MOM BY DESIGN
Blogger, entrepreneur and triple negative breast cancer grad, Rachel Park, shared this wonderful essay about breast cancer and infertility. This blog post was originally posted on Page 261.
Shortly after my 40th birthday, I felt a small lump in my breast. Convincing myself it was “just a cyst,” I was devastated when doctors confirmed my worst fears, and I was diagnosed with Stage IIB triple-negative breast cancer. Ironically, on the first day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I met my new oncologist.
As my boyfriend and I listened to her say scary terms like "grade," "stage” and "aggressive(!),” I was still in shock and went spontaneously deaf as she told me I had to start chemotherapy in a week. SHIIIIIIT. THIS. WAS. REALLY. HAPPENING.
In the diagnosis daze of figuring out my game plan – and looking ahead to what would be over a long year of chemotherapy, surgeries and radiation – which included a litany of tests before I had to start treatment, I heard her nonchalantly ask, "By the way…do you want children? You should decide that NOW.” What, in the next ten minutes???
If I DID want children, I would have to see a fertility expert ASAP to either freeze my eggs or embryos before chemotherapy would temporarily shut down my ovaries. All I could think was, “When the hell am I going to fit in THAT appointment??”
Never really ever wanting children – nor feeling like I could dare say that out loud, in fear of being stigmatized, due to the societal pressure / expectation that all women must want to reproduce – I immediately felt unsure of my longstanding decision. Fumbling for an answer (and trying to absorb all of the other medical decisions I was just told I had to make), I was speechless. Suddenly, it all seemed so final.
What was holding me back? I’ve certainly never had that tick-tock feeling of needing to have children, and over time, nothing about that had changed for me. I was convinced something must be wrong with me as a woman. Why didn’t I want what every other woman seemed to?
Eventually, I realized it wasn’t about not wanting to reproduce. (That has always been my choice, and I was ok with that, even if others weren’t.) Why was I mourning giving up children I didn’t even want? It finally hit me that what I was really grieving was the loss of the OPTION of motherhood…and that wasn’t my choice.
As a Korean ADoptee (“KAD”), I faced my own unique challenges during breast cancer treatment. The very first question any doctor will ask when you meet them is, “What’s your family history?” How do you answer that question – or more importantly, make important medical decisions – when you don’t have that very key information?
During my breast cancer treatment, I attended a “Cancer and Genetics” seminar with a family member who knew definitively that there was a history of cancer in their family but had decided to NOT have any genetic testing done (which would help determine if they were at high risk for developing cancer in their lifetime). As we sat there listening to the presenting doctors explain how they determine this based on knowing your medical history, it struck me how ironic it was for us to be “related” (but not by blood) and both be dealing with our own individual family cancer history mysteries…yet knowing they had nothing to genetically do with each other. While they willingly chose to NOT know, I longed for the luxury of information I knew I could never have. As an adoptee, the divide between nurture vs. nature had never felt greater.
While I write this on Mother's Day – over two years since my major breast cancer surgery – I can't help but think of "motherhood" and what that means for me as an adoptee, a cancer survivor and most especially, a woman. (After wondering for awhile if I was the only one, I’ve spoken to other cancer survivors and realized our collective anger over the loss of this option is common amongst us.)
As an adoptee, I’m often asked about my “real parents.” I really hate when people ask me that. (So, don’t.) It completely diminishes everything that my adoptive parents have done for me. When it came down to it, my mother was the one who dropped EVERYTHING to live with me and my boyfriend during chemotherapy, plus my major surgery, and we could never have been able to get through it without her. We will never be able to thank her enough.
Constantly learning to be grateful for what little information I HAVE about my family history and not focusing on what I don’t is not always easy. I now know I may never have those answers, but I’ve resigned myself to accepting it.
At the end of the day, I have an AMAZING boyfriend who loves me, a loving father and mother who ushered us through cancer and beyond, and I am also the proud “mom” of a pug, whose love helped me get through it all.
Family and motherhood is what you make…not what you are born into.
Rachel Park is a tie designer and founded Rachel Park Designs. After more than a year of 15 chemotherapy rounds, three surgeries and 32 radiation treatments, she is thankful to officially be declared cancer-free! In addition to Rachel Park Designs, she also created The ParkPuff™ seatbelt pillow for cancer patients and founded Survivor Moda. You can find find her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.