Archive | June, 2010

Romance a la Petri dish

30 Jun

After eight days on fertility drugs and pre-natal meds, Dr. Daneshmand informed us that my eggs were ready to be retrieved…two days ahead of schedule in fact.  As a proud mother-to-be-in-who-knows-how-many-years, I couldn’t help but be proud of my over-achieving eggs…two days early!  The extraction itself was a quick procedure and took no more than fifteen minutes.  I was put under light anesthesia (similar to the twilight drug used during the colonoscopy).

We had the option of freezing eggs or embryos.  While freezing eggs was a cheaper option, freezing embryos had a higher pregnancy success rate thus we opted to freeze embryos.  In total, I had fifteen mature eggs extracted from me during the retrieval.  After Nick’s supplied his contribution a total of ten of those eggs were successfully joined with sperm to create embryos using this high-tech contraption here:

Does this mean you’re going to have ten kids? You ask.  Not quite.  In several years we’ll take the next step and unfreeze the embryos.  When it comes to implantation, we are given the option of implanting one or two embryos at a time.  Implanting two embryos does give someone the chance of twins, but also increase the overall likelihood that even one will take.  Of course the other embryos remain frozen until (or if) we decide to become pregnant again.  Success isn’t guaranteed on the first try, thus having a team of batters on deck will come in handy!

Although this entire process consisted of almost daily doctors appointments and countless injections, we feel so fortunate to even have had this as an option – as many don’t even get the chance to or discover their illness too late in the game.  I can’t help myself from thinking sometimes…what if getting cancer and making the decision to freeze embryos like this resulted in the birth of a brainchild that actually ended up curing cancer?!  We have a lot of time/money invested into this process, I’m allowed to have high expectations…right?!

What comes first? Easy…the Egg!

24 Jun

Although first hearing the news that I had cancer was devastating, never once did I think I couldn’t beat it.  It was simply an inconvenient bump along the road that I would soon look back upon and feel strength for having conquered.  It wasn’t a permanent ailment, rather a temporary obstacle.

When meeting with one radiation oncologist with less than stellar bedside manner, however, I was hit was a stark realization.  My ovaries would be fried after chemo and radiation treatment.  Yes, I actually think he used the word ‘fried’.  I had finally been hit with one of the first permanent realizations of this entire process.  I had been told – in a rather crude way – that I would never be able to have children.  Prepared for this – I was not.  In fact this news completely blindsided me in a way that made me feel so powerless.  For the first time in a long time I felt I had no control over something…and I wasn’t prepared to relinquish this control.

We marched out of that doctor’s office putting all talk of treatment options on hold.  We had now been presented with a new mission, a side mission if you will:  Save the Eggs!  A new team member was about to be added to the E-Team.  Several years ago a former co-worker of mine had gone to a fertility clinic and had great success with them.  Instantly recalling its name, the Fertility Center of Las Vegas, I googled the address on my phone and we were at their front desk minutes later. (One thing we’ve learned throughout this entire process is that appointments are for those who are patient and have time to spare.  Well, I am one of the most impatient people I know, and time in this case was certainly of the essence.)

After a crash course on IVF (in-vitro fertilization) the decision was easy.  Expensive but easy.  We were going to proceed with a 10-day treatment that would mature multiple eggs simultaneously.  Following this maturation period, the eggs would surgically be extracted.  At this point, one has the decision to freeze eggs or freeze embryos.  Due to its higher success rate, we made the decision to do the latter.  The likelihood of the radiation treatments destroying my ovaries and the finite number of eggs in them was very good.  We were presented with this one chance to harvest as many eggs as possible for future insemination.  Crazy!  Nick and I have always known we wanted kids but not anytime in the near future.  We were thinking 4-5 years out.  Never did I think I would be on hormone injections and pre-natal pills less than three months before our wedding!  While the entire process is still not a guaranteed thing, we couldn’t bear the idea of knowing we hadn’t at least attempted to save my eggs.  And on the other hand, there is still a very slight chance that I will have eggs that survive the treatment, however despite the fact I live in Vegas, I’ve never been a betting person – especially on something like this.  We viewed this entire process as an insurance policy.

The Mission – And I’ve chosen to accept it

24 Jun

Many people may not know this but I love a good action/suspense movie.  From a cunning Bond flick to a thrilling Mission Impossible movie I’ve always been drawn towards a pursuit of some kind.   Well the way these crime-fighting action heroes approach the plot in front of them is how I’ve decided to approach this battle in front of me.  I’ve been given my mission and have chosen to accept it – I’m going to fight it with the fiercest willpower I have, combined with a calculated, meticulous research, and most importantly the love and support from others.

