I walked beside my husband, Gary, with late stage prostate cancer for several years longer than the professionals originally projected. Ten burbling, courage-fi…
When October started, I began to see posts from friends on Facebook about something that for many years people didn’t talk openly about. October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. I did not realize how many friends not only suffered from infertility, but had lost babies to miscarriage or stillbirth. As I saw my brave friends tell their stories about the babies that they never got to hold or the babies that watch over them in heaven, my heart was heavy with sorrow for their loss. I never had a miscarriage, so I cannot fathom the loss. In no way am I comparing my situation to the loss of a pregnancy, but I did lose the ability to ever have another child, which in and of itself is a loss of sorts.
My baby girl was only 3 ½ months old when I was diagnosed with mesothelioma at age 36. My husband and I had waited until we were financially ready to have a baby, and originally planned on having 2 or maybe 3. We certainly didn’t plan on an only child, but as we all know, cancer will thwart the best laid plans. Upon my diagnosis, fertility preservation was never discussed, nor were options of freezing eggs for possible future pregnancies. Basically I was told that if I were to get pregnant, it would most likely result in not only me dying, but the baby would die as well. When I learned that, I put the thought of ever having another baby out of my mind because that was not a risk I was willing to take.
There is a profound sense of loss that accompanies a cancer diagnosis. Loss of the future you had thought you would have, loss of your health, your hair, your looks. Not to mention loss of career and the ability to ever have children. It was a lot to wrap my head around. I spent that first year of diagnosis recovering from surgery, undergoing chemo and radiation, all while trying to raise my baby girl. I missed her entire 6th month of life, and much of the rest of her first year was a blur. The memories I do have are from photos that were taken throughout that time in our lives.
As I began to heal from the onslaught of treatments, I was thankful to only have one child, as I could not imagine trying to take care of more!
As Lily got older, she began to ask, as children do, for a brother or sister. I told her that was not possible and in typical child innocence, she said “Yes we could have another one! Just go to the store and get one!!” I wasn’t quite ready for the ‘where do babies come from’ talk, but had to explain to her that is not how things work! As Lily got older, I often thought of what it would be like to have more kids, but don’t dwell on it too much.
Adoption is not an option either because the status of the cancer is considered incurable and frankly at 49 now, I can’t imagine having a small child around. I don’t have the stamina or energy to devote to more than one, so I am very thankful for the child I do have.
Infertility and fertility preservation is something that every young cancer patient should discuss with a medical team upon diagnosis. I know a few mesothelioma patients who have gone on to have babies after and thankfully are doing well. I know with many young adults being diagnosed, this is a growing concern that should be addressed and options explored for what happens after treatment is over. Young adults are a growing population in the cancer community, so this problem is not going away. There are options available and talking about it early is vital.
To all my friends who have suffered the loss of a baby, my heart goes out to you. Your strength and bravery to share your stories has obviously struck a chord with me. I’ve learned that loss comes in many forms, and sometimes the physical loss is not the only one. I’ve made peace with the fact that the dream my husband and I had of having more kids will not happen, and I’m ok with that, but I still hold a place in my heart for what might have been. In the meantime, I will just spoil my friends’ babies rotten and be thankful for all I do have. After all, I’m alive to raise my daughter, and that is more than we ever expected.
This article originally appeared in Artsy Editorial on January 18, 2018. In a Baltimore basement, behind foot-thick walls, there is a room, and in that room the…
| Wife | Courageous Mother | Mesothelioma Survivor | Starbucks addict | Lungleavin Day | Blogger | Mesothelioma Research Funding Advocate | Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma |
Heather was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma in 2005 at the age of 36. She received her diagnosis just after the birth of her first child, Lily.
In February 2006, she underwent extensive thoracic surgery, known as extrapleural pneumonectomy, with adjuvant intra-operative heated chemotherapy under the care of thoracic surgeon Dr. David J. Sugarbaker at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. She was declared cancer-free later that year.
Recovery from this disease is clinically unique because malignant mesothelioma is a rare, aggressive cancer typically diagnosed in older patients that, even with treatment, has a 6 to 9 month median survival rate. Mesothelioma, commonly caused by exposure to asbestos, typically only manifests after a 25-30-year latency period following exposure.
Today Heather raises funds to benefit two nonprofits that are dedicated to mesothelioma research and asbestos education. The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation and The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization.
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