Friday, August 2, 2013

Crossing the Street

Ring! Ring!

"Hi Suzanne, I'm calling from the fertility clinic to remind you of your follow-up appointment with Dr. D tomorrow at 10:30," said the voice on the other end of the line. Appointment? What appointment? Oh yeah! "Thanks for reminding me. I had totally forgotten." I hung up the phone and quickly scanned the calendar in my head for the time of the appointment I actually remembered I had, the one with Dr. G, my medical oncologist. That's "chemo doctor" for the less cancer-experienced readers. Ok, 1:40 PM for Dr. G and 10:30 AM for Dr. D, who is habitually late. But it shouldn't be a problem since the offices are literally on the same road, just a matter of turning left or right off the highway exit.

I woke up the next morning, August 1st, and got ready to meet Dr. D. I still couldn't figure out why he needed to see me since my part in the baby-making was done two years ago. All the shots to stimulate my now non-existant ovaries to produce eggs are in the past. Jimmi's trips to the little room of porn to make his baby batter deposits are finished. It's all about Lyndsay now. What could he possibly need to say that hadn't been said by the nurse, the social worker and the finance specialist during our all-day clinic visit last month? Oh well. It's protocol, I guess.

I drove the familiar route down all the same roads that had brought me to numerous scan appointments and chemo cycles and radiation treatments. With each street sign and each turn that leads me closer to the exit I would normally become more and more anxious with a feeling of psychosomatic nausea growing in my stomach. But this time was different. This trip was taking me one step closer to holding a baby in my arms. Yes, I'd need to visit Cancerland when my first appointment was done, but this time it would only be for bloodwork and a chat, not the dreaded scan results that usually accompany my appointments with Dr. G. Since I'd had that crazy back pain in June my regular three-month CT scan had been moved up about six weeks, but the chemo doctor follow-up hadn't changed. I tried to move it to September when my next CT is scheduled but I was told, in no uncertain terms, I needed to leave today's visit where it was. 

I made a left off the highway exit to the much less traveled, happy side of the street and parked my car in front of the baby engineering office. I headed up to the second floor, checked in and waited for my name to be called. Thirty minutes after my scheduled appointment time I heard, "Susan?" I chose the second of my stock responses to the mispronunciation of my name which meant, instead of screaming at the erroneous nurse, I just ignored her. After all, my name is NOT Susan so why should I answer? "Susan?" she asked again as she scanned the room for the woman who would surely jump out of her seat and anxiously follow her to the promised land of lab-made babies. It was time for phase two of my little game. Casually I looked up at the nurse-in-waiting and innocently asked (corrected), "Do you mean Suzanne?" She looked down at her chart and replied, "Oh, yeah. Sorry." Yeah, yeah. Don't let it happen again, Missy!

I followed the scrub-clad assistant through a maze of hallways and exam rooms until we finally made it to Dr. D's office. She knocked on the door and showed me in, introducing me as "Suzanne." Good girl! And that's when it happened. As I set my eyes on Dr. D for the first time in over two years I immediately remembered something my friend, also a patient of his, had told me before our first meeting. "When you see him, don't laugh. He looks exactly like the scientist from The Muppets. You know, the one who experiments on Beaker?" And he DOES! I couldn't look directly at him for fear of erupting into uncontrollable giggles. I have a knack for explosions of inappropriate laughter. It's a bad habit. "Hello!" Dr. D greeted me with a giant smile that made his eyes squint so much they seemed to disappear. Yup, it's the scientist guy! "I'm so happy to see you here, alive and well and in a much better place than the last time we met." You're telling me, Dude! "It was a very difficult time for you, two years ago. But now it's time to finish what we started and get those embryos into Lyndsay's lovely uterus so you can have a baby!" I couldn't keep the corners of my mouth from turning up with excitement. He continued, "I must say, Lyndsay is just wonderful. You couldn't have asked for a better person to carry for you. She's sweet and emotionally stable and her uterus is really beautiful. I mean, she could have the biggest heart in the world, but if her uterus didn't look good, we'd have to tell her thanks but no thanks. You've really lucked out!" 

Hooray for Lyndsay's reproductive organs! Woohoo!

