INFERTILITY, CANCER AND I WALK INTO A BAR.
Ah, babies. I’ve always loved kids and wanted them for literally as long as I can remember. But, our journey to have a baby was filled with years of infertility and cancer.
A very long and winding road with many ups and downs, highs and lows. It seems like a lifetime ago that I went through it but it’s always with me. Most of the time I’m completely at peace with the outcome, but the times I’m not, the grief, pain and sadness can feel a bit overwhelming.
Chapter 1 – Sugar and spice and everything nice
not not trying to have a baby (at first)
Let me back up a bit. I got married 11 years ago to (seriously) the love of my life. We were in no rush to have a baby and wanted to enjoy just being married for a couple of years. But we knew we definitely wanted to have kids.
We kind of played the game of not trying to have a baby but not not trying to have a baby. I was certain that I’d be able to get pregnant easily, so I wasn’t really worried at all.
About two years into being married, I thought that I might need to take our family planning a little more seriously since what I had been doing wasn’t working.
So, I started to track when I was ovulating, eat healthier and cleaner, work out more, dangled my legs in the air, bought boxers for Jay that could “breathe”. You know. The usual stuff.
Each month I would convince myself that this was going to be the month. I just knew it!
ovulation sticks and pregnancy tests
But all that happened was it was starting to feel like groundhog month. Same old same old. As soon as an inkling of time had passed since I’d ovulated and I could possibly be pregnant, I would run to take a pregnancy test.
Those two minutes of waiting on this magical stick to FINALLY give me two lines, (or smiley face, or stork or whatever it was to let me know that I was indeed pregnant) never got easier. They were filled with me envisioning our soon to be family, my pregnant belly that people would rub, or the flutter of a baby’s kick inside. This was it!
nothing happening on the baby front
But, just like the previous months, one line would always appear which I knew meant a BIG FAT NO. That one line might as well have been a lit-up marquee with the words YOU AREN’T PREGNANT AGAIN! blinking at me repeatedly because that’s what it started to feel like.
I started to hate those damn pregnancy tests. To this day, I avoid that aisle in any drugstore like the plague.
I began to hate all things pregnancy. Ovulation sticks. Pregnant tests. Pregnancy Magazines. Hearing people b*tch about their kids. Listening to everybody stress about what preschool their child would go to. I started to feel that my body was failing me.
Why in the world was every single one of my friends getting pregnant by just looking at their husband and I’m over here like the Sahara desert with tumbleweed rolling around down there? Nothing. Was. Happening.
We finally knew it was time to get some help, and not from a box of sticks. We started with my OBGYN. She took tons of blood work, ran what seemed like a million tests, and started me on clomid. I had dye shot through my fallopian tubes to make sure they weren’t blocked. Check, check and check.
Surely all of this will help me, right? No dice. Only a referral to see a fertility doctor here in Charleston.
Chapter 2 – Um, what in the ef did you say?
Sitting in my fertility doctor’s office the first time. I was thinking to myself, how have I landed in here? Aren’t we all supposed to get married, have babies and live happily ever after? I mean, that’s what all the fairytales and books we read growing up say.
They ran some tests on Jay. All clear on that end. He had more than enough “men” to get the job done, lol!). Onto me. Let the fun begin.
An ultrasound in the office revealed that I had a fibroid blocking 90% of my uterus. In the words of my doctor, think about the location of my fibroid like real estate. It’s all about location location location and that thing is Manhattan (his exact words). Nothing was getting past it at all.
He felt confident that after they removed it, I would be able to go along my merry little way and get pregnant. Phew! I know that good things come to those who wait, so one little setback was more than okay. We’ve got this.
This truly was the start of it all. It was a long week after my surgery. I figured I’d hear from my OBGYN within a couple of days. I knew that fibroids were almost always benign and that removing it was a very standard procedure. It took her well over a week to finally call me.
“Hey Nikki, can you come in so we can talk?” her voice flatly asked me.
“Am I going to die?” I half-jokingly asked her while trying not to cry.
“Not from this” she said.
What??? This couldn’t be good.
I literally dropped what I was doing and raced to her office. My stomach was in knots and I started to feel sick as I passed all the smiling couples and precious newborn baby pictures that lined the hallways of the practice.
My OB (who I LITERALLY ADORE) had absolutely no expression on her face when I walked in. Nothing.
you have cancer
She began to tell me that when my fertility doctor and she were removing the fibroid, they found a small polyp on my uterus and removed it. They both thought it was nothing to be concerned about but to err on the side of caution, they cut it out and sent it to pathology.
