To say that my wife, Gaby, has been through a lot the last several years is a bit of an understatement.
Since her cancer diagnosis in 2010, at age 35, her life has taken turns it wasn’t supposed to.
Days after the devastating news, we found out Gaby was pregnant with Adriana.
The joy of having our second child was overshadowed by cancer.
We made decisions quickly.
Because Gaby was pregnant, she couldn’t risk the invasiveness of a mastectomy, so she decided on a lumpectomy.
Thankfully, she found the lump early – at Stage 1b – so Dr. Kercher, our surgeon, was able to remove it with great certainty that all the cancer was gone.
Then, Gaby had to decide on chemotherapy.
One doctor we visited suggested Gaby wouldn’t need it because she found the lump so early.
All other doctors recommended chemotherapy.
Ultimately, Gaby had to decide.
And as she put it, “with two small children, I don’t want the cancer to come back.”
With the help of our friend Carinne, we found Dr. Virginia Borges at University of Colorado Hospital. Dr. Borges is a specialist in treating pregnant women with breast cancer.
In Dr. Borges, Gaby found a friend.
Gaby would go through chemotherapy while pregnant.
It would have to begin in the second trimester, after Adriana’s major organs had developed in the first trimester.
And the chemotherapy medication was different for pregnant women – nasty enough to kill the cancer, but proven safer for the baby.
Bit of irony there.
Gaby still had to decide whether to have radiation on the breast; but with the pregnancy, that decision could be held off.
So the plan was:
- Dr. Kercher performs the lumpectomy.
- At the beginning of the second trimester, Gaby would begin chemotherapy which would last until the beginning of the third trimester.
- Then after Adriana was born, Gaby would go through another round of chemotherapy for another 12 weeks.
- In that time, Gaby would think about radiation.
If she chose chemotherapy and/or radiation after the birth, she would have to stop breastfeeding.
She could also choose a mastectomy, which again meant no breastfeeding, but it also meant no radiation therapy.
It’s safe to say that Gaby had a few things to think about.
In the end, though, things did go according to plan:
- Dr. Kercher removed the lump, after which she told me Gaby was “cancer free.”
- Gaby started her first round of chemo at approximately week 13 of the pregnancy.
- She gave birth to Adriana on February 21.
- Gaby started chemo again in April, just before her birthday…….what a gift, huh?
- Gaby then decided on a double mastectomy, which was performed six weeks after her last round of chemo ended.
Sounds simple on paper.
Even as I tap my memory to write this, I conjure up scenes of our life that I wish would die, but probably never will.
Gaby nauseous and vomiting – almost daily – first from the morning sickness and then from the chemo.
Gaby crying as we shaved her head…..her desire to enact some sort of control over what was happening by removing her hair before the chemo did.
The physical pain of her double mastectomy and the emotional pain, not being able to carry her children
I completely forgot – until now – about the intravenous fluids we had to give Gaby at home. With Gaby vomiting and unable to eat very well, it was important she received fluids. So I learned how to connect tubes to her port so bags of fluid would pass to her body.
During the lumpectomy, Dr. Kercher had inserted the port (which was used to feed Gaby the chemo) into a vein in Gaby’s upper chest. Instead of poking Gaby at each chemo treatment, they accessed the port.
I remember how happy Gaby was when they finally removed the port after everything was over. After all the treatments and surgeries.
She felt free…..like there was no longer a connection to the cancer that was once in her body.
That’s also the reason Gaby decided on the double mastectomy.
She didn’t want to let cancer have another shot at her body.
Not with two small children – and a husband – to raise.
As a man, I can only imagine the physical and emotional pain Gaby went through…..and at times continues to go through.
Sometimes I don’t want to imagine.
I always knew Gaby was strong. It was one of the things that made me fall in love with her.
But, I never knew just how strong she was until the cancer.
I never knew how strong her faith in God was and still is. It has strengthened my faith.
It’s the faith I’ve always seen in others…….our parents, aunts and uncles, close friends.
But the selfish person that I am, I never found a reason to reach out to God. I had faced few adversities in life and never reached out for help, or worse, to thank Him.
But He’s the reason we’re still here, fighting every day.
The prayers, the undying love of family and friends, the acts of kindness are all signs of His presence.
In my weakness, which is ever present, I forget and turn away.
But when I take time.
When I stop complaining.
When I see my beautiful wife and children.
I turn back around, and He’s there.
Arms wide open, ready to catch me.