"So," Dr. D went on, "last time we met you had just been diagnosed with cancer and had a hysterectomy scheduled. Did you end up having any chemotherapy or radiation?" I shuddered at the memories. "Yes," I answered. "I had to have both." His head shifted to the sympathetic tilt I'd seen so many times before. I explained further, "I didn't have the typical kind of cervical cancer. Mine was called Small Cell Neuroendocrine Carcinoma of the Cervix." Before all the words had left my lips he was nodding with both understanding and surprise, "I know it well," he said. "My good friend's daughter had exactly the same diagnosis. Unfortunately, it got the best of her and she passed away." Ugh, I hate hearing that! "But look at you!" he continued. "For you to be here now is nothing short of a miracle. That type of cancer is tough because it doesn't behave as we'd expect it to. It doesn't play by the rules. The fact that you're here two years later and doing so well shows how strong you are. It's just great. And I'm so impressed that you had the determination at the beginning of your diagnosis to know you wanted to harvest your eggs. Then you had the focus and wherewithal to do what you needed to get it done, even when faced with everything that was being thrown at you." I nodded as he spoke, "And then to end up with so many eggs and TWELVE viable embryos is absolutely amazing!" I felt like giving myself a pat on the back. At least my faulty equipment was able to do something right in the midst of its death rattle. "So it looks like you have an even mix of males and females here," Dr. D broke me out of my self-congratualtory state. I smiled. "So will we be transferring one of each or do you want to just leave the decision up to the embryologist? Or you could flip a coin. It's totally up to you. All of your embryos are such great quality we shouldn't have a problem with anything you decide." I shifted in my seat and hoped he wouldn't judge me by what I said next, "We really want girls." I saw Dr. D's eyes squint into disappearance and I knew that meant he was smiling. "I figured you'd probably want to balance out all the Y chromosomes in your family. And I don't see why we can't help you get that little girl you deserve after everything you've been through." Thoughts of pink blankets and pink bedsheets and pink dresses danced through my mind until his next words shook me into reality, "You know you have a very high chance of twins, right?" I nodded. Obviously, since we're transferring two embryos, there's always a chance. "Normally we say there's about a forty percent chance of twins, but in your case, I'd say it's closer to sixty percent. Maybe even higher." I guess seeing my jaw detach from my face and fall to the floor was a clear indication that further explanation was required. "As I've said, your embryos are very high quality. That probably has a lot to do with the fact that you've never actually had any fertility problems. I can't give you a hundred percent certainty that Lyndsay will get pregnant at all on the first try, but if I had to guess, I'd say the chance of at least a singleton is well into the nineties. But twins are a very real possibility." A mischievous grin took over my face, "Jimmi's gonna have a heart attack." I announced. Dr. D laughed, "Tell him he needs to prepare himself now." We talked a bit more about the process and after every few sentences he always went back to telling me how happy he is that I'm here and healthy and about to compete the journey we started two years ago. Normally it bothers me when people talk about me beating the odds because, truthfully, I still feel like my health is so fragile that a new tumor could pop up at any minute and take me out. But, for some reason, Dr. D's words of praise were encouraging and positive. For a few minutes I actually believed I'd completely beaten the beast and was free to move on to the next phase of my life.

When the meeting was over Dr. D led me back down the hall to talk to the same nurse I'd met during Clinic Day in case I had any new questions. As soon as she saw me she blurted out, "Oh my GOD! I had NO IDEA how sick you were! I'm seriously so glad you're ok." Wait, what? "When Dr. D told me what kind of cancer you had I was totally shocked. You know he had a friend whose daughter died from the same thing, right?" Well, that was delicate. Thanks. "Yeah, he just told me," I managed as my brain was snapped out of visions of pink and back into Hell. I tried to clear out the cancer thoughts since I didn't want them sharing space with the baby thoughts so I quickly changed the subject to get the nurse back on track. A few minutes later I was back in the car and off to meet my mom for lunch next door before crossing the street into Cancerland.

It's really amazing how much one side of a street can differ from another. Turning left off the exit brings hope and new life. Turning right off the exit brings sickness and death. I wish I could always turn left.

But I had to turn right.