The pathology report revealed I had uterine cancer. She started to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher talking to me after hearing the words cancer. I seriously couldn’t process what in the world was going on much less the fact that I just had cancer removed from my body.
Jay came straight to the office and thank God he did because I could barely comprehend anything she was saying.
Cancer doesn’t happen to me. That happens to other people. Right?
**** just got real.
CHAPTER 3 – TUMOR BOARD
I found out the reason it had taken so long to give me the results of my pathology report was because behind the scenes, both doctors had been working and talking to doctors at MUSC (Medical University of South Carolina).
They took my case to tumor board and discussed the different scenarios of what could be done. Wait. I was a case now?
Turns out, there was no other “case” like mine in the US that they could find. Of course there wasn’t, right? Uterine cancer is EXTREMELY rare in young people.
My doctors, and the doctors who were on the tumor board were in agreement, though, that that they could save my uterus and I could have a baby or two, and then get a hysterectomy.
I immediately jumped to a big fat NO! I wanted a hysterectomy and I wanted it now. Get my uterus out of me. Clearly, it wasn’t doing me any good because I couldn’t get pregnant and now this.
be strong and make a plan
Jay and I took the next few days to talk. He let me cry and just BE and feel all the things I was feeling. After the initial shock wore off the next few days, I knew I had to put my big girl panties on and do what I had always done. Be Strong.
I wasn’t going to roll over and just give up. I was going to face this thing head on and trust God, the doctors and our decision to move forward with trying to conceive a child.
I had to listen to my doctors. But with that comes trusting them. They told me NOT get on the internet and start looking at other people’s uterine cancer diagnosis. Everyone’s is different. And I didn’t. I let them take control.
chapter 4 – a year of biopsies and meds
The next year is honestly a blur. My OBGYN put a Mirena IUD in place. The hormones in this particular IUD have been known to keep cancer cells at bay “down there” (who knew, right)? Learn something new every day.
After 4 months of the IUD, I had to have a DNC to get a clear picture of how things looked. Good news! Still no cancer. Bad news, I had endometrial hyperplasia.
Let me help you out with that lol – because I had NO freaking clue what it was either.
Thick uterine walls? Sounds delightful lol. The word thick is now up there with the word moist. I don’t like either of those words.
Urg. Another setback but that’s okay. I was still cancer free and that’s all that honestly mattered. IUD back in for another four months followed by another biopsy.
11 days before Christmas that year, I had another biopsy. That ended up being one of the BEST Christmas presents ever. My sweet oncologist called and said, “Merry Christmas Nikki – you are cancer Free! No hyperplasia, no thick uterine walls and no cancer!
chapter 5 – time to make baby wood!
I literally couldn’t believe it! What a year and a half it had been. So many ups and downs but I was willing to do what I had to do to have this baby.
It wasn’t lost on me how truly lucky I was that doctors were able to find it while not even looking for it. What a blessing God had given me and now an even bigger one because I was cancer free!
Back to the fertility doctor. This time felt different and I was so freaking excited. He’s an awesome doctor and has been very successful helping his patients conceive a child. This guy could get a pencil pregnant if he wanted to.
tests and more tests
I had to have another battery of fertility tests done to check out the quality of my eggs and a few other things . Easy Breezy. A little bloodwork? Sure, whatever you need! Poke and prod me all you want.
One other tiny little setback. Before I was to begin all the fertility treatments again, they wanted me to lose a little weight. I had definitely chubbed up a bit from fertility meds and I am known to be a bit of a stress eater. And, um, I had been a little stressed the past year. Okay, I’m sure the wine didn’t help, either.
It was a special diet that lasted 40 days and had been known to be very successful with weight loss. I’m not usually one for quick weight loss diets, but the clock was ticking, and I had to get on it.
I was lining up all the things on the fertility end to start as soon as this diet ended. FINALLY, FINALLY things were moving in the right direction and we were going to be able to get the show on the road. It had been a very stressful year, but we made it through. This baby would be worth it in the end.
listening to my gut (literally)!
Now, let me preface this by saying I’m not someone who is super in tune with my body or does a ton of yoga or anything like that. But I had been having a biopsy every three months (ish) and we were about two months out from my last one.
I felt like I needed to have one last biopsy. Before I started to flood my body with fertility medicine again, I wanted to make sure everything was still okay. No cancer, no hyperplasia, no thick anything here or there. No crazy high estrogen levels. I just wanted one more clean bill of health.
chapter 6 – cancer and infertility
Had my last biopsy.
