Along with the rest of my friends, I'd been looking for signs of her pregnancy since the season finale of "Giuliana and Bill" aired at the end of September; I've been tuning into E! every night just to look for any hint of a baby bump, to see if this third round of IVF was successful for Giuliana and Bill Rancic. I don't know a single mom, or Chicagoan, who hasn't been watching and sincerely pulling for her. Though I have some Chicago connections to Bill (and I interviewed him in 2004 after he won The Apprentice), I've only merely met him a few times. I don't know Giuliana either, but they both happen to be friends of good friends of ours, and being from Chicago and watching their show religiously, I feel like we're much more than that, especially because I've had my own struggles with infertility...
It's no secret my husband and I have been trying to get pregnant for over a year now, which is kind of hard to believe—the last time I wrote about it was back in February, when I said that "this would probably be my last post about this." Well, okay, so it's not going to be my last post about it, though I don't have good news to share yet—we started seeing a fertility specialist back in May, at the same clinic Giuliana and Bill were going to when they did their first two rounds of IVF (the Fertility Centers of Illinois, or FCI). It's the clinic in Chicago; one of the co-founders and early pioneers of IVF happens to be a longtime friend of my parents. He's my fertility doctor, and he was also in the room when I was born, 37 years ago, as an internist at the time.
But this blog isn't about my unexplained infertility problems—we're currently going through our first round of IVF and, despite getting very sick after my egg retrieval last month and other related road bumps along the way, I'm optimistic about the outcome. But I'll save the details of that story for another blog. This is about Giuliana's recent breast cancer diagnosis—a diagnosis she might not have had this early on if she hadn't been going through IVF in the first place. I've been watching their reality show since the first season, and along with the rest of the viewing public watched in total heartbreak as she miscarried eight weeks into her pregnancy after her first round of in vitro; then watched in heartbreak again after her second round of IVF didn't even take. It's one thing to watch a woman suffer through something like this on a reality show from a safe distance, but it's quite another to know exactly what she's going through, in excruciating, painful detail.
I was absolutely shocked, as I'm sure everyone was, on Monday morning when she came out with the news of her diagnosis of early stages of breast cancer. Honestly, I cried when my mom first told me—and I cried again when I watched her Today Show segment, as she sat there so poised and brave, yet so clearly shaken to her core from just finding out she had a lump in her breast.
The news devastated me, for Giuliana and Bill, for everything they've been through, and for everything they're about to go through. I know how much she aches for a baby; but now to find out she has a cancerous lump in her breast and needs an immediate lumpectomy, followed by six-and-a-half weeks of radiation—it's unimaginable.
I can't help but put myself in her shoes... The clinic Giuliana and Bill went to for their third round of IVF, the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine, demanded she get a mammogram before doing her embryo transfer (I haven't done my transfer yet), even though she has no history of breast cancer in her family (we have incidents of breast cancer in ours, like many families do). She's only 36 (I'm 37), yet her doctor said it didn't matter how old she was—they require this of all their patients. “He said, 'I don't care if you're 26 or 36, but I will not get you pregnant if possibly there's a small risk that you have cancer because the hormones will accelerate the cancer,'" Giuliana told Ann Curry Monday morning on the Today Show.
It hadn't really dawned on me before hearing this—admittedly, I haven't ever been tested for the breast cancer gene (BRCA1 and BRCA2), against my OB's urging two years ago when I had Preston. Nor have I ever had a mammogram, against my mom's advice when I turned 35. My first thought after hearing Giuliana tell her story was to immediately call to schedule a mammogram, and that's exactly what I did. And while I'm obviously not looking forward to it, I know it's the responsible thing to do. We haven't done our embryo transfer yet (we decided to wait till I was feeling better), so I still have time.
I don't have any reason to believe that I have breast cancer, but I'm certainly not going to take any unnecessary risks. Not now. It's not just about putting my health first, it's also about making my son's life, as well as my husband's life, a priority. It's my responsibility to take care of myself for my family's sake, and especially before bringing a new life into this world.
If it weren't for Giuliana and her very personal and public experience with both IVF and now breast cancer, I wouldn't be as informed as I am, nor would I feel as comfortable talking about my own infertility struggles. Watching her determination with IVF has helped me get through the tough times with my own experience with it—and boy, have there been tough times lately. And now hearing her painful story about finding out she has breast cancer, at 36 years old—it's a reality check to say the least.
Her unborn baby may have saved her life, but I bet her story—and her willingness to share it—will save many other lives as well.