Breast cancer, infertility and me

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

1420010_10151776901295892_752483596_nCan I ask you a question? You never wanted any kids?

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.

Fear of the Big “C”

It’s almost the end of October, so naturally that means you have seen pink EVERYWHERE and it’s very likely you have seen plenty of “save-the-boobies”  signs. I know many are tired of them. I myself have been tired of seeing the arguments going around social media about whhhhyyy is breast cancer considered so important when there are other, deadlier cancers out there, or about how the money raised from all of the “pink” campaigns you see don’t really go towards breast cancer research and so on. October is exhausting. I have felt pretty neutral for plenty of years on the subject until this year, for this is the year I found a painful lump in my left breast and fear haunted me.

My left breast has given me trouble for the past 5 years. Whenever my cycle is near, it hurts like nobodies business. The vein in it pops out real bright and green, looking completely gross, and I’m a mess. When I was pregnant with Johanna one of my first signs was nipple pain, only in my left nipple, that felt like someone was taking a burning hot ice pick and stabbing me repeatedly. I was in tears often. Nothing seemed to sooth it. It wasn’t very surprising that before I gave birth that was the breast that had milk first, and the one that leaked the most. Thankfully, the pain subsided not long after I had to stop breastfeeding, so I was back to just having the pain around my cycle, which was more acceptable.

Then October hit. It was as if my body new it was breast cancer awareness month and it wanted to play a little game with me. My nipple was incredibly sore and then…the fear of all fear for me…there was a discharge…and then I felt a lump. My whole left breast was on fire, as if it had an isolate fever. I swallowed hard and kept pushing forward. However, I don’t play when it comes to my health, so I also immediately made a doctors appointment with a doctor that could see me that very day. He could barely examine me because even breathing on my left breast had me in pain. He took a look at it and decided it was an infection. Even though I had Johanna almost 3 years ago, somehow I had mastitis:

Definition (via the mayo clinic)

Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue that results in breast pain, swelling, warmth and redness of the breast. If you have mastitis, you might also experience fever and chills. Mastitis most commonly affects women who are breast-feeding (lactation mastitis), although sometimes this condition can occur in women who aren’t breast-feeding.

He put in some prescriptions for me, one to help with the pain, the other to clear the infection, and then sent me home. Oh, but not before asking me to go to some website to rate him (rolls eyes). Needless to say I did NOT make a follow-up appointment with him. Oh, but I will rate him. It will be a horrible rating for even asking me to rate him!

Anyway, I got my prescriptions filled and continued to walk around in pain. I was in so much pain that I had a band aid over my nipple just so my bra would stop rubbing against it. The pain medicine did work but it also made me incredibly drowsy, which is no bueno. Trying to explain to Johanna why she couldn’t body slam mommy like she was used to doing wasn’t successful. She just didn’t get it, even with me yelping in pain.

Fast forward 2 weeks. My nipple no longer has a discharge, but it is still quite painful. Fear tried to grip me, but nope, nope, wasn’t falling for it. I remained prayerful. Few people in my life knew about this simply because I didn’t want to tell anyone I thought would just offer me pity, and I wanted to make sure that those who knew were prayer warriors and could help get me through this, no matter what it turned out to be. So with the pain still there, I made an appointment with a new doctor. This one actually sent me to be tested, thank God, but she also gave me stronger antibiotics. I had the test done that very same day.

So began the waiting game. And I waited. And waited. And prayed the whole time. I just thanked God for being God and for me knowing him. That’s all I could do. Monday I got a letter in the mail from the diagnostic center. It stated that my results were normal – benign. Relief washed over me. Thank you Jesus! It so could’ve gone the other way! I am very happy to say that I no longer have the nipple pain and there isn’t any discharge or anything. He (God) did that!

So, what is my point? My point is that I know people are weary of the pink this month, but just bear with it. You never know your neighbors struggle. You never know when it will be YOU. Also, if something is off with your body, go get it checked out. It could be very minor, or very serious, but you won’t know until you go to the doctors. Take care of you!