Bright + Shiny Stars
I always dread walking through the doors of the BC Cancer Centre. I first entered this building in 2010, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 26. I’ve been back more times than I can count, but never accompanied by my son Declan.
He doesn’t understand why we’re here, but is fascinated when we get inside the elevator. Having just turned one, he knows how to push buttons – both literally and figuratively – so I let him light up each floor from one to six. On the slow ride up, the doors open and difficult memories flood inside. From the elevator I see the waiting rooms where I used to sit nervously before my chemotherapy, herceptin and radiation treatments. We pass the floor where I attended a young women’s support group every month.
I remember discussing my fears about the possibility of not having children with women who were in the same position as me. None of us knew if we would be able to conceive after treatment, or if chemotherapy would push us into menopause.
We stop on the floor where I received painful Zoladex shots to essentially shut down my ovaries, in the hopes I could preserve my odds of fertility. At each floor Declan tries to dart out of the doors, but I kneel down and hold him in a tight hug. He doesn’t notice my face is wet with tears as I remind myself how lucky I am to be his mom.
We get out of the elevator on the sixth floor, where I dig through the diaper bag to find my prescription. I am at the pharmacy to pick up more Tamoxifen, the hormone therapy that reduces the chance of breast cancer recurrence. I’m halfway through my ten year treatment plan, although I did elect to stop taking these pills in order to get pregnant. My oncologist supported the decision to temporarily pause, despite not having the data to reassure me that it’s safe to do so. I’m back on the drugs now, contemplating if I want to join the Baby Time study and possibly try for another child.
My greatest joy is being a mother, yet I agonize that a recurrence could mean my family could be without one.
The pharmacist tells me the wait is thirty minutes. This feels like an eternity to a toddler, so we wander the halls. Everywhere we go patients chuckle while watching him take proud, wobbly steps. Nurses poke their heads out to see why there’s giggling noises in the quiet halls. He is not shy, and happily lifts his shirt to show every passerby his belly button. Declan approaches a young bald woman who is reclined under a blanket. She asks him for a high five, and he extends his chubby hand to meet hers. I wonder if she will face the same uncertainty I did about future fertility options.
When the prescription is ready we head down, again stopping on each floor. The elevator fills with people who are surprised to see a toddler reaching for the buttons and waving hello. I’ve never seen so many smiling faces at BC Cancer. A woman pinches his cheek and says “Well, aren’t you a star around here?” I grab his hand and say, “he’s definitely a star to me”. As we exit the elevator doors, I realize he’s the star I wished upon every night since I first walked into this building. – Joanna May 2016