A number on the “low low” end of the risk of cancer recurrence scale. I met with two five-star oncologists this week. Both said, “Mary, I do not recommend chemotherapy, just the hormone therapy Tamoxifen, everyday, for at least five years, maybe 10 years.”
This is GREAT news, all things considered… I walked into both offices prepared for them to say, “JUST KIDDING… despite what research says, your history really demands another round of chemo.” PHEW. That didn’t happen.
After five years, the risk that my cancer will recur in a pivotal organ (brain, bone, etc.) is only 5%. If I take Tamoxifen for more than five years, that risk drops even lower. If I end up falling into that 5%, or if I don’t take Tamoxifen at all and the cancer comes back, it then becomes stage 4 metastatic breast cancer — incurable.
So… how does Tamoxifen work?
My tumor was 80% estrogen receptor positive, which means it needs a substantial amount of estrogen in order to grow. Invasive cancer means that microscopic cells from my original tumor have most likely moved through my blood stream and are now floating around my body. So, I need to choose a treatment that blocks any estrogen from binding to those microscopic cells so they can’t grow into something larger and life-threatening. Tamoxifen binds to cancer cells and blocks the entry of estrogen, starving the cells, and eventually killing them.
Every bit of great news has a drawback… taking Tamoxifen means I cannot get pregnant during the next five years, or longer if I continue to take it for 10 years.
Women have a biological clock that dictates their most fertile years. I’m nearing the end of mine. After 35, pregnancy is considered higher risk. Women typically enter menopause around 50, some enter earlier in their mid-40s. I’ve had chemotherapy already, so I’m told that I could enter menopause even earlier (chemo ages your reproductive system). So, if I want to attempt to have biological kids later in life, I must harvest my “healthy” eggs now, freeze them, and get pregnant through in vitro fertilization when I’m no longer taking Tamoxifen, at least five years from now.
Are you KIDding? Nope, not KIDding.
I’ve never, EVER, felt that maternal urge people say women get in their 30s, where they see a child, or a newborn baby, and their ovaries start sobbing…
As I’ve moved from my 20s to my 30s, and watched my friends get married and start families, I’ve watched how tough life gets. Some struggle to get pregnant, others struggle with tough pregnancies, or the difficulties of raising one child, let alone multiple children under the ages of 4 and 5. I’ve seen the stress that raising children can put on a marriage, and finances. To be honest, those things alone have been enough birth control for me.
I love children, I would lay down in traffic for my own nieces and nephews, but I LOVE to give them back to their parents even more. I also love taking naps and day drinking. And buying expensive shoes. And going out to fancy dinners. And spontaneous nights out where I dance all night, come home at 3 a.m., sleep in and need help piecing together the awesomeness of the night before over a bacon egg and cheese sandwich. You know you love that too.
I’ve always said, I’m never going to be the girl who plans to have a baby. I am 100% aware of the supreme sacrifice that bringing children into this cruel world involves. I’m not too proud to say, I’m too selfish for children right now. I made up my mind years ago that if God wants me to have a child, SHE’LL give me one (or two demon twin boys who never sleep, and aren’t that cute… you and I know too well God’s sick sense of humor).
I guess you really don’t know what you have until it might be gone. I’m a much happier person when I have control over my choices. How dare the universe rob me of my choice on how and when to become a mother.
To match the ongoing irony of my life, the girl who never wanted to plan for motherhood has now been handed a sign from the universe to get cracking on a planned parenthood (pun intended). And a small part of me is cringing and crying, both for my past, and my future… mostly my future.
What if I meet a man who loves me, but really wants kids? Is he going to stay with me, knowing that might be really complicated, or impossible?
What if all of a sudden my maternal instinct kicks in and I want kids NOW, but need to wait, or worse, can’t conceive or carry a child in five years?
What if I spend all this money to harvest and preserve my eggs and never get married, or never get the urge to have a child, and it was all for nothing?
What if all goes well, I marry a wonderful man, we have beautiful children, and then the universe tells me, “just kidding… despite your super low risk, your cancer is back, and now, it’s incurable?”
When do I wake up and realize, just kidding, all of this was just a dream, Mary?
It’s not a dream.
This all really happened.
This all really IS happening.
And you know what? IT COULD STILL BE WORSE. Anyone going through tough times has a right to bitch, moan and have their pity party, for a moment… then, it’s time to be grateful.
I’ve got time on my side.
I’ve got SCIENCE on my side.
I’ve got a brain full of wisdom and intuition.
I’ve got the universe on my side.
Life is always going to be full of “what ifs” and “just kiddings.” That’s what makes it all so interesting. WHAT IF one day, five or more years from now, I look back and say, what was I so worried about?
Maybe one day I’ll tell my grandkids this story, and keep it nice and suspenseful like a good story is, and I can let them know, “Just kidding kiddos… it all worked out just fine.”
Whatever is supposed to be, will be.