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Motherhood: When Cancer Decides for You | Dana's Infertility Story

Motherhood: When Cancer Decides for You | Dana's Infertility Story

Mom. I’ve never been sure that’s a title I wanted. When I was a kid, I spent a little time picturing myself as a mom and a lot of time picturing what I would do with my life for a career. I was that kid that played with old bills, papers, and anything else I could get my hands on to recreate an office setting. Rarely did I play with dolls or want pretend babies that I could put in baby carriages, dress in cute clothes and pretend I was a mom to. And I certainly had no idea that one day I'd be coping with breast cancer fertility loss.

Fast forward to my early thirties and ask me again to be or not to be a mom. What would I say? I still didn’t know if I’d want to be a mom eventually, but I definitely didn’t want to be at that moment. I was in the prime of my life, I was single and happy with it. My career was my focus. I wasn’t ready to have kids.

I will preface this by saying that if/when the time came, whenever that was, I knew I’d be happy to have one, two, or whatever the case would be. So, it wasn’t like I never wanted children. It just wasn’t the time.

Breast Cancer and Fertility

That was just about nine years ago to be exact. Nine years to the day of July 13th, 2010. This is the point where my life plan and everything I worked toward decided to put in its 2-week notice and leave my life.

Nine years ago, I was told I had stage 1 ER+ breast cancer. I knew then I’d lose my breasts and hair. I was not cool with either, but I didn’t get much choice in the matter. I put on my big girl pants and I dealt with it.

"I had no less than about 10 minutes to decide what to do because if I wanted to go through any sort of fertility treatment I had to start that day. Chemo, surgery, and general cancer treatment had to wait until fertility was done."

My next appointment, they told me something I didn’t know. This was the secret stuff that no one wanted to share.

They said it very cold and very fast: “You are going to need to decide right this second if you want to freeze your eggs because with your cancer type and the chemo and the blah, blah, blah….”

Yeah, I stopped listening. I didn’t have a husband to make this decision with. I didn’t have a boyfriend to make this decision with. Oh, and I didn’t have the thousands of dollars needed to do any of this, and my insurance wouldn’t cover any embryo retrieval.

I had no less than about 10 minutes to decide what to do because if I wanted to go through any sort of fertility treatment I had to start that day. Chemo, surgery, and general cancer treatment had to wait until fertility was done. Well, I pretended I didn’t care and said forgo fertility preservation. Maybe I’d be lucky and my eggs would live through chemo.

Cancer Takes More Than Hair

I was also told that due to my breast cancer type – estrogen positive – I had to immediately get off the birth control I was using. My constant whys were not fully answered, but long story short, my doctors didn’t want any extra estrogen lurking in my body.

Those birth control pills had managed to stabilize the massive issues I had with my periods as well as several fibroids in my uterus. Without them, I had excessive bleeding, was anemic and couldn’t function. What could I do about those pesky “girl problems”?

Well, that was answered for me within a month of finishing chemo.

At one of my every-3-week oncology follow-ups, my oncologist said: “Dana, I want you to have a full hysterectomy.” That’s what replaced “Dana, you have cancer.”

"Would I ever get to be in a doctor’s office again and not have to hear unpleasant news starting with my name? What else did cancer want to take?"

The oncologist’s reasoning for the hysterectomy was with my type of cancer, keeping that estrogen blocked was the best option, not to mention the other “girl problems I had.”

It was the worst option for me emotionally. I just didn’t know it yet. I turned very cold toward the news and became a robot. I asked if they could do my second reconstruction at the same time so I could knock out two surgeries with one go.

That was actually a lie.

Coping with Breast Cancer Fertility Loss

I was okay sharing about my reconstruction, but I NEVER wanted to tell a soul that I was having a hysterectomy. I wanted no one and I mean literally no one to know. I even got into an argument with my mom because she thought it was important to tell my dad, brother and close relatives. My thought? Keep it secret from EVERYONE. Aside from those select few, I told everyone else I was having extensive breast reconstruction.

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The rest is a major blur. I remember very little of the year after that surgery. It was the worst decision I ever had to make. Do I regret it? Perhaps. It’s one of the few things in my life I could put in the regret pile. Maybe I am still alive because of it. Maybe my cancer has stayed at bay because of it. I’ll never know.

As I write this, I try to think of what else to say but I can’t. I don’t remember much of it because of the PTSD after breast cancer. I try to never open up that wound. I have buried that emotion so deep within that I am afraid of what will happen if I ever let it out.

I will never be a mother to my own biological children. That choice was taken whether I would have gotten the chance or not pre-cancer. Whether I wanted the chance or not pre-cancer. That decision was made for me. It hurts in a place I can’t even comprehend or explain.

Hang On Pain Ends

The day before the surgery I wrote a letter. It’s addressed to those children I’ll never meet and it’s the hardest part for me to think about. I wrote it years ago and forgot about it. It has taken no less than 3 years of therapy to get through a reading of that letter. Every time I finish and close that notebook, I can’t remember what I wrote, but I remember crying with every word.

I think about what could have been all the time. Sometimes I wish I would have just had that chance to have children when I took that part of being a woman for granted. I always thought that someday if the time was right it would happen or not and I was fine with that.

"For anyone else coping with breast cancer fertility loss, I will say there is hope out there. You have to keep pushing forward."

Now I think about yet another thing cancer stole from me and all those could-have-beens.

I like to wonder about those children. And then I stop. There is no point. I’m still not ready to accept that part of my life. I am working on it all the time. I’m not ready to completely face those emotions. It’s just too painful. Instead, I take a little comfort in knowing all those beautiful souls I’ll never meet just get to stay deep within me, nestled close to my heart.

For anyone else coping with breast cancer fertility loss, I will say there is hope out there. You have to keep pushing forward. One of the words I latched onto in therapy is hope. Why? Because hope stands for so much. One of the things taught to me about hope is what it can stand for: Hang On Pain Ends (HOPE). I’ve been working on my emotional pain for years and it does get better. Eight years ago, I never would have told anyone I had the hysterectomy. Now there is nothing to hide behind. It’s just a part of who I am as a cancer survivor.

Dana Stewart - RISE AdvocateDana was diagnosed with stage 1 ER + breast cancer in 2010 at the age of 32 years old. She volunteers with Young Survival Coalition as an Illinois State Leader and RISE Advocate. After diagnosis and treatment, survivorship was the toughest challenge in her cancer journey. A focus on life after cancer helped her to co-found The Dragonfly Angel Society – Cancer Survivorship, which is a non-profit that helps cancer survivors find survivorship resources that suit them and get on with the “now what” of their life after cancer.