Tag Archives: fertility

A Look Back

I was recently interviewed for an article on fertility preservation for the magazine Today’s Chicago Woman.  I referred the writer to my blog and sent her the links to the 3 posts I wrote about the fertility preservation process.  Well, today I went back and read those 3 posts myself to see just what exactly I had sent this woman to read.  I was struck by my own optimism and blind sense of hope. I have an understanding that generally I am a very positive outlook kind of gal, but lately I’ve been more blah than rah.

This quote struck me the hardest.  It’s from my post on December 26, 2011, Baby Baker:

Needless to say, I’m not worried about the cancer. I know that I’m working with the best team available to me. I have every faith in the world that I will get through this and come out the other side a survivor. Yes, it sucks that this is the hand I was dealt, but honestly, we all have some crappy cards in our hands.  The thing that upsets me most is that the cancer is affecting my fertility.

I feel both naive and duped when I read these words.  But the part of me that stays strong and focused when the rest of me needs to fall apart reminds me that I had every reason on December 26, 2011, to believe that this cancer would go away with the first round of treatment and that my life would go on in a fairly normal way.  There was little evidence presented to me that this journey would stretch out for over a year (and counting).

The update on my feelings in the baby department… since my surgery in October, it’s been really difficult for me to hear people talk about their pregnancies.  I seem to be better about seeing an actual baby, and I try very hard to put my own losses aside and celebrate my friends’ growing families. I also always thought that by the time I was 32, I would be well on my way to creating a family.  I keep having to remind myself that, fertility issues aside, I am hardly in a place to be bringing another life into this world! So even if I could carry a baby in my own body, today is not that day, and tomorrow probably isn’t either.  I’m coming back around to fantasizing about what my kids will be like. I think about names and what they will look like and how hard I will love them.  I also think about who will carry them, and maybe I’ll adopt, and I would be ok with just one baby even though I’m fairly certain I’ll get twins on the first try.  It’s something exciting to distract me from the rest of the nonsense going on in my head.

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My Giant Ovaries

I’ve been going to the endocrinologist every day to get blood work and have a transvaginal ultrasound… to put it bluntly, that’s like a dildo that they put a condom on, squirt KY all over, place up in there, and take pictures of my insides.  It’s not as fun as it sounds. So, I do that every day, and every day the nurse calls and tells me my hormone levels and the number of measurable follicles (the sacks that the eggs live in until they’re ready). Here are my follicles yesterday. The right ovary is on the left of the picture.  It has significantly more follicles than the left (the black areas are the follicles).

She then tells me how much of my meds to take in my injections that night. The dose hasn’t changed since the beginning (every night I pump 775 units of drugs into my stomach), but it’s paying off.

Today the nurse called to tell me that I don’t have to do my regular injections anymore! Yay!!! And I don’t have to go in tomorrow for blood work (my veins were so relieved to hear that news!) or an ultrasound! Yay!!! A day off 🙂 Instead of the normal shots, I have to give myself the trigger shot.  This is actually two injections of a medication that tells my ovaries to ovulate.  I have to take the shots at exactly 9:30pm tonight because the drug starts to work at 36 hours and my extraction is Friday morning at 9:30am. Timing is very important.  Tomorrow I don’t have any injections or appointments… I almost don’t know what to do with myself… seriously.

The nurse told me it looks like I have 20 measurable follicles, which is EXACTLY the number I prayed for.  Maybe I should have aimed a little higher… The thing is that there is a chance that not every follicle will have an egg in it, but I’m sure that all of mine do. She also said that my ovaries are giant. Yes. I know this. I know this every time I lay on my stomach and experience discomfort… or when I wear jeans and try to sit… or when I wake up in the morning with lots of pain in my lower abdomen from a full bladder and two enormous ovaries duking it out for prime location.  Yes, I’m aware of the abnormal size of my innards. Here is approximately how big normal ovaries are:

Here are mine right now, not kidding (and they got that way in 9 days):

The weird thing is that I don’t look bloated.  I think my naked stomach looks exactly the same.  But it certainly doesn’t feel the same.

My emotions are certainly not the same either.  My husband and father can attest to this. I’ve been very irritable and very sleepy with no appetite. I also broke down in the endocrinologist’s office today. I sobbed for a good several minutes about how I’m tired of feeling like a pin cushion and coming in every day and how I only get a two day break between fertility treatments and chemo/radiation (that all starts Monday). The nurses were very good with me. After I heard the news that I didn’t have anything to do tomorrow, I felt instantly better (except for the irrational crabbiness).

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This Just In

The hubs was granted emergency leave! — Pause for elated cheering— He got to St. Louis on New Years Eve and is here for a week 🙂

It’s wonderful to have someone to curl up with on the couch… and he got to do his part of the fertility process. Yay yay yay for biological babies!

