Having a Baby After Cancer
Eight women share their inspiring journeys to motherhood
Heather Pick, 35, is a news anchor in Columbus, Ohio. She and her husband, Joe Cygan, 33, a graphic animation artist, have two children: Julia, 4, and Jack, 15 months.
I was 28, I had only been married a few months, and my husband Joe and I had just bought a house, when all of a sudden I began feeling really tired. As a TV journalist and evening news anchor, I was used to long hours and a hectic schedule, but this was different. Everything I did made me tired. I would exercise, which usually picks me up and gives me energy, but afterward, instead of feeling better, I'd be exhausted. I knew something was wrong.
Although I was so young, I actually was worried that I might have breast cancer because my grandmother had it. Later I learned that many elderly women get breast cancer and it doesn't affect a relative's risk. But I'm glad I didn't know that, because I started doing self breast exams and found a lump.
My first thought when I was diagnosed was "I always wanted to be a mom." I'd been warned about the risks of infertility, but obviously we had to get through the therapies that would save my life first. My husband and I decided that if we couldn't have children, we'd be happy to adopt.
Although I had four cycles of chemotherapy and five rounds of radiation, my periods came back fairly regularly. My cancer was estrogen receptor positive, so I started on tamoxifen. But I was diagnosed as a stage 1 and my chance of getting cancer again was so low that my husband and I decided to try to have children, rather than wait through five years of treatment. I went off the tamoxifen and Julia was born on September 19, 2001. We had our son, Jack, on June 24, 2004. It was what I'd always wanted, to have children and to watch them grow up. My pregnancies were so easy, my deliveries were so easy, and everyone was healthy.
Five months after Jack was born, I went in for a five-year post-cancer checkup, and the doctor was stern with me. He told me I really needed to have some scans done. When I did, they found the cancer had metastasized to my bones. What I couldn't wrap my mind around was how sneaky this disease is. I'd only been stage 1, with two small tumors with precancerous cells. I started tamoxifen again; and at first it seemed to be working, but then my tumor markers began going back up. I'm on a hormone therapy now and we're in kind of a waiting game. If the doctors see an immediate danger, they'll throw me back on chemo.
I don't know if it's harder knowing or not knowing whether you are going to survive. For me the biggest priority is not letting it get the best of me. I don't regret our decision to have children for a second. That's what keeps me positive and keeps me fighting. I work mornings, so we have the afternoons together, and I sit there and lick up every moment. I want them to remember me. I want to be with them when they graduate from high school. I keep a journal to tell them about themselves and a little bit about what their Dad and I are dealing with. I give a lot of credit to my husband; he's amazingly supportive and has been my rock.
I've had several beautiful years and I was able to become a mom. I don't want to leave yet, but I feel pretty blessed.