Having a Baby After Cancer
Eight women share their inspiring journeys to motherhood
Jennifer Rand, 32, is a kindergarten teacher from Long Island, New York. Her husband, Ricky, 34, is a customer representative for the local electric company. Their daughter, Faith, was born five months ago.
You know it's not good when you're sitting on a table after a medical test and they say, 'Did you come with anybody?' I was 29 years old and the diagnosis was colorectal cancer.
We were trying to get pregnant at the time, so right away I asked about having children. Because the doctors weren't sure if I'd need chemotherapy after surgery -- which can lead to infertility -- my husband Ricky and I went to a clinic to look into egg freezing, and were told he had a low sperm count. We were concerned, but had so much else on our minds, we just thought, okay, we'll deal with that later.
As it turned out, my cancer was stage 1 and I didn't need either chemo or radiation, but I had to have a massive colon and rectal resection. Two top surgeons on Long Island refused to do the operation because they said it was too risky and I'd end up with a permanent colostomy bag. I didn't want that at 29! I found Dr. Michael Harris at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, who was wonderful.
The recovery was hard, but my husband was amazing. When we first found out, he was devastated of course, but then he and my sisters just rallied. They became so informed -- I think they knew more than some of the doctors. Ricky had a backpack with a sticker that said "Project Hope" and held all of my scans and medical information. He stayed with me on a cot in my hospital room for eight days. Since he knows I'm into my hair and makeup being just so, he would wash my hair every day. An orderly showed him how to slide the bed up, hang my head over the edge, and use a bucket to wash it. He bought me cute pajamas and matching robes. My doctor said I looked so good he wanted to wheel me around to show his other patients!
Ricky and I were told to wait two years after the surgery before trying to have a baby because I needed time to heal. In a situation like this, you have to be positive. A little less than two years later -- we were anxious -- we started trying. When nothing happened, we remembered about that low sperm count and Ricky visited a urologist for a routine procedure. While Ricky was recovering in the other room, the doctor told me, "I felt a mass." I was sitting there alone, stunned. They removed the testicle with the cancer mass and took tissue samples from the other, which had precancerous cells. Most men have between 20 and 150 million sperm at any given time -- they found only one viable sperm.
Learning that Ricky had testicular cancer was horrible. My husband and I had been together 12 years -- we dated a long time before we got married -- and in all those years we dreamed of the house and the family. It was totally crushing, not just crushing for him to have cancer, but to be told you can't have children either.
We had one shot to try to conceive with that single sperm because he needed to start radiation soon. We planned to have my eggs retrieved, fertilized, and then implanted, so specialists recommended we also purchase donor sperm. Well, when we got to the fertility place for the procedure, the delivery service had lost the donor sperm! I was boosted up on injections and this was it, so the doctor said, "Let's see what we find in Ricky."
I look back on it and it was funny, actually. Ricky and I called it "Project Nemo," after the Disney movie Finding Nemo. I'm lying on a gurney and my husband is doped up on anesthesia and we hear the staff calling to one another. "We have three sperm!" "We have ten eggs!" "We have six sperm...eight...ten!" "Okay, we have ten eggs and ten sperm, let's go!" Three of those made it and were implanted, and out of those three, I got my daughter Faith.
All of our family and friends were really eager for Faith to be born, and everyone is in love. It is so nice to be able to care for my own child -- it's unbelievable. I look at her each day and I can't believe she's here after everything. Her dad is doing great and he's ecstatic -- he loves his little girl.