My wife is 25 weeks pregnant, and two weeks ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
If that sentence hit you like a punch in the gut, you have some small idea of how we felt when the hospital called with the biopsy results. We were in Charlotte at the time, so we could attend the visitation and funeral for Janet's grandmother, a remarkable woman who had just passed away after 96 years well lived. (The first week of March 2016 will not be making our favorites list, to say the least.) I've been wrestling with so many conflicting emotions over the past couple of weeks, so please indulge me as I spill everything out through my keyboard.
- I'm relieved that Janet's cancer treatment doesn't carry any risk of harm for our unborn baby. On the back end of the second trimester, the fetus has done most of its crucial development and is mostly just adding weight and length from now until it reaches full term. Janet will be undergoing chemotherapy up until delivery, and the drugs are unable to pass through the placenta. In the early going, focusing on the development of our child has helped us both to stay sane in the face of our new struggle. We've spent good chunks of each day just sitting or lying together and feeling the kid's kicks and movements.
- I was bewildered by the diagnosis. The only cases of breast cancer in Janet's family are two generations removed - a great aunt and second cousins, all of whom were decades older than she is now. As the cherry on top of this crap sundae, so-called gestational breast cancer is diagnosed in just one of every 3,000 pregnant women. As Janet said to her OB, that's like buying a lottery ticket and finding out that you owe the lottery commission more money.
- I'm furious that my wife has to endure this. Less than a year ago we suffered the heartbreak of a miscarriage, we walked on eggshells through the first trimester of this second pregnancy, and now that we've gotten a strong bill of health for the baby, there's a whole new set of difficulties. She's probably going to spend the coming weeks dealing with nausea and exhaustion, and is already worried about losing her hair from the chemo. After the kid is here, Janet isn't sure if she'll have the strength and/or energy to do the simplest of things, like lifting and carrying the car seat. Breastfeeding may very well out of the question, and that by itself has been a big emotional blow for her. She will have a lumpectomy just a few months after giving birth, and will undergo radiation treatment afterward. How much hardship can be dumped upon one person, especially one as giving and kind and compassionate as Janet? This is probably a good time to mention that "God has a plan" is possibly the absolute WORST thing to say to somebody in this situation. Even if you mean well, you should know that it's okay to just say nothing, rather than to suggest that God doles out cancers and accidents and such just so we'll have obstacles to overcome.
- I am grateful that Janet is in very capable hands. She's undergoing treatment at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, which has become our go-to for medical care. Janet's primary care, asthma and allergy, OB/GYN, and cancer treatment are all at GBMC. We've never had a bad experience there, and all of the doctors, nurses, and administrative staff are incredibly knowledgeable and compassionate. The breast surgeon spent an hour and a half meeting with us, and the oncologist gave us even more of his time. The cancer team at GBMC has gone above and beyond to help us understand why they're treating the disease the way that they are, and to make sure that we're completely comfortable with everything.
- I'm worried. "Cancer" is such a loaded word, and it's hard not to obsess over worst-case scenarios. I'll just leave it at that.
- Most of all, I am thankful that we have such an incredible support system. In a short amount of time, Janet and I have been overwhelmed with offers of help from family members, friends, coworkers, members of our church...prayers, thoughts, well-wishes, good vibes, and the like are all appreciated. But our friends and loved ones have also come forward with food, personal care items, gifts, and most importantly, their time. We are very lucky to know so many generous and warm people. I know that we wouldn't be able to face this challenge alone, and I'm glad that we don't have to do that.