By Charlene Charles
In 2015, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and the treatment I needed to save my life left me infertile. When I found out that I would never be able to have a child, I was devastated. I can’t explain the pain I felt. I can’t explain the pain I still feel now. I don’t think it will ever go away. Tears are flowing from my eyes as I write this. There is a big deep hole inside my soul that aches every day and longs for the child I will never have.
Once again, cancer had taken away one of my dreams.
It feels like yesterday when I first found out my fertility was in question. It was just a few weeks after I learned I had cancer. I had to have more testing and some other appointments before I could start treatment, so I wasn’t surprised when I got the call from the nurse.
After I received the dates and times, she then said to me that a referral was made for me to see a fertility specialist. At first I thought I heard her wrong. This was the last thing I was expecting to be told. I asked her to repeat herself. My heart skipped a few beats when she confirmed she had said “fertility specialist.”
When I got off the phone, my mind went blank and I started hyperventilating. I was just at the beginning of processing everything happening at this point. Treatment options, tests, being told that I had cancer, and telling friends and family that I was sick was hard enough to manage. Now I also had to deal with the fact that I might never be a mother as well.
I felt angry. How could this be? I was also sad. At least my oncologist knew enough to make the referral for me. I have friends who weren’t even told that infertility could be a possibility. Having to discuss fertility options and having to make decisions about that was the last thing on my mind.
Waiting for that appointment was so hard. No one understood how I was feeling. It seemed like the possibility of me being infertile was secondary to everyone I tried to explain my feelings to. They just didn’t get that it wasn’t secondary to me. People suggested I could always adopt, but that is not the same for me. There is something about having a child that looks like you and has your genes that I can’t explain. Over the years, I have been told I would make a good mother. I think I would have. I always wanted to be a mom. I was losing parts of the future I wanted. I was possibly losing a part of me.
I remember talking to a friend one night when I was really upset. I was telling her how unfair it was that all of this was happening. She turned around to me and said, “Worst case scenario, at least you have your niece and nephew. Some people have no kids at all in their life.” I remember feeling so crushed inside. Don’t get me wrong, my niece and nephew are my world and I love them with all of my heart, but it’s not the same. There is that emptiness that I feel.
The day finally came for my appointment with the fertility specialist, and I was so anxious. My mom came with me. As we were sitting in the waiting room, it seemed like time froze. Finally, we were called in.
When I walked in the office, I saw my file on her desk. To be honest, I can only remember bits and pieces of the appointment. I remember feeling my body shutdown after she told me that because of where my cancer is located, the chances of me becoming infertile are very high. Time stopped. I could feel the tears running down my face. I tried to speak, but I couldn’t. I tried to look over at my mom for reassurance that I didn’t hear correctly, and I couldn’t move.
I had to of heard her wrong.
I could see the specialist’s lips moving as she was talking, but I couldn’t comprehend what she was saying. It felt like I was like this for hours, although in reality, it was probably a few minutes.
I came to when the specialist asked me if I was single. I said yes. Her next question was had I ever thought of having a child on my own. I didn’t know how to respond to that. To be honest, I never really thought of that. I just assumed I would get married and have kids.
People may be thinking, “Well, why didn’t you freeze your eggs?” That wasn’t an option for me. Even with the cancer discount I would have been given, there was no way I would be able to afford it.
I remember leaving the fertility clinic feeling numb and defeated.
It’s hard to grieve the loss of the ability to have kids. There are good and bad days. It’s always bittersweet when a loved one tells me they are pregnant or invites me to birthday celebrations or some other special occasion for their child. I’m extremely happy for them, but very sad for myself.
I try to find the positive in things but there is nothing positive in this. It sucks that I can never have a child of my own. My heart hurts every day knowing this. The deep pain and sadness I feel will be there for ever.
But maybe it’s not about making the pain go away, and more about sharing and letting people know they are not alone.