Cancer, Fertility, Anxiety….OH MY
Full Name: Jeannine Bieda
Type of Cancer: Breast cancer
December 24th, 2012 is the day my life forever changed; the day that I found out I had breast cancer. Merry Christmas to me! I was 36 with no family history; to say my life had just been flipped upside down is an understatement.
I remember sitting in the doctor’s office a few days after my diagnosis, my sister and my husband by my side. Besides being my support they were basically there to listen because I was in no condition to retain any information. I was hearing words that I never thought I would associate with myself; malignant tumor, mastectomy, chemo, radiation, tamoxifen. My head was spinning and then my doctor looked at me and said “Do you plan on ever having kids?” Um, yeah, sure, one day, I guess. Shouldn’t we be focusing on this whole cancer thing instead of me having a child??
I was then informed that I need to make this decision quickly because it needs to be done before I start any sort of treatment. At this time, I had no idea what kind of treatment I was going to have. My first thought was ok, sure, let’s do it. They just knock you out and take the eggs out, right? Cool, sign me up. Oh how wrong I was, I had no idea what was involved with this whole process. This is probably a great time to explain my EXTREME fear of the gynecologists. I’m not talking about a little fear, one that you don’t want to go but ultimately will go kind of fear. I’m referring to a paralyzing fear, one that prevented me from going for 17 years. Yep, you read that right, 17 years. I know, I know, but please don’t judge me; and believe me, this whole egg preservation thing made up for those 17 years.
I was encouraged to call the fertility facility so they can give me a rundown of how this would all work. I’m not lying when I say, I HAD NO IDEA. So, the coordinator, who couldn’t have been more kind and sweet to me, started to tell me all that was involved. The shots, the pap smear, the vaginal ultrasounds, and multiple blood draws. I was completely fine with the shots and the blood draws, but vaginal ultrasounds (plural as in more than one) AND pap smear?? No way in hell. I cried after that call, I balled my eyes out. I called my sister who basically told me to put on my big girl pants and just do it! Apparently she was completely unaware of my extreme anxiety regarding this subject. Of course this was coming from a good place; she just didn’t want me to have any regrets. When I got home I talked to my husband and told him I didn’t think I could do it, physically or mentally. The fear was way too deep. He assured me that I could indeed do it; however, he went on to tell me that he did not marry me to have kids. He told me this was my decision and he would support me no matter what. It was at that moment I decided to go through with it; his selflessness was contagious.
I had my lumpectomy in January 2013 and started the egg freezing process in February 2013; on Valentine’s Day. It was so romantic to celebrate this day with my husband by getting tested for STD’s (just part of the protocol). That was the only part of the day I was excited about, never thought I would say I was excited about getting tested for STD’s; however, with the dreaded pap and ultrasound on the horizon blood draws were the least of my worries. I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, so I take a medication daily to help ease my anxiety. However, for “special” occasions I break out the big gun… XANAX. Sadly, there is not enough of Xanax in the world to help with the panic that I was feeling, believe me, I tried. Not only did I go the medication route, I did deep breathing, I meditated, I listened to music, I did everything and anything to calm myself. The day before I even went to an acupuncturist; nothing worked. I literally felt like I was walking to my death. I will spare the details of the pap smear because why put any of you through that; let’s just say my foot may or may not of kicked the doctor and she may have told me that I would have to find someone else in the future to do annual exams. So, needless to say, I was a memorable patient. I will skip right to the ultrasound; in retrospect I’m glad the pap was first because in my opinion, there is no comparison. It is my stance that pap smears are barbaric and should be reevaluated. If brain surgeries can be done without cracking open the skull, I’m confident someone could come up with a less invasive way of checking for abnormalities on my cervix.