I could hear my oncologists usual sweet, angelic, comforting voice cracking on the other end while he told me that my cancer was back.
I completely and utterly fell apart. Big time. I could only hear and remember bits and pieces of what he was telling me.
The gist of it was –
My cancer had come back.
It had come back quickly.
This time it was very aggressive.
I would need a hysterectomy as soon as possible.
I literally started bargaining and begging him to let me please roll the dice one more time. To have an IUD put in again so I could just have one baby. Not even two. I would do anything.
And then he lovingly told me that if I wasn’t here because I got sick again and the worst possible outcome came from that, what good would that do? If I wasn’t here on this Earth how was I going to be a mom?
grieving a loss
I knew that was it. Feeling a baby kicking inside my belly was never going to happen. I would never know the joy of telling my husband, family and friends that I was pregnant. It just wasn’t going to happen.
Trusting my oncologist was what I had to do. I knew that I would have to have a hysterectomy. That felt so final and I was sad. Just really really sad.
I felt like I was grieving the death of a child that I would never have. For a while it felt like there was a huge void and empty feeling because I would never meet this baby.
The grief was over someone or something that I didn’t know and would never know, but it felt like I’d known him or her all along. It was rough and it’s really hard to put into words.
Full hysterectomy time
From here, everything was set in fast forward. Three weeks later, I had a full hysterectomy…ovaries, cervix, uterus, everything. All my girlie parts were going to be removed.
A lot of emotions and feelings go into having a hysterectomy, much less a full hysterectomy. Those are all the girlie things that made you a woman, right?
And, the cherry on top? It sent me into surgical menopause (because they had to take my ovaries). Hot flashes and all.
Now what? Would I grow chest hair? Have a deep voice? What in the world would a hot flash feel like? Will I still be the same? no, no, hot as crap and of course! 100%.
chapter 7 – our future is bright
I had Team Wood engraved in Jay’s wedding ring before we got married. Never in a million years would I have guessed how significant those 8 little letters would be. We have remained a team and supportive of each other through this (and so much more).
Every holiday that has rolled around since my hysterectomy has been met with every emotion under the sun. Father’s Day and Mother’s Day can be the worst – as you can imagine.
I felt guilty that I couldn’t have a child. Not only for me, but for Jay and our families
But, here’s the thing. Jay has reassured me time and time again that we are a TEAM and that a baby would be a bonus cherry on top.
He’s told me so many times that we are okay now and we will be with or without a child. He constantly reminds me of how much he loves ME and that I’m here, healthy and alive!
He once made a great analogy. When girls are little, we begin to play with baby dolls as soon as we can hold or hug them. It’s something that is almost engrained in us from the start. Little boys aren’t like that. We were going to be okay being a family of 2 or a family of 5.
I truly do trust and believe that if we aren’t meant to be parents, we will always be Team Wood, and no sickness can get in the way of that. Nothing can get in the way of that.
thankful to be cancer free
Yesterday was my 7-year anniversary of being cancer free. 7 years since my hysterectomy. I know how very lucky I am. God gave me a HUGE blessing. I’m so very thankful to Him and all my doctors every. single. day.
I sometimes look back on that time and wonder how I made it through or didn’t totally lose it. When I was in the thick of it (ewwwww, there’s that word again), I knew I had to be strong.
I held tight to the important things around me. I had to be stronger than I had ever been. Literally.
baby or not, I’m so thankful!
With time also comes clarity over situations. There are so many different ways to have a baby/family. Adoption or surrogacy are beautiful things and we are exploring both.
This was how it was supposed to be for us. God has a beautiful plan for Jay and me. Our journey is one that is completely different than anyone else’s.
Of course, there are still days that I want to crumble into a pile and feel sorry for myself. I want to be mad at the world and keep asking why me? Why do people who don’t even want a baby get to have one? Or how can someone just have a baby because they think it will save their marriage?
But I know that will get me absolutely nowhere. The game of “what ifs” and “why me” never produces any real truth and will only keep you stuck in the past. I don’t want to live there.
I want to be present and have faith that there is a hopeful and bright future for me and Jay that (hopefully) has a baby in it. Had we not been trying to have a baby, I’m not sure I would have ever known that I had cancer. So, wherever he or she is, this sweet little baby has saved my life.
I can’t wait to meet this precious soul hopefully one day soon. And, the silver lining, I’ll be happy, healthy and here, to be the mom I was meant to be.