By Claudia Hopper, cancer survivor
Every time I feel the kicks or look down and see my growing belly, I have to remind myself that it's not a dream. The life growing inside me is real.
After hearing for 18 years that the chances of having a baby are slim, one might begin to believe it. Well, I'm here to disprove all the statistics and the studies and provide hope to cancer survivors who dream of one day being able to have a baby.
My cancer journey began at age 12 when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I was treated with surgery and two radioactive iodine treatments. Unfortunately, there was still a spot behind my sternum that could only be treated through radiation. After a year of treatment, I was cancer-free.
Nine years later, at age 21, I began having pain in my sternum. Scans found a tumor the size of an orange wrapped around my sternum and collar bones. I was immediately sent to MD Anderson for further testing. Radiation-induced osteosarcoma was the diagnosis, and I would start treatment immediately. Life-changing words
That day in the Sarcoma Center, I met with a nurse educator who went over my plan. The only two words I heard that day were "chemotherapy" and "infertile."
I asked what my options were. Unfortunately, in 2001, there weren't a lot of options for protecting women's fertility. I was devastated, as I saw my lifelong dream of having a baby disappear.
In 2009, I met a physician, Dr. Kaylen Silverberg from the Texas Fertility Center in Austin, Texas, who did a presentation on an organization called Fertile Hope. Fertile Hope is an organization that provides support for cancer patients and survivors who face infertility. After the presentation, I spoke with him about my options. He advised me to make an appointment at his fertility clinic and go from there.
After some tests and blood work, it was found that my FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) was extremely high. This meant that most likely due to the radiation and chemotherapy, the number of eggs in my body was very low and at age 30, I was already using my "reserve" eggs.
Dr. Silverberg advised me to be aggressive and began a process called intrauterine insemination (IUI). After many discussions with my husband, we began the fertility treatments.
Hold on to hope
Isn't it strange how two pink lines can change your life forever? It was Friday, Oct. 30, and I rushed home to take the test ... and then three more after that. All positive!
I realized then that I never truly let myself believe that it was a possibility. After everything my body had been through to fight two kinds of cancer, I truly believed that I would not be able to carry a baby. It wasn't until then, as I looked at my husband and told him that I was pregnant, that I would let myself believe this dream could come true.
As I sit here today, just five weeks away from seeing our sweet baby and realizing the true enormity of this incredible blessing, I wonder how many of you have heard the words "infertile," "chances are slim," "not too many options," "too expensive." I want to provide hope for you because I wish I had heard a story of hope during these last 10 years.
If you long to be a father or mother one day, ask questions, look at your options and fight for your fertility. There are so many more opportunities now to protect your fertility.
Despite how you might get there, whether it's through adoption, fertility treatments or naturally, know that there is hope in this world of cancer that we live in.