So I’m semi-traumatized at this point but I’m pretty numb too (that could be the Xanax), anyway, I just wanted everything done as soon as possible. I waited nervously for my number to be called; (it’s like being at a deli, waiting on your number, but in this line nobody is trying to cut in front of you). Finally, my number was called and again I’m walking down this hallway feeling anxious and nauseous. When I’m nervous I talk, so that’s what I did, I talked and talked. I have no idea what I talked about but I do remember the technician’s face just nodding politely and smiling. The statement, “take everything off from the waist down” was the only thing she said to me. It was dark in the room and I thought great, she will not see the tears running down my face or the look of despair in my eyes. I watched as she put the condom on the wand, and I thought, well, that’s not too big. Oh how I wish someone would have told my vagina that! Every muscle tightened up, ones I never knew existed; vice grip, locked up like fort Knox. “Relax”, said the technician. As if this was an option for me. She was moving that damn wand like a joystick; like she was playing an old Atari game. I completely understand that I was making it worse by tightening my muscles, but I literally had ZERO control. A minute or 2 go by which basically feels like hours and then she said, “Get dressed”. For a split second I thought, damn it, she gave up, she couldn’t complete the exam. Then I realized, I DID IT; I might have thrown my back out and I might be sore for days, but I DID IT. I felt like I conquered the world, forgetting for a minute that I would have 6 more of these over the next week or so. None of that matter at this exact moment, because I accomplished something that I was certain I could never do. I wanted to yell from the rooftops that I did it, which would be weird, so I didn’t, but that’s how proud I was. After each ultrasound appointment I felt the strongest I have ever felt. I know that might sound weird coming from someone who is a cancer survivor, but it’s the truth; it’s my truth. This process was harder for me than my lumpectomy and radiation combined; mentally and physically.
I was really lucky that I only needed to do one round of shots; egg retrieval day was within a week & 1/2 of starting the shots. They retrieved 16 eggs, out of the 16, 11 were viable and out of those, 6 were successfully fertilized. So, we have 6 embryos frozen which my husband and I are very grateful for.
About 2 years after the egg preservation I was getting questioned a lot about when I was going to have a baby, please note, not “if”, it was always “when”. People had assumed since we had frozen embryos, the logical next step was for me to have a baby. I understand why this was the assumption, but this was not an open and shut case. We needed to dig deep, and do some major soul searching.
My cancer fed off of estrogen which the tamoxifen (cancer medication I will be on for 10 years) in theory is supposed to block. What happens when you get pregnant? Estrogen is a pretty major player in that game. How big of a risk would I be taking? Would my chances of re-occurrence go up because of this? Would I be putting my husband in a position to raise a child by himself? Also, from a hormone standpoint, how upset would my body be with me? Going on meds, coming off meds, have a baby, go back on meds. Jeez, talk about agitating my already confused hormones!
Here is the thing; there has not been enough research to prove whether or not coming off the tamoxifen would increase my chances of re-occurrence. Maybe in 10 years it will be clearer and that’s great for all those that will come after me, but with a heavy heart, my husband and I decided it was in my best interest to not carry a baby. I’m happy to say we are at complete peace with this decision, but I would be lying if I said there isn’t a part of me that is sad that I will never feel life growing inside of me. Nonetheless, and I can only speak for myself on this, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders once I let my family and friends know that I would not be carrying a child.
After we grieved this decision, because that is a necessity when coming to such an important conclusion like this; we looked into surrogacy. Whoa. The money that is involved with that whole process is mind-boggling. It’s disheartening to me that insurance does not cover surrogacy; especially for women who cannot or should not carry a child due to medical reasons. In my opinion, it’s taking advantage of a dire situation. Often we have been asked if we would ever adopt. Here is my answer to that, if we would have not gone through the egg preservation, then yes, adoption would have been on the table. However, I feel a loyalty to those embryos. Which might not make sense to anyone, but I just feel if we were to attempt to have a child, those embryos should get the first chance.
We have no idea where we go from here. We are fortunate to be Godparents and aunt and uncle to some really unbelievable kids. We are extremely involved in their lives which we couldn’t be more grateful for. I’m so humbled by this whole experience, and regret is not something I have ever felt. Even through all of the ultrasounds, regret never entered my mind. Not only did we put ourselves in a position of having a choice by going through with the egg preservation; I found out that I am way stronger than I ever imagined. I’m a big believer in playing the hand you are dealt in life; there are some really bad hands that we all receive. Those bad hands should be validated, yet they should never make you fold. I’m just playing the hand I was dealt, as we all should.