Reflecting on My First Father’s Day
When my wife Dory said she had a lump in her breast one night as we were getting ready for bed, I was honestly not too worried. I guess I thought that this couldn’t happen to her…to us? She’s 29 for f**k sakes! Unfortunately, I was wrong, and that was the beginning of our cancer story.
I really haven’t been close to anyone with any sort of life-threatening illness before and with Dory being such an incredibly strong woman, it was hard to see the impact it was taking on her. Of course, when she lost her hair, surgery, and her general unwellness during chemo made the emotional impact apparent but even with all these hurdles she stayed positive.
I broke down a few times during her cancer treatments. There’s no denying that seeing her come out of her surgery so weak and tired was unbelievably hard. But this was only the start of the impact that cancer has taken on our lives.
We had discussed kids early in our relationship (may have even been the first date!) and we knew we both wanted a child. Cancer put us in a tough predicament having to decide before we were married or even engaged to commit to one another because in doing so, it would give us a better chance of having a baby in the long run (by preserving embryos instead of just her eggs). Ultimately, we were able to preserve one embryo. Once Dory’s oncologist gave her the “okay” to get off the cancer meds (Tamoxifen and Zoladex), we started trying for a baby. Dory set up an appointment with a fertility doctor that specialized in working with cancer patients. The plan was to try a few times naturally/with cycle monitoring, then do an IUI (intrauterine insemination) a couple of times and finally, we would use the embryo as the last option.
We spent countless mornings going back and forth for these appointments where Dory would participate in blood tests, internal scans and chats with the doctor. We would get up super early to sign the intake sheet and be first in line so we could still get to work on time. The hardest part in all of this was watching Dory struggle with the thought of not having a child. A few months after Dory went off her drugs, we actually got pregnant naturally right away (literally within the first month!), but unfortunately, we had a miscarriage shortly after. I heard from a lot of people how common miscarriages were but with Dory’s now pre-existing condition, I was not so confident about success going forward. Some other failed IUI fertility attempts followed the miscarriage. I kept thinking that we would have to go through this multiple times and spend years of our lives frustrated and forcing ourselves to keep positive. But fortunately, seven months into the process Dory got pregnant and it stuck! During the pregnancy Dory had to make more than the average amount of doctor visits but the baby was consistently healthy, and everything went smoothly.
October 19th, 2019 was the best day of my life. I became the father of the most beautiful girl in the world, Reese Hazel. I have never felt the amount of positive emotions run through me than when she was born. I still tear up sometimes thinking about it. I really didn’t understand how life-changing it could be. I have a lot of friends and family with kids who have explained how incredible having a child is, but you just can’t understand until you have your own.
I am extremely fortunate to have such a beautiful healthy girl. It’s something I will never take for granted. After eight months of fatherhood and watching Reese develop so rapidly, I am starting to see different phases pass by and I miss them so much. I have been trying extremely hard to stay in the moment since day one. Since Dory was unable to breastfeed, I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time alone with Reese bonding our relationship early on. Dory and I made a schedule where I would take Reese from 6 P.M. to midnight every night. During these nights, I would sit with her lying on my arm. Today, I’m not sure how long I could hold her on one arm or how long she would want to stay since she’s always on the move! I miss these moments and each time there is a new phase, it’s exciting but a little sad.
Having such a beautiful, amazing girl after the challenges we faced is incredible but also scary. One thought that constantly recurs is if Dory, Dory’s mother, grandmother and her great grandmother all had breast cancer, does that mean Reese is destined to go through all the same challenges that her family members have faced with the illness? I am sure that once she comprehends Dory’s two scars across her chest in place of nipples, she’ll start looking for answers which inevitably can only lead to a realization that she may be at a higher risk than others to one day go through the same illness. I don’t want her to live with these fears in the back of her mind. I fear that we cannot help her navigate around these thoughts to ensure she lives a positive, worry-free life.
As I celebrate my first Father’s Day, I am nothing but grateful for this beautiful child. I can’t wait to continue to experience life through her eyes. I know we have a long road ahead helping Reese navigate this complicated world, but I am looking forward to every minute of it. – Justin Kwitco