A New Perspective on Infertility

I think many cancer patients/survivors grieve for some part of themselves that’s been lost to this horrible disease. When you add the loss of body parts or the body that you used to know, the grief becomes greater. Then when cancer makes you infertile when you’re still of childbearing age, there’s another type of grief that is palpable.

One of the hardest paths I’ve had to travel post-cancer has been due to the choice of having a child being taken away. Since I was intolerant of the medications to help prevent recurrence for pre-menopausal women, I had to be medically induced into menopause in 2017, so I could try the medications for post-menopausal women. Plus, during my pre-cancer days, I had ongoing issues with my cervix and ovaries – multiple abnormal pap smears and cysts the size of lemons on my ovaries. I had a bicornuate uterus which means it was heart-shaped, so high risk for miscarriages and premature birth.

It’s painfully clear that I would’ve struggled to get pregnant and/or carry a baby to full term. Do I want to live, or die doesn’t seem like a fair choice.

I had stopped blogging about my feelings on infertility because I would get so hurt when people would say, “just adopt or foster.” It’s such a callous thing to say even though I know they were trying to be supportive. I constantly wanted to scream that I’m chronically single!!!

I grew up with divorced parents where my mother had sole custody of me. I saw how hard it was to raise me as single, divorced woman. It truly took an amazing village to help raise and support my mother and I and know we were blessed to have such amazing support. That’s why I would never want to raise a child on my own unless forced due to a divorce. I’ve cost my mother a fortune, even as an adult.

I would never willingly adopt or foster a vulnerable child without being able to fully support them financially and emotionally. I physically don’t have the energy to handle raising a child on my own. I can barely keep myself afloat with medical bills constantly hanging over me and chronic pain that can often turn excruciating. How would that be fair to a child? They need more than just love.

The part I struggle with the most is the longing to share my childhood and college memories, values and wisdom with a child.

Fast forward to Friday evening when I was talking with my friend Francesca. I mentioned her a lot last year because we partnered together to write an abstract that we were selected to present titled, “You don’t really have a say in anything…like you don’t have any options”: AYA Cancer Survivors’ Perspectives on Fertility Preservation Conversations with Healthcare Providers at the 16th Annual American Psychosocial Oncology Society(APOS) in Atlanta in February 2019. It’s honestly one of the proudest moments of my life post-cancer thus far.

Francesca & Megs at APOS Feb’19

Though I’m 20+ years older than Francesca, who is studying for the MCAT’s, she is authentic, thoughtful, brilliant and compassionate among other fantastic qualities. She floored me by saying she thought of me like a godmother, an aunt and a big sister rolled into one. She said I didn’t need to only think I can impart wisdom or share my memories and values with a child.

The way she said those words…her tone and inflection just touched my heart and gave me a new perspective on my infertility. As you can imagine, I was brought to tears but tears of joy and appreciation. Francesca was surprised I didn’t seem to realize that’s how she viewed me.

I had been so stuck on the grieving train thinking only about the loss of a baby or young child, I never thought about the true impact I could make and have apparently been making on an actual young adult outside the cancer world. I’ve mentored over the years but never had anyone say what Francesca said to me with such sincerity.

Yes, I still feel the loss of choice, but have gained a new and unexpected perspective on this loss.  I do have so much love to give and little words of wisdom to impart. I’m usually very observant but completely missed seeing I’ve been making a positive impact on someone for almost two years.

My life on the cancer train just took a lovely turn on an unexpected path which has given me a new sense of hope and purpose. Words matter. I see now that I matter too.

Cents & Sensibilities

It’s been a slightly difficult start to 2020. Toward the end of 2019, I spent hours on the phone with insurance, my primary, oncologist and doctor appointments fighting to get an MRI approved for my lower lumbar spine. Pleased as punch that I got my primary and oncologist working together as a team. It was a weight off my shoulders to have two exceptional doctors and a nurse advocating just as hard as I was to get it approved, especially during the holidays.

The good news is after being denied for the MRI twice by Cigna’s third party, my oncologist had a peer-to-peer discussion with them earlier this week. As of Thursday, January 2nd my MRI was approved. I was already organized and had rescheduled it two weeks ago for Tuesday, January 7th and will discuss the results and plan of action on Thursday, January 9th.

So, while I’m proud for advocating for myself along with my medical team, I’m still pretty pissed that I will be responsible for paying 80% toward my deductible since the MRI approval came on the 2nd. I truly do feel like Cigna did that on purpose so they wouldn’t have to pay because I had met my deductible and was $75 away from being covered 100% by the end of 2019.

It’s downright criminal that many of us must fight to receive the coverage and tests we deserve. Then we’re often stuck with huge bills that seem never ending.

A new year always brings added stress because of high insurance deductibles. Am I happy to have insurance through my employer? Of course, but it comes at a steep financial cost since I have to rotate between an MRI with contrast or an ultrasound every six months along with my diagnostic ultrasound + the cost of medications + copays to specialists. Me being me, I’m planning on fighting my portion of the MRI cost and file a complaint against the insurance. Sure, nothing will probably happen in my favor, but I must at least try for my piece of mind.

I do believe those pesky lesions on my spine are benign, but who knows what’s been growing there all this time since fighting with Cigna. Will they have to be burned off? Hell, if I know. Plus, will I have to get injections in the lower left side of my back to deal with this spondylitis? Will PT be part of the plan too?

All I see are dollar signs and scheduling conflicts as I move meetings at work to make it to appointments.