Also, as it turns out, I’m a giant weenie when it comes to giving myself shots in the stomach, and he’s been a huge help with all things injection related.

Here is, roughly, one day’s worth of injection materials:

The first time I tried to give myself a shot, I was determined to just have him in the room as a coach.  I loaded the meds into the syringe, put the little needle on, and pinched an inch just to the left of my belly button. Either my skin suddenly turned to steel (likely) or I wimped out at the last second and barely touched my skin with the needle (unlikely).  Whichever it was, I looked up at him pathetically and said, “It won’t go in my skin.” He giggled knowingly, gave me some tips, and I proceeded to stare at my pinched inch for about a full minute… I’ve heard that makes the process easier. He took the syringe from me and plunked it right through the skin.  I didn’t feel a thing. I was able to do the second shot by myself (yay!).  The second day (I had to do 3 injections), he did the first one, he started the second one and I finished it, and I did the third one- like.a.pro. (except for all the air I shot under my skin…). My point is, I’m grateful that he’s here for a lot of reasons, and injection training is the top one every night at 6:30.

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Baby Baker

It is my experience that most people who plan to have children think about things like names, which activities their kids will do, what method of discipline will be used… that sort of thing.  I, of course, have dedicated an exuberant amount of hours to this very thought pool.  Being a mom is the only thing I’ve ever been certain that I wanted to do when I grew up .  Over the past 20 years, I’ve favored names like Jonah, Cannon, and Max for boys and Ava, Murphy, and Kate for girls. I would love for my kids to do gymnastics and swimming and theater.

I, like most parents out there, hope my children are healthy and intelligent and kind and that I raise them to have good heads on their shoulders.  These thoughts are normal and healthy for people who hope to be parents one day. I fall snugly into this category.

As it turns out, I also fall into another category regarding children… the category of people for whom it is significantly more of a pain in the ass to conceive than the norm.  I have recently been thrust into the pile of people whose bodies have presented some issue or another in the old baby making department.  Biologically I have no idea if or how fertile I am.  But what is certain is that in about a month, I will begin radiation and chemotherapy treatments that will most likely fry my ovaries and all my precious eggs.

A month ago, I was still thinking I would get pregnant the old fashioned way… he’d come home from deployment… we’d all but maul each other… my period would be late… I’d be excited… he’d shit himself… and 9 months later… Boom- Baby.  However, in the past 4 weeks, I first had to wrap my head around the possibility of losing my uterus, and just last week, I met with an endocrinologist about doing one cycle of fertility treatments before the chemo/radiation begins.  That’s exactly one chance to harvest as many eggs as possible and get those puppies in a deep freeze… stat.  One chance. I lay in bed at night and listen to how fast my heart is beating. Can you even imagine?

Needless to say, I’m not worried about the cancer. I know that I’m working with the best team available to me. I have every faith in the world that I will get through this and come out the other side a survivor. Yes, it sucks that this is the hand I was dealt, but honestly, we all have some crappy cards in our hands.  The thing that upsets me most is that the cancer is affecting my fertility.  Although, people say that when you work for something, you appreciate it more. So maybe I was in danger of not appreciating my unborn babies. Well, if that’s the case… message received. Check. Rest assured that when I finally do have some biological babies in my arms, they will always know how loved they are.

The fertility treatments will begin in about two weeks and then about two weeks after that the eggs will be harvested.  If the hubs is granted emergency leave, we will use his sperm to fertilize the eggs. If he’s not, we have discussed the other options available to us (using a known or unknown donor and/or freezing unfertilized eggs). There are pros and cons to all of these options. It’s really a very personal decision… and it’s a difficult one. After all of that, we will most likely need to use a gestational carrier (a woman that will carry the fetus). So, calling all lady readers who have had successful, healthy pregnancies!!! I suddenly got super interested in your uterus 🙂 Seriously, if you’re interested or become interested, let me know. It can be very tricky to find someone good to carry a baby.

Not too much will be going on in the next couple of weeks in the way of doctors’ appointments. But starting around January 6thish, things will be hoppin’. It sounds kind of funny, but please pray for my ovaries to produce a lot of mature eggs during this cycle of treatment. We want upwards of 20 😀

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A Turn for the Worse

I have cancer.

I have cancer. I have cancer. I have cancer. I have cancer.

And just in case I forgot that I have cancer, 6 doctors and 3 residents in 9 different appointments over the last 8 days have been quick to remind me that… I do, in fact, have cancer. Got it.

I had an MRI done on Tuesday. Check out my awesome MRI outfit:

The surgery that was scheduled for today was cancelled because they wanted to check out a suspicious lymph node in my groin.  Suspicious in that it was the Hagrid to all my other normal sized wizarding lymph nodes. The MRI confirmed that it was a giant, and Dr. Mutch wanted to have it biopsied.

