The Elephant in the Room is Cancer. Tea is the Relief Conversation Provides.

From Clomid to Chemo

by Sheena Harris-WilliamsPatient, Neuroendocrine CancerOctober 25, 2021View more posts from Sheena Harris-Williams

One of the things I struggle with as a young adult with cancer is never having children. It’s depressing when you see friends and family having and raising children all around you. And you know you’ll never get to be part of that mommy club. Especially when you were already in the process of working on it.

Prior to being diagnosed with cancer, I was trying to get pregnant. We got married in October and started trying to conceive right away. In fact, we stopped at the local Walgreens on our honeymoon to get an ovulation kit. I was so ready to start my family with my new husband, the man I’d been loving for the last ten years. First comes love (check), then comes marriage (check), then comes the baby in the baby carriage (hopefully).

The last few years prior to getting married, we weren’t trying, but we weren’t preventing either. Nothing happened. So by the time we were ready to officially start trying, we knew, and my doctor knew, there was a possibility of having issues. I went to my gynecologist to speak with her about our plans. At that visit she ordered labs for me, gave me a prescription for Clomid (a fertility medication), and a specimen cup with instructions for my husband. I had a feeling this wasn’t going to happen overnight, but I left her office feeling excited about the future. I started taking prenatal vitamins and tracking my ovulation.

I’ll never forget the first time I got a smiley face on my ovulation tracker. I was overjoyed. My period cycles were irregular so tracking my ovulation was hard sometimes, so this was a big deal to me. It felt real, like it was finally going to happen. I remember calling a good friend from college, who knew we were trying, to share my excitement with her. I took a picture of it and texted it to my husband to let him know it was on that night. It felt like we were off to a good start. I began looking out for any and all symptoms of pregnancy month after month. I even went ahead and started googling baby shower ideas, invitations, and nursery room designs. I just knew it could happen any day. But by the time April rolled around, nothing was happening. I started taking the Clomid. I figured it was time to use the extra help the doctor prescribed me. My husband looked into IVF and checked with our insurance provider to get everything set up in case we needed to go that route. We were still hopeful at this point. 

I hadn’t gotten to the level of frustration some women reach when they keep trying and trying but nothing’s happening. It’s definitely frustrating when you want something, something you’ve probably wanted your entire life, and it’s not coming soon enough. You finally found your true love, gotten married and you are ready to create the family of your dreams. A lot of us spent our girlhood dreaming of the day we’d have children and the type of mothers we’d be. That was me. I was that girl. And I was now that woman ready to make it happen. 

I was 30 years old at this point, and I remember reading about how conceiving naturally in your 30s becomes more and more difficult as you age. This was in the back of my mind, but I didn’t let it get to me. I knew we had time to figure it out. I mean, why wouldn’t we have time?

I was wrong. We didn’t have time because those dreams came crashing down when I received my stage four cancer diagnosis. And when I learned how grim my situation was, all the emotions came pouring out. I knew that chapter in my life would be closed forever. It went from trying to bring a new life into this world to trying to save my own life.

I knew I’d never get that positive on a pregnancy test. I knew I’d never get to lay in bed with my husband and rub my stomach as we felt the baby kick inside of me. I knew I’d never get to set up a baby registry and have a baby shower. I knew I’d never get to set up a nursery to bring my baby home to. I knew I’d never get to spend hours in the hospital laboring to bring my baby into this world. I knew I’d never get to do all of the things my parents did for me growing up. It was all over. Chapter closed. The end. 

As a woman in her childbearing years, the reminders are everywhere. You open up social media. I see a pregnant woman holding her belly. I see pregnancy announcements and gender reveals. I see newborn babies wrapped in their hospital blankets being held by a loving grandparent. I see families posing for family photos in matching outfits with cutesy quotes. Then when Mother’s Day or any other sentimental holiday comes around, the images go into overload. I am constantly triggered by these things, and I don’t know how to deal with it. When I’m triggered my heart gets super heavy, my stomach gets twisted up into knots, and my eyes well up with tears. It’s almost an automatic response, unless I have time to brace myself for the trigger. But if a trigger is sprung on me without preparation, all bets are off. I thought it would get easier with time, but so far it hasn’t.

My biggest pet peeve is getting the endless questions about having children. I can’t fault people completely because that’s just how society teaches us to think. Before my diagnosis I was conditioned this way too. But now I know better. Leading up to the wedding I was asked if we plan to have children. A simple “yes” was good enough and the questions would stop. After the wedding I’d be asked when I planned to have children. I’d say we’re working on it. Again, the questions would stop there. Now that we’ve been married for a little while, when I tell people we don’t have any children, it turns into a whole deposition. I’ve run into this heartache on several occasions since being diagnosed. And after a slew of questioning, the question that flat out comes out of people’s mouths is, “Why don’t you guys have kids?”

I believe this type of grief is harder on women than it is for men. One of the reasons I believe it’s harder is because society shames childless women. Yes, there’s plenty of childless women, but it’s not always by choice. But society isn’t conditioned to think that way. It’s always assumed your childlessness was a “selfish” choice you made. Like, what’s wrong with you? Why don’t you have children? What kind of woman are you to not give life? News flash: women don’t have children for many reasons. Some choose not to have children because it’s not what they want for their life. And to me, that’s the most honest choice a woman can make. They’re not conforming to societal norms and the shaming that comes along with it. They are doing what’s beneficial for their own lives, and they know it wouldn’t be beneficial to bring a child into the world that they do not want. Others can’t have children because of fertility problems. They desperately want children, but they can’t have them for a number of reasons. Then there’s cases like mine: being diagnosed with a terminal illness and having your fertility snatched away from you. I went from one childless boat to another. The silencing one. The one that doesn’t allow me to choose anything about my fertility. I traded in Clomid for Chemo. And that’s been a hard pill to swallow. No pun intended.

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