When I was younger I was sure I wanted to have kids early in life. Then I started working with kids, at a daycare. Best. Birth control. Ever.
Kids? Me? WTF was I thinking? I'm not ready for this. I don't even know who I am and I want to go and create life, and help these little beings figure out who THEY are? No thanks. My desire for kids dwindled and I thought, hey, I have plenty of time to have kids, after I spend some time doing what I want and figuring out who I am (because yes, I was naive enough to think that wasn't a lifelong process).
Well, cancer didn't get the memo about my lady parts not being ready to thrust life into the world, and intervened before I had a chance. Last year, at 30 years old, an age when many around me were getting married and having kids, I was hearing the words, you have cancer. Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). Which, due to the way it spreads, doesn't make itself known until it reaches the skin and creates visible symptoms (such as swelling, redness, inverted nipple, and dimpled skin). This ensures, at least as of now, that IBC is not found before Stage 3. This meant that, instead of starting with a double mastectomy, I would have neoadjuvunct chemotherapy. I would be stuck with my mutant breast for at least seven more months, while I had chemo first to try to shrink the cancer, and hopefully make surgery more successful.
So, I had to start chemo, like now. That meant, among other things, any chance of fertility treatments, to retrieve my eggs for future children, was gone. I wasn't upset. Really, it wasn't the first thing on my mind. I didn't want kids at that moment in my life, so I didn't feel too bad about the fact that I would probably never be able to have kids. Of course, at the time, I didn't realize that probably never would turn to probably definitely never. One potential side effect of chemo is what's deemed "chemopause." That's for those of us at premenopausal age for whom chemo has decided we're done and shuts off our baby making factory. For some, menstruation, and the possibility to have kids, starts up again after chemo. For others, like me, it doesn't. And to add insult to injury, the hormone medication I take to try to stay alive (now that I'm Stage 4), keeps me in menopause. Infertile. No mas chance of biological mommyhood.
Still, I was alive, and that's what mattered. That's what still does. Except, lately I find myself thinking about the what ifs. What if I had kids when I was younger? What if I got to experience all the joys of hearing my kids say their first words (which, if they were my kids, would probably be "pizza")? Watch them take their first steps? What if my kids were starting middle school, and I could give them the advice that, as a bullied student, I wish people had given me (like, those kids are asshats and you really wont remember their names when you grow up to be freakin' awesome). What if. What if I died tomorrow from breast cancer, leaving my children behind to fight for "my cause," to ensure that my experience would live on and help people, mostly help them with the tragic loss of their mother when they were just kids?
I'd like to know how other women who feel and think like me (because I know there are plenty of you out there) feel about this. I want to read articles, firsthand accounts of a life with breast cancer -- and without -- children. But where are the articles? Stories of younger women with breast cancer tend to be overshadowed by stories of older women. Breast cancer is, in fact, and "older person's disease, right? Ugh, no! It's not, at least not anymore. There are a hell of a lot of youngins trying to find our voice in a sea of people who believe breast cancer actually follows rules.
Young women are writing about it, but are getting lost and sometimes even deliberately ignored, perhaps because it hits too close to home for too many. To the public, the more young people that get it, and the more young people who openly share it, the more it makes young joe or Joanne Shmo want to run and hide. People seem to be encouraged to share only the happy times. About the positive changes cancer has helped us make. About the joy we find in life, now that we realize we have an expiration date. But that way of thinking can be more harmful than it seems.
Not talking about the sh*tstorm cancer creates in our lives, all of the destruction and devastation cancer leaves in it's wake, if it even leaves at all, is doing a disservice to all those newly diagnosed women and men out there who just want an honest answer about what they can potentially expect. Why can't we give them that? Why can't we show them they're not alone, right from the get go? Why can't we make them understand it's okay to have those "what-ifs," as long as we don't let them rule our lives? Why can't we drill it into everyone, affected by cancer or not, that there is no right way to deal with cancer.
Bravo to all you people who dance before surgery, but bravo also to all of you who cry silently at home. The thing to remember is that no matter how you choose to deal, you're dealing. You're moving forward. You're accepting and acknowledging the crap hand that life dealt you at this moment in time and are choosing to move forward. Whether that's by making a video that makes the social media rounds, or completely alone, that's up to you, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Anyone who tells you how you should be dealing with your cancer should be kicked to the curb.
Most of the articles I do see about young women with cancer, are about women who are mothers. About how cancer has come at a time in their lives when their children are growing up, and they fear not being around to see that happen. Which is tragic, and breaks my heart every time I read these stories, and I hate cancer for putting these women through that. What you don't read about as often, if at all, because the group, the one that I'm in, rarely gets chosen to be the subject of these articles, are the young women who were childless at diagnosis, and will remain childless due to cancer and treatments. The group of us that have had any hope of having biological children crushed due to surgically or medically induced menopause. Or the group of us that know we probably wont live long enough to raise kids, and for whom adoption companies make it nearly impossible because of that fact. What about those of us that feel we have to pretend our maternal instincts vanished along with our breasts, just to hide the pain of never having that child call us "mommy," never witnessing our child's first steps, or first day of school? No, we're not "lucky" because we don't have to add children into the mix. Having cancer is no less devastating for us than for those that have children. It's no less devastating for anyone, in any situation. Cancer is a devastating diagnosis, and no one group of people, collectively, has it any worse than any other. Yes, the prognosis for some cancers is better than others, and earlier stages generally fare better than later ones. But once you've been diagnosed with cancer, your life changes forever.
When we're younger, we learn about fire safety, stranger danger, etc., and are given tools to prepare ourselves against these potential threats. Keyword: potential. It's not guaranteed that everyone will encounter fire in their life, but knowing what to do can help save your life. It's the same with cancer. It's a potential threat to everyone, EVERYONE, and we need to arm the general public with the tools they need to fight should cancer attack them, physically and especially, emotionally. The only way we can do that is by staying together, by working as one, by destroying the age and gender gap, by putting our collective experiences together and growing our army to protect our fellow human beings. We're all against cancer, and no one wins when we attack each other, or leave a whole group of people out of our stories of cancer. Instead of viewing these stories as separate, unconnected accounts, we need to view them as a single story. A story of the human race against cancer.