 —Interesting aside… When Dr. Mutch called to tell me that I had an enlarged lymph node, I asked, “Is it on the left side?” “Yes. How did you know that?” “Because I can feel it in there.” “That’s really odd.” This was the weird dull pain in my lower left abdomen that I thought I was making up! —

Yesterday, I asked my friend Cherie to go to the appointment with me, and I had my lymph node biopsied.  The radiologist was using an ultrasound to find the lymph node in question and to check the blood vessels around it to ensure that a biopsy would be safe.  He pointed it out- on the screen it looked like a big black circle.  I asked if he could find and show me a normal size lymph node so I could see the difference.  He said that healthy lymph nodes wouldn’t show up on an ultrasound… wah wah… This gargantuan thing was almost a perfect sphere, measuring approximately 2.2cm in ever direction.  Normal lymph nodes are smallish and jellybean or almond shaped.

This morning I went to my scheduled endocrinologist (infertility doctor) appointment.  Dr. Cooper specializes in patients with cancer, which is awesome because she hooked me up with an application to an organization called Fertile Hope (fertilehope.org) that helps offset the cost of fertility treatments for cancer patients. Uh…mazing! She talked me through all the options, the most appealing of which is harvesting eggs, fertilizing them and freezing the embryos.  One big huge shining problem with this option is, of course, that the sperm part of my equation is presently in a desert on the exact opposite side of the planet.  I only get one chance to harvest eggs if I have to have radiation and chemotherapy, so while advancements have been made in freezing unfertilized eggs, it’s still better to freeze embryos.

While I was sitting with Dr. Cooper, Dr. Mutch called and asked to see me at 2pm.  My appointment with Dr. Cooper had gone a bit longer than expected, and I had to rush over to Dr. Mutch’s office. He told me then that the biopsy showed cancer in the lymph nodes.  On the one hand, thank god we did the MRI and found it.  On the other hand, SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT!!! Bad news bears all the way around this deal. Now all that “maybe” talk with the endocrinologist was real. It was THE option, not a ‘may have to be an option’. Dr. Mutch talked me through what would happen next, and it was all I could do to drown out the expletives coursing through my brain and focus on the important information he was giving me.

All I’d had to eat up until this point was a banana… the beast in my belly was screaming for satiation.  Dr. Mutch’s nurses so kindly opened their kitchen to me and let me make a plate of their catered holiday meal to take on our journey down to the radiation oncologist’s office.  Yep, your counting is correct. That’s 3 different doctors for 3 different reasons in a matter of hours.  I will say that I am impressed with the expediency of this entire staff.  They get stuff done, for sure.

I met with Dr. Grigsby, who apparently is a pretty big name in the radiation oncology world.  He talked me through more specifics of the chemo and radiation, and I made it a point to let him know that we would be waiting for me to do a full fertility cycle  (where a woman has the best odds of producing the most eggs) instead of rushing it or not doing it at all. My odds of having a biological child just dropped dramatically in a matter of hours. There’s no way in hell any doctor is going to tell me that I have to sacrifice that even further if the risk of waiting 2 more weeks to start radiation is relatively low. I told him that I didn’t need to sleep on it or think about it, my decision was final. I was having the full cycle of fertility treatments, and that was that. He said OK and sent me up to have blood work done.

I sat on the floor just outside the waiting room of the lab, where I had one bar of reception (in the waiting room there was no service whatsoever, and I NEEDED cell phone service).  Tears were streaming down my cheeks and a pile of soaked tissues lay on the ground beside me as I waited for my name to be called.  I was speaking out loud to no one in particular at a volume just below normal conversation level- Why is this happening to me?! Why now? What the hell is happening?! This is so unfair.

I finally left the hospital 6 hours after I’d arrived. A very pleasant surprise greeted me at the parking pay station… the validation ticket given to me at radiation oncology covered 100% of the parking costs (most other departments’ validation is only 50%). This was seriously the highlight of my day! I smiled uncontrollably. It’s a small thing, but at this point, I’ll take any smile moments I can get.

My mentor, Michelle, listened to the details of my day on my drive home.  She’s pretty incredible. She and I have never met face to face, but we were introduced via email through another common friend. She is a cervical cancer survivor as well and has gone through the fertility preservation process.  She has been a tremendous comfort for me, a shoulder to lean on, and cry on, and just a general source of relief because she’s been there and made it through to the other side… with a biological child!  She is a source of strength for me, and honestly, part of what makes her so amazing is that until a couple weeks ago, we were strangers. Now she is one of the first people I call with every update, every question, every emotional meltdown, every small victory.  I tell her all the time how grateful I am that she has made herself so available to me, but gratitude doesn’t begin to describe it.

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