When I arrived home from my colonoscopy, my fiancé was anxiously waiting for me. He opened the door and, without saying a word, I hugged him hard and began crying.
My mom broke the news. After being told for months that the symptoms I had been experiencing were merely due to pregnancy related hemorrhoids (we had an 8-month-old baby), the doctors had changed their tune.
The doctor who had performed the colonoscopy had shown my mother and I pictures of the mass he’d seen in my rectum, and gone so far as to discuss where to get treated.
There was little doubt I had cancer.
My mom offered to take our son for the night. It was my fiance’s birthday, and we’d planned to go out. We decided to still go out, at the least so as not to spiral sitting in our house, worrying. Dinner was still a bit somber, as you can imagine.
As much as I wanted to sit in my sorrows the next day, I knew I had to get to work. In one day, life had done a 180.
Life had been on fast forward for a while. Things that I had dreamed of for so long had come and gone so quickly. We’d dated for six months before finding out we were pregnant. Then we got engaged, I became a new mother, and now, eight months later — colorectal cancer.
We’d planned a special wedding in Switzerland. But my diagnosis changed everything. My insurance situation was not great. It covered the colonoscopy and the visit with my new primary care doctor, but I couldn’t go to the cancer center I wanted, Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York City, because it was out of state for me.
This meant my next hurdle was not finding a doctor, but someone to marry my fiance and I as soon as possible, so I could be covered under his health insurance policy, since it was significantly better than mine. This would allow me to go to MSKCC. Meanwhile my fiancé, a teacher, had to figure out how to get a family health insurance plan on short notice. (He managed, but the cost was literally half our rent.)
Our heads were spinning.
Not the Wedding of Our Dreams
It took us about a week and a half to find someone to marry us. Many officiants declined or were already booked. Since we weren’t members of any churches around our area it became very hard to find someone to agree. With the pressure on, my mother’s pastor finally agreed to marry us.
It was a relief. But it wasn’t the wedding of our dreams. We went from planning to elope to Switzerland to getting married in a quiet church with my best friend and my fiancé’s aunt as the witnesses.
I remember being hunched over going down the stairs, I remember walking to the car and feeling so ill. I was not wearing a beautiful white dress. I did not feel like a bride. I hated how the day was happening. In sickness and in health never felt so real.
After saying “I do” the games began.
First Step: Retrieving Eggs
First on the agenda, freezing embryos. I was still only 28. I wanted more children. But any treatment I might have could impair my fertility.
This entailed many weeks of shots and daily early appointments for routine bloodwork and ultrasounds. Even though this was a hard process, I tried to focus on how far reproductive science has come. Seeing how many eggs were present in the ultrasounds and measuring their diameter at every appointment made me feel grateful and appreciative.
Growing eggs was painful. My ovaries had many eggs, and they were close to my anus, as was my tumor. At home, I was in extreme amounts of pain. Sometimes I lay in bed curled up in a ball in extreme amounts of pain in my abdomen and tailbone area. I couldn’t wait for this process to be done.
The process of the egg harvesting extraction wasn’t too bad. With anesthesia, it took about 15 minutes or so to extract the eggs. Once I regained consciousness, I had very light cramping, but felt well enough to go out to lunch with my husband to celebrate.
We found out that we had four viable embryos — two boys and two girls. Once receiving this call, I had so many questions like, how many can be implanted at once? How much does a surrogate usually cost? When would I go about looking for one? Just so many questions that were all way too early to be asking. But it was exciting and gave me a moment to appreciate my body, especially since I was hating it at the time.
I hated how much weight I had lost. I hated seeing myself naked (getting in the shower made me cringe). I hated how I was walking hunched over because of how much pain I was in daily. This news finally gave me something to love about myself.
It’s easy to be mad at the world for what happens to you in life. It’s easy to put blame elsewhere and create an anger towards life, but what I found during this process is how important it is to keep a healthy mindset no matter how hard it is. I quickly learned that when my physical health was declining, I needed my mindset to jump into high gear and take over.
I began to research self-care tools and tell myself reasons why I needed to be on this earth. Every day, I said to myself, “I know this sucks, but you got this. There’s something bigger for you out there. Don’t give up.”
I saw the light at the end of the tunnel from the get-go. I wasn’t sure what I saw in that light, but I knew in the end that I needed to continue being in this world, I have a lot more to give, and a lot more to learn. So however, this ended, I know I can still rise above.
I was scared beyond description. There were times I wanted to break down and cry or scream — and I did. I believe in feeling your feelings to the fullest. They deserve your time. But I made sure to not let them take up too much of my time.
Now, with the embryos safely stored away, I could focus on treatment.