At nine months pregnant I looked kind of like a tube of toothpaste.
I was just barely out of treatment for the Stage II breast cancer I had found the year prior. My manly-short hair was only beginning to sprout back in from the chemotherapy that ravaged it the year prior. Expander implants and mastectomy scars stretched across my chest. The months of my unborn fetus’ gestation stretched back to meet the start date of my radiation treatment with hauntingly close proximity.
Right, so the toothpaste… I was looking pretty wide from ankle to shoulder, and then, there on top was my bare little cap of a head with too-short of hair.
It wasn’t your average pregnancy. In fact, nothing about the prior two years of my life was average; nearly nothing was normal.
I went from being an active, healthy, 28-year old with the opening of my eyes. Literally, I opened my eyes one morning and felt sick. Really sick.
You know that saying, “it was all downhill from there”? That’s about right. Expect it wasn’t a hill, it was a cliff. I spent months seeing doctors, having tests, and taking medication. My joints were inflamed so severely I sometimes couldn’t move at all, paralyzed by the pain. It was a brutal condition to try and raise a 2-year old son in. It was brutal period. And then I had this hard bump in my left breast looked at…. I was clinging to the edge of that cliff when an avalanche swept me into the abyss of a cancer diagnosis.
Round after round of chemo, with side effects that ran the gamut of terrible came next. There were endless unpleasant medical appointments. There were the blood transfusions. Then there was the inflammation immobility creeping back in-between each chemo round. There was the heart wrenching news I couldn’t swallow, that my husband and I wouldn’t be able to have the second child we so longed for. There were too many sleepless nights of lonely tears – agonizing sobs I just couldn’t find a way to stem, couldn’t find reason enough to hope. There was the bilateral mastectomy. The JP, post-surgical drains that made me want to rip my skin off. There was the idea of death, hovering so near it couldn’t even remain unspoken about. And then came the radiation.
A few months shy of an upcoming ovary removal surgery and nine days into the radioactive burning of my chest wall, I took a pregnancy test. It was a shocking positive.
Immediately, this sparks a legion of chatter – a lot of talk of miscarriage, of “recommended” abortion, of risks to the pregnancy, to the baby if it survives, to me. Risk.
We hold fast to the pregnancy. We care for my health as best we can.
And then, there is a rainbow at the end of my storm.
My perfectly healthy, miraculously conceived, miraculously protected, baby girl is born and in my arms. She is real and alive. I am alive.
My daughter’s birth helps me crawl out of the darkness and off the crevices of that cliff wall. I can again fathom that the world is still a place of beauty and joy. I can again see God moving in my life.
Grateful? Oh yes, I am grateful. I hung on with my nails, staring at the beautiful, innocent face of my son, whose needs I had to focus on without cessation. I was able to reach out to a husband who was/is there for me. And I have been set back on a path of light with my daughter in my arms.
I cannot tell what unfolds from here, can’t perfect it, or guarantee it. But I will live each day of it swimming in the gratitude this lovely, lovely, difficult life deserves.