I’ve had people tell me to enjoy life, go on vacation and travel. I get so infuriated when I hear those suggestions. My insurance deductible through my employer is $6,500. How am I supposed to have fun and go anywhere or even save when that kind of cost looms over me? Getting critically ill is expensive and ongoing in the aftermath.

I want to go to different cancer conferences this year to meet more of the fabulous cancer warriors I’ve been talking to on social media but can’t take that kind of time off from work or have the extra funds since it all goes toward my high deductible. Yes, I know there are travel grants, but as I get older, I don’t qualify for some of those anymore. I’m at a weird age where I’m still “young” but not young enough to be eligible for some grants. Plus, I don’t have the energy to fill out applications once I get home from a very long day of working. I’m often mentally and physically spent.

As many look upon this new year as filled with possibilities, I’m already feeling the financial stress due to my health and the financial toxicity that is US healthcare.

My Breakup with High Heels

I braved the crowd and returned a jacket to the mall this afternoon. As I’m walking through Macy’s and other department stores, my eyes couldn’t help but see all the fabulous and sparkling high heels. They were on every corner – high heels, low heels, boots and wedges. I can honestly say my heart hurt a bit.

There was a time pre-cancer when I loved, LOVED wearing all kinds of heels. When I had my statuesque body, adding heels just added to the flair. I could strut my stuff like nobody’s business too. I could even run and do cartwheels in heels. Even when the weight started piling on, I still loved wearing my heels.

When I saw those heels today, I had a million tiny flashbacks to all the heels, especially heeled boots I used to wear. I would pretend I was on the runway and walk with long strides, swaying my hips.

Thanks to the Taxol chemo, those days are long gone. I had to breakup with my love of heels and wear flats because of severe chemo induced peripheral neuropathy in both feet. I literally do not feel the upper balls of my feet thru my toes. And do you know what I discovered? It’s super hard to find really cute and stylish flats, especially when wearing a dress or suit. That height I used to love is gone.

My long strides in heels have given way to short, quick steps in flats. I no longer feel graceful. I tried to push past my feet and make them work it in heels and fell. I still have the cute heeled booties in the closet. I wobbled so badly that it was embarrassing. Landing flat on my butt really hurt my pride.

Yes, flats are more comfortable but really missing that special feeling when finding the perfect pair of heels.

I’ve had to modify so many areas in my life post-cancer. When I tell people this, they completely invalidate me and tell me to just “try harder” or “you can do it if you push yourself more.” Neuropathy is serious, and my case is severe. No amount of turmeric, acupuncture or B12 is going to help. The nerves in my feet are literally dead. Dead. They never tingle or hurt like my hands, which also have neuropathy. My feet get super cold. I honestly believe that’s why I don’t have hot flashes while in medically induced menopause. I get cold flashes.

So, while many get dressed up for holiday parties in sparkling outfits with fabulous heels to match, I’ll be the one in the corner with the short legs in flats staring wishfully at your feet.

So, hair me out…

I’ve been accused in the past by other warriors/survivors for being attention-seeking when I talk about my hair. I had trusted three, who I thought were friends, so took the insulting words to heart. That’s why I permanently left one local breast cancer group and took a three-month break from a national one. I came back to that national one because it’s too fabulous of a group to allow certain people’s insulting views keep me away from the support I need.

Now, I’ve always been a tad extra. That’s my natural and dramatic personality. Even when I’m sad or depressed, it’s done with flair.

It’s why I took ballet and always wore my hair in buns, French braids and twists.

It’s why I basically lived at Macon Little Theatre and Theatre Macon in high school and minored in Theatre at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY.

It’s why I had special outfits during my salsa and swing dancing days.

It’s why to this day, I want to be an actress.

Losing my hair was even more traumatic than I could’ve ever imagined. Not only did I lose the hair on my head, I lost all the following as well:

Eyebrows

Eyelashes

Nose hair

Arm hair

Leg hair

Lady parts

Underarm

That’s why I get so infuriated when people say, “it’s just hair.”

So, losing my hair and being beyond upset and devastated has been genuine. It’s why when my hair came back that chia pet curly I always reference was so difficult to process. That’s why it’s especially hurtful when those in cancerland question my feelings.

It’s never been about vanity. I know I rocked the bald look. I also rocked the chia pet curly look. That’s called style. The anger and just utter disbelief came from not physically recognizing my image in the mirror. I’ve dealt with and continue to deal with so many issues post-cancer like weight gain, more surgeries, more scars, and don’t recognize my body at all. None of it is even remotely the same. I just wanted the hair that I had known my entire life to grow back the way I remembered it – straight and super thick.

 So, I made a video to show all the different looks of ME past and present (also posted earlier on social media). It’s MY hair story.

My Hair Story

I didn’t post it to reel in compliments. I posted it for myself, to see the progression of my hair pre and post cancer and see the different looks as I’ve tried to adjust to my reflection. I see the pain in my eyes masked with a smile in the ones starting in 2015 thru present.

I know I “look healthy” and all should be right with the world, but that is not my reality.

My friends continue die by the hands of the cancer beast – two died this week.

My mother’s treatments for her rare blood cancer continue to wipe her out.  

My chronic pain continues to be a challenge to manage.

My career in the corporate world is stagnant.

So, don’t come at me with insults or how hair isn’t important to you. Every single person’s cancer journey is THEIRS and extremely personal. I just want to claim some part of me that hasn’t been devastated by breast cancer.

I want to see ME again.

I deserve to see ME again.