This month, the C4YW Blog welcomes Mary Craige as one of our newest recurring writers. Be sure to check back each month, as Mary has bravely decided to keep us up-to-date on her fertility planning and treatment after a breast cancer diagnosis at age 34. Her strong voice and particular story is one of the many that C4YW strives to represent. Be sure to visit the website and register for this year’s event in Seattle!
I always knew I would be diagnosed with breast cancer. Call it a woman’s intuition. Call it an insane hunch, but I always knew it was my fate. My mother was diagnosed at age 51 and my paternal grandmother lost her battle with the disease in her 70’s. But I never imagined I would be diagnosed with the disease at age 34, when my son was seven months old.
Unfortunately, some women hear the words, “you have breast cancer” and immediately think it’s a death sentence. When my surgeon delivered the news, my first thoughts and words were not the typical response. My reply was simply, “I can’t have breast cancer; I want to have another baby!” My surgeon, taken back by my reaction, immediately began talking about five years of Tamoxifen, chemotherapy and additional ‘options’, ignoring my response. I chalked that up to his inability to grasp where I was in life. I was a new mom with an infant at home. I had just returned to work from my maternity leave. My son had just started sitting up. How could I have cancer?! Driving home, I was still stuck on the notion of having another baby. This desire was a catalyst for many of the decisions I made over the next two months.
My husband and I immediately began researching our options to preserve our chances of having another baby. My medical oncologist told me that at my age and with my pathology, we needed to throw the ‘big guns’ at my cancer: six rounds of Taxotere, Adriamycin and Cytoxin (TAC), 34 rounds of radiation and five years of Tamoxifen. Chemotherapy gave me a 50/50 chance of becoming permanently infertile. This statistic scared me. As an only child, I always dreamed of having a big family and I didn’t want cancer to put an end to that dream. We decided to meet with a reproductive endocrinologist prior to beginning treatment to determine what our options were for fertility preservation.
My medical oncologist and reproductive endocrinology became a team and worked to determine a plan that would not jeopardize my health or treatment plan. We talked through options and decided to try and create as many embryos as possible, in only one cycle. We were very lucky; our medical team created multiple, viable embryos through one cycle of IVF. This limited my exposure to additional hormones and allowed me to start chemotherapy on schedule.
Two days after the egg retrieval procedure, I had my port placement surgery. Three days after surgery, I had my first chemotherapy infusion. Life was moving too fast for me to fully appreciate the risks and dangers associated with a future pregnancy. At that point, my focus was on beating cancer and moving on with my life.
Almost three years later, I am ready to revisit my options for carrying another pregnancy. This decision is scary, exciting and risky. My cancer was estrogen receptor positive, had a high Nottingham score and a high Ki67 score. Layman’s speak for this pathology: my cancer grew quickly and was trying to move beyond the breast. So while my desire for another child is still strong, my fear or recurrence and metastasis are always there, influencing my decisions.
For many, January is the month for ringing in the new and getting rid of the old. For me, it’s the month for my annual mammogram, blood work and breast MRI. But this time, I will also have a consultation with my reproductive endocrinologist to determine my fertility status and what my options are for another pregnancy. The anticipation of the annual scans and tests are always accompanied by a great deal of anxiety and stress. This year, I am strangely calm and at ease with this obligation. My anxiety now is due to what lies ahead, and what may or may not be possible.
Mary Craige is a wife, mother, daughter, friend and breast cancer survivor. Diagnosed in 2010 when her son was seven months old, Mary found blogging to be an outlet for her feelings about treatment, fertility challenges and survivorship. Since finishing treatment in 2010, she rode in two 200 mile Tour de Pink West Coast rides. The Tour de Pink helped her take her body back after treatment and proved that she could thrive after cancer. Mary currently works as a Content Marketing Manager for a large data company. Come back to the C4YW blog for future posts by Mary, and head over to the C4YW site to check out the wonderful programming for this year’s event, as well as the great deals we’ve put together for airfare and hotel prices.