So what is the game plan? you’re wondering.  After countless hours of research and grilling as many experts as possible in a short amount of time, the order of operations will be as follows:

  1. Assemble an A-Team (or as Nick calls it…the E-team) of doctors and specialists who are ready, willing and prepared to fight this cancer with as much vigor as possible
  2. Harvest and freeze my eggs – a very necessary insurance policy (more on this in a moment)
  3. Five to six weeks of chemo and radiation treatments
  4. Four to five weeks of rest
  5. Surgical removal of what is left of the tumor following chemo/radiation treatment
  6. A few additional sessions of chemo/radiation

Oh, and let’s not forget the wedding planning that will continue to occur during Steps 1-4 listed above.  Yes, that’s right…I received news that I had cancer 82 days before my wedding.  Although I was never completely opposed to pushing the Big Day back, I liked the notion of having something to look forward to, something to strive towards.  Thus, the plan as of now is to continue moving full speed ahead J

So that’s a great plan, Emily, where do you begin? This was a question I probably would have asked myself under normal circumstances, however in this case found myself thrown into this situation so fast I didn’t even have time to think – just act.    Nick and I are firm believers that people attract like, similar people.  It is for this reason that we are so grateful to have the friends, family and support that we have…especially when we are living so far away from other loved ones.  When I first learned of the news, we knew we needed to start interviewing surgeons that would ultimately perform the procedure of removing the tumor and affected tissue around it.  Carrie & Mike Terrones were instrumental in getting us face time with some of Las Vegas’ highest regarded surgeons.  Mike works closely with doctors and surgeons on a daily basis and has witnessed many of them operate first hand.  He was able to steer me towards the most reputable professionals in town, and also told us which ones to avoid!  But it goes even further than that.  The typical timeframe it takes for new patients to be seen by one of these surgeons is 5-7 days minimum.  Carrie and Mike made certain this wasn’t the case for me. Mike would personally call the surgeons on their cell phones ahead of time, letting them know to give their scheduling nurses a heads up that I would be calling and needed to be seen ASAP.  I was walking into doctors’ offices armed with the name of the right person to speak with, who had now been instructed to fit me in on the doctor’s calendar despite a double-booked schedule.  Some people relish their illustrious Vegas connections and know pit bosses that will comp them an extra buffet or doormen that will let them cut the line.  Well in this instance, I felt like a VIP and will take this red carpet service over a free buffet any day!

For the past week and a half, we’ve been in the midst of an intense process of interviewing the doctors that would form the E-team.  This includes colo-rectal surgeons, oncologists, radiation oncologists, and a holistic integrative general practice physician.  In most cases we interviewed 3-4 specialists for each of these roles.  One of the physicians made an interesting comment – The best time to fight cancer is the first time around.  It is for this reason that we extensively grilled as many doctors as we did.  While my diagnosis of rectal cancer wasn’t rare by any means, the age at which I was diagnosed with it was.  The typical rectal cancer patient will be between the ages of 60-80.  My 28 years seemed a far cry from this.  When speaking with some doctors, they indicated I was their youngest patient to date.  Often times at this point I could see a hint of fear in their eyes.  Will fear is not an option for any member of the E-Team.  They would not be joining the team.  Other physicians we spoke with would cite I was their second or third youngest patient with colo-rectal cancer and didn’t seem to think twice about it.  They wouldn’t posses an ounce of fear in their eyes, just fond memories of how previous patients had conquered this villain with vitality and strength…and won.  These are the characteristics I was looking for in the members of the E-Team!

After almost two weeks of countless doctors appointments, waiting rooms, and new-patient forms, we feel confident that the E-Team is close to being finalized.  Cast members will be revealed soon…

The power of information

24 Jun

Learning I had cancer was a very difficult piece of information to internalize, but I kept reminding myself that nothing had really changed…it’s just that I actually knew the diagnosis now.  My symptoms hadn’t increased or worsened upon learning I had cancer; I don’t all of a sudden look frail, weak and balding. In actuality it’s something that I’ve probably had for a while and now just found out about it.  I continue to remind myself of this and not let the new found information control me.  I’m no sicker today than the day before receiving the phone call – it’s just that I am now armed with a diagnosis…as well as a game plan!

To continue reinforcing and ingraining this point in my head, I am insisting on leading as normal of a life as possible.  So last weekend when Nick suggested we go golfing, I was the first to volunteer to be his caddy!  What most of you probably don’t know is that caddying was my very first foray into the workplace.  My friend Anna and I were hired as caddies at the Golden Valley Country Club when we were just 13 years old.  My first (and only) client was the former CEO of Dayton-Hudson’s department stores.  An older man in his late 70s, he did nothing but compliment the job I was doing and reminisce about his favorite poet with whose name I shared – Emily Dickinson.  I didn’t remain a caddy long simply because I never developed the passion for the game like others did.  In my mind, it required too much patience, too much etiquette, wasn’t fast-moving, and wasn’t a contact sport.  Others have a different opinion.  If you ask Nick, he’ll tell you it’s the perfect thing to do while drinking and smoking and walking around on expensive real estate!

(Sidenote: Yes, it was 112 degrees on this day however Nick insists that golfers with true respect for the game will always wear pants – never shorts.  I, on the other hand, saw this as a multi-tasking opportunity to work on my tan and managed to get away with a miniskirt and tube top!)

Three words

24 Jun

Last week I received the type of news that one often hears about yet never thinks it might happen to them.  YOU HAVE CANCER.  Rectal cancer to be exact.  As tough as the news was to digest (haha) it was just as hard to communicate it to family and friends.  My fiancé Nick and I live in Las Vegas, while the majority of our family resides in the Midwest.  Knowing how helpless my parents must have felt when haring the news was just as difficult to deal with.  Of course As my news traveled fast through the family grapevine, I could immediately feel everyone’s thoughts and prayers pouring in.