To help bring Pink Ribbon Month aka Breast Cancer Awareness month to a close, the following is a guest post from my friend and fellow blogger, Nicole McLean. Nic was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer before the age of 40, making her a member of a small group of young women who can count themselves as breast cancer survivors. Please stop by her blog, My Fabulous Boobies, and show her love as she continues her journey of living life vivaciously after diagnoses.
Breast cancer, infertility and me.
by Nicole McLean
It is such an innocent, innocuous question. I have heard it more times than I can remember. But as a breast cancer survivor and a young one at that… it isa far more loaded question than most people can understand.
I’ve grown accustomed to the pity look that people give me when they learn that I’ve survived stage 3 breast cancer and that I was diagnosed in my 30’s. I know, it doesn’t normally happen to women who look like me. Except when it does. Nearly a quarter of a million young women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. (Young women are defined as women under 40) However, when people realize that I am childless and breast cancer treatment will likely keep me that way, the look of pity in their eyes deepens a bit.
What do you say to a young(ish) looking woman who appears healthy and doesn’t have kids? We naturally assume that people who want children, simply have children. The reality is that infertility is real and as in my case, is often pushed forward thanks to the same treatment that saves your life from cancer. How is that for a conundrum?
Just before my diagnosis, I wanted a baby. I wanted to get married, buy a house and have a family. I would have been late in doing these things — I was diagnosed in my late 30’s — but I was preparing myself mentally for the change from sassy single girl, to happy wife and mother. In the blink of an eye though, I was sitting in my oncologist’s office listening to the plan for my cancer treatment and learning that chemotherapy could push me into menopause. I was forced to consider (very quickly) if I wanted to freeze eggs for later use, put my ovaries to sleep or just accept that having a natural birth child wasn’t going to happen for me. I couldn’t ponder these deep life changing choices for a long time because my cancer was advanced and my team worried that it would be fast moving and get beyond their ability to cure if they did not move quickly with my treatment. I opted to have my ovaries put to sleep. That meant 2 years with no menstrual cycle. The medical team couldn’t dictate when my cycle returned, whether it would actually return and they had no idea what my fertility would be like after they were done. But their job was to cure my cancer, not figure out how to resolve my motherhood fantasy.
In many chats with the nursing staff and many other people at the cancer center, I heard stories about women who completed treatment and went on to have happy, healthy babies. I never thought that I would be that woman though. One of my friends who is also a breast cancer survivor, just had her first child about 7 months ago. (and she is a gorgeous baby too!) I know that it is possible. I know that it happens. I never believed it would happen for me. And it hasn’t.
Now that I’m in my early 40’s (and still unmarried, thanks for asking)… I have given up the idea of having a child. It is a difficult acceptance but not much of a choice for me. As much as I wanted a child before, now I think that I’m too old and the fear of recurrence could mean awful things for my child(ren).
Some days, I am quite fine with my life without kids. You can’t miss what you never had, right? Other days, it is far more challenging. Watching my friends and family members raise their children and share those precious moments on facebook, sometimes hurts a little. But each year that goes by makes it a bit easier to deal with. I love children but I am truly okay with not having any. The twists and turns of my life have shown me that, for me, a life without motherhood can be very fulfilling as well.