This entry was written by Lesley Andrews, a breast cancer survivor and supporter of LBBC:
On August 25, 2003, I awoke groggy and disoriented from an excisional biopsy on my right breast. My husband was in tears.
“I am so sorry, but it’s breast cancer.”
I was 38 years old. I was in total shock and felt that my whole world was caving in. I was so healthy – how could my body have failed me? Yet, not only was I forced to face my own mortality, I also had to deal with the possibility of a life without children. I never dreamt that, not only would I survive cancer treatments, but I would become the mother of three children.
In January 2003, after 1 ½ years of trying to carry a baby, I went through in vitro fertilization (“IVF”). That cycle was successful, and I became pregnant with triplets! I was excited, thrilled and terrified. But, sadly, I lost all three at nine weeks into the pregnancy. After a D&C and waiting for my body to heal for two months, I completed another IVF round. It failed. When my fertility nurse told me that my pregnancy test was negative, I called a close friend and said, “I feel like she just told me I had cancer.” Little did I know, I actually did have cancer growing inside of me.
After many discussions with my husband, we decided to take a month off and try naturally. I believe that decision helped save my life. As I often did when I thought I might be pregnant, I felt my breasts during that month to see if they were tender. That is when I found the lump. It seemed to have grown overnight.
One Last Try
I had a unilateral mastectomy and axillary dissection in the fall of 2003. Before I started chemotherapy, I told my oncologist I wanted to go through another IVF cycle. I knew it was my last chance to create embryos. Chemotherapy would likely severely damage my remaining eggs, and I was already having a difficult time conceiving. My oncologist was hesitant due to the possible risks associated with increasing my estrogen during the in vitro cycle. She suggested I see a specific fertility specialist in New York City who dealt with cancer patients. Within a week or two, the doctor stimulated my ovaries with fertility medication while giving me a breast cancer drug – an aromatase inhibitor – to reduce the estrogen levels in my blood. This IVF round resulted in four embryos which were immediately frozen.
Because I was on Tamoxifen, I could not safely carry a baby due to the high risk of birth defects. We found an amazing gestational carrier who agreed to carry our baby. We used the frozen embryos from my first IVF cycle. After initially starting with twins, one twin died at 8 weeks gestational age. But Melina continued to grow in our gestational carrier’s womb and was born a healthy baby girl on May 31, 2005.
Double the Blessings
When Melina was two years old, my husband and I decided to use the remaining four embryos from the pre-chemo IVF cycle. The gestational carrier who delivered Melina agreed to try again. The fertility doctor told us that, due to the type of these embryos, the chance of pregnancy was only about 15 to 20 percent. We went ahead anyway. I had a plan B – using an egg donor or adopting.
I never resorted to plan B.
Not only did our carrier get pregnant, but she became pregnant with triplets! One of the triplets stopped growing at nine weeks gestational age, but we were so fortunate to have healthy, full-term twins – a boy, Ryan, and girl, Annabel – born on May 16, 2008.
I still mourn the loss of not being able to carry my own babies. My whole life I wanted to experience being pregnant. Despite the loss of never giving birth, I cannot believe how many wonderful blessings have arisen. I know I am so lucky. But, sometimes, in the quiet of the night, I panic, thinking I might not be here for my young children. Then, I listen to my inner wisdom, and know, for sure, that I will.
Melina, Lesley, Ryan, Manny and Annabel