All of the warm fuzzies I'd gotten from the morning's visit instantly left my body as soon as I set foot into the cold, sterile environment at the cancer center. The smell of latex gloves, hand sanitizer and chemo drugs immediately hit my nose and caused a sensory overload that brought me right back to the days when I'd sit in that building for hours as the poison made its way to every one of my cells, healthy or not. "I hate the smell in here," I mumbled to my mom, who'd heard me say it many times before. "I know you do. But if that smell is what kept you alive, I'll take it." Yeah, yeah. Way to be an optimist, Mom. Up to the third, and my least favorite, floor we went. I tried not to notice all the sickly-looking patients in wheelchairs waiting for their chemo treatments. I kept my eyes on the floor, only looking up while checking in with the receptionist. I filled out the usual form, checking all the boxes that applied to my current mental and physical state and handed the clipboard back to the woman behind the desk. I sat back down and turned to my mom, "I have to pee," I whined like a potty-training toddler. My mom understood the look of concern in my eyes. I hate using the bathrooms at the cancer center, mainly because the smell of the soap reminds me of being there for long and torturous hours of chemo. But I didn't have a choice. I got up and found my way around the corner to the bathroom right outside the door that leads to the small cubicles where at least 30 people at a time are being infused with life-saving poison. I stepped into the lavatory and my brain immediately recognized the odor of expelled chemo toxins in the air. Did you know chemo drugs smell as they leave the body? When I was going through treatments I felt like it wasn't possible to wash the scent away from my skin. I peed that smell, I sweat that smell, I lived that smell. And here it was again. I quickly grabbed the counter by the sink to steady myself as the dizziness began. Then the nausea kicked in and I felt the color draining from my face. I finished up my business as quickly as I could, rinsed my hands with just water and hurried back to join my mom in the waiting room. I plopped down into the chair next to her, reached into my bag for some Purell and waited for my name to be called.

"Suzanne?" said an unfamiliar nurse and I hopped up to follow her to the tiny room where she'd take my weight, blood pressure and blood. It was like the movie Groundhog Day. The same routine each time. After my vitals were recorded I walked the rest of the way down the hall to the next waiting room where my mom was sitting. I was pretty calm this time since I wasn't minutes away from learning scan results that could change my fate in an instant. I just wanted to be done already so I could go home and think about babies! That's when the next nurse, who looked like she was about to give birth at any second, came to take us to the exam room. "Wow!" I exclaimed when I saw her. "When did that happen?" She giggled, "About nine months ago. Tomorrow is my last day of work and then I'm out for maternity leave." A few months ago, just looking at a glowing pregnant woman would've caused me to leave the room in tears. But not this time. I knew it would only be a matter of months before I'd be in the exact same position. Well, not exactly...but close enough.

Dr. G entered the room and we chatted about my trip to Europe and impending baby plans, then she listened to my lungs and pressed on my stomach a bit. "I tried to move this appointment to September so we'd be on schedule with scans again but they wouldn't let me," I explained. She nodded, "I know. We're a bit screwed with our timing now. But I think it's ok for me to stretch out our appointments a little bit now. Let's say I'll see you in six months instead of three. If you need me before then, we can always get you in." I assume she could tell what was going on in my head because she added, "We will need to make your appointments farther apart at some point. It's been two years now. I think it's time." I always knew this day would come but I didn't expect to feel so dependent on my three-month check-ups. "I'm scared," I said quietly. Dr. G was understanding, "I know. You'll see Dr. L next month and talk to him about it to see if he feels comfortable going longer in between appointments. But I think it's ok to only see me every six months unless you need me." "No offense," I broke in, "but I really don't want to see you before then." She nodded in agreement. "I just want you to know I'm here for you." After wishing each other a wonderful last month of summer, my mom and I put our imaginary blinders on and rushed through the waiting room full of people who looked like I did two years ago. We descended the three flights of stairs and I waved to the receptionist at the main door, "See you in a month!" I called to her as we headed out of the building.

I left Cancerland and crossed the street, heading back in the direction of Baby Central. I like that side so much better. Luckily I'll be able to stay to the left of the exit for a little while before crossing back over again. I am thrilled to announce that, as of one hour ago, our contract with Lyndsay has officially been signed! That means she is cleared to begin her ovary shut-off and uterus prepping medication NEXT WEEK! Then, in exactly 27 days, our little girls will make their way into Lyndsay's nice, warm oven where, hopefully, they'll set up camp for the next nine months until they're ready to break free.

Holy COW! It's really happening!!!


  1. Un-effing-believable. HOOORAYYYYY!!!

  2. This is happening! So proud of your unending determination and strength!