"I Was Told I'd Never Have Kids"
Four moms who beat the odds and had the families they'd always longed for
"I Was Too Sick"
When Melanie Turner Dawson was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer at age 35, her first thought was, "This can't be right. I'm too young to die." There was no history of the disease in her family, she ate a healthy diet, and she didn't smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol. Despite the dire news, she tried to keep a positive attitude with the support of her mom, siblings, and friends.
That wasn't always easy. Dawson endured a single mastectomy, followed by six months of chemo and 36 rounds of radiation. While she knew these treatments might help her live, she was worried that they might damage her ovaries and leave her infertile. "It was devastating enough to be confronting my mortality, but the idea that I wouldn't be able to have a child was almost too much to bear," says Dawson.
She thought her fears were realized when she stopped getting her period for seven months, and a fertility specialist found that she might be in early menopause. Though her menstrual cycle started again two months later, she still assumed she'd likely have to give up her dream of getting pregnant and bearing children.
Dawson also worried that even if she did have a child, she might not live to see him grow up. She knew the odds: according to the American Cancer Society, 77 percent of women with breast cancer that spreads to the lymph nodes or other organs, as hers had, don't survive past five years. "For that reason, I sometimes thought maybe I shouldn't get married and have kids," she says. But then September 11 came, and she realized, "Life's never a guarantee, and while cancer may have robbed me of one breast, I'm still alive. Why should I stop living?"
So she didn't. In November 2002, at age 37, she married her boyfriend of eight months, Richard. The couple honeymooned in Hawaii, but when Dawson spent most of the trip nauseated and exhausted, she was terrified her cancer had come back. On the other hand, her period was late, so she took an at-home pregnancy test when she and Richard got home from their trip. It was Thanksgiving morning. "Waiting for the result seemed like an eternity because I knew it was going to be either the happiest moment of my life or one of the saddest -- I'd either be calling my gynecologist or my oncologist," she says. "When it was positive, my husband and I certainly felt like we had a lot to be thankful for that day!"
Dawson was a little concerned that the pregnancy would raise the chances of the cancer recurring, but she felt the risk was worth it. "Part of my life had already been taken, and I couldn't spend the rest of it living in fear," she says. "I just kept faith that everything would be okay."
After a normal, relatively smooth pregnancy, she gave birth to a son, Robert, in July 2003. The cancer has returned, but Dawson, who lives in Rochester, Minnesota, is determined to beat it again. "With my new husband and baby boy, every day seems fuller and more worth living than ever before."