I’ve Been Keeping A Little Secret
March 23, 2023
I’ve been keeping a little secret for the last year, and now it’s time to share.
When Adrienne was seeing the medical oncologist for the first time, she was told that the chemotherapy that they would use to treat her cancer could leave her infertile. At that point she didn’t even know if she wanted children, and there was no partner in the picture to share that decision with. But when the choice was potentially going to be taken away from her she opted to do fertility preservation just in case. It was while she was going through that, with all the needles and trips back and forth to the fertility clinic to check out how things were going while she was protecting stitches from her latest surgery, that she realized that she very much wanted to have a child of her own.
Adrienne’s oncologist was very firm that he wanted her on hormone suppression for at least two years, until January of 2022, before she tried, and that he would prefer that she wait until the results of The Positive Trial which was conducted to see if interrupting hormone therapy to try to have a child would have a negative outcome on recurrence. The preliminary results were expected to be released in December 2022. When the two years was up and the trial did not see that disrupting endocrine therapy impacted disease outcomes it was agreed that Adrienne could come off Tamoxifen and try to get pregnant.
Women must be off hormone suppression for three months to give the medication time to flush out of their systems as the drug can harm a fetus, so Adrienne stopped taking the pills in January which meant she could start trying in April. No one knew if her body would be able to conceive on its own or if she would need fertility treatment so the oncologist set up an appointment for October of 2022, six months from when the Tamoxifen would be out of her system, so if that step needed to be taken he could work with her to make it happen. Everyone on her team was prepared for a long haul.
Then on May 9th, 2022 I got a call and my tearful daughter said a very different set of three words than I had heard in March of 2019.
“Mom…I’m pregnant.” Wait a minute what… What… WHAT?
The next months were a filled with a flurry of appointments. Because of the risk of low birthweight she would need multiple ultrasounds to make sure the baby was growing properly. She had all the genetic tests known to man to see if there were any chromosomal abnormalities since the egg had also been subjected to chemo. She was designated high risk and needed to see an obstetrician as well as the midwife team that was her choice as her pregnancy health care practitioners. She met with a cancer center specialist who deals with pregnancy after chemo to check that all the necessary testing had been done and showed no issues. Chemotherapy also increases the risk of pre-term labour, so we all watched the calendar, counting down the weeks until the baby would reach viability, knowing that the closer she got to term the better baby’s chances would be.
It was the second most stressful time in my entire life. So much was riding on this baby arriving safe and sound into the world, so much of Adrienne’s mental well-being hinged on cancer not taking any more than it already had. I would sit there, watching her protectively put her hands on her growing abdomen whenever she was telling me about upcoming appointments to get test results, knowing how devastated we would all be if the news was not good. We’ve waited anxiously a lot in the last four years so you’d think we’d be used to it by now, but there was something a little bit “extra” this time. I also knew that the motherhood emotions I had felt watching Adrienne go through cancer treatment, the need to shelter from harm, were something she now knew first-hand. When she looked at me with her hand on her belly and said, “I can’t wait to meet her, mom, but at the same time I’m not ready for her to be out of here because in here I know she’s safe,” I couldn’t hold back the tears.
Well… That little secret I’ve been keeping arrived six days past her due date in February weighing in at seven pounds fourteen ounces. In this moment we are not thinking about the next scan, the possibility of recurrence, the mental and physical scars my daughter carries from her dance with the devil. I know those worries will return because I know cancer is a never-ending story, and we are already planning who will be with the baby when Adrienne has her MRI in a few weeks. But now… Right now… We are delighting in a little girl who is the spitting image of her mom. We are telling her stories and holding her in our arms as she drifts off to sleep. We are sniffing her head, inhaling the magic smell that somehow only babies can make.
Take that, cancer.
Mother…Grandmother…Librarian…Military Spouse…Caregiver…Family Life Educator…take your pick! Debbie Legault was born in British Columbia, Canada to a former RCAF airman father and a Scottish War Bride mother and has lived in other Canadian provinces, Germany and California. She has been married for 36 years to a Canadian Air Force Veteran and credits him with filling her life with adventure. When Debbie Legault’s children look at family photos they often comment on how many different hairstyles she has had and that pretty much is her story, that her life has taken as many turns and led her down as many paths as her hair has changed! Her latest role is as the author of Mom…It’s Cancer, the story of supporting her 27-year-old daughter, Adrienne, as they experienced breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.