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Deciding on Parenthood After Cancer

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What do you do when your doctor tells you you're going to die? I asked my husband this question, once.

"Well, I don't really know. He never told me."

And that's true, because my husband made it very clear he didn't want to hear those words. He was 24, we'd been engaged for six days, and he had come out of the sedated haze of his brain surgery.

I knew, of course. While Mike lay in recovery, slowly regaining consciousness under the close supervision of a team of nurses and anesthesiologists, I was sitting with his surgeon in a tiny consultation room, listening to phrases like, "stage four multiform glioma," "18 months," and, "You don't often see people five or 10 years out."

But Mike didn't want to know, so I didn't tell him. Instead, I planned our wedding. Because what would you do with your life if you knew you were supposed to die, soon? You would do whatever you had wanted to do, but might have been too frightened to. You would live as though whatever was most important you was your top priority. And marrying me, well, that was his top priority.

Besides, we were in love with each other. Getting married is what you do when you're in love.

And something miraculous happened. He didn't die. Instead, the experimental trial his doctor has put him in worked. He didn't get better at first, exactly, but he didn't get worse. And nobody knew what that meant.

So, 18 months turned into a giant, open-ended question mark, and we were married, and we did what married people do. We talked about whether or not we wanted to have kids.

I had always known I wanted to be a mom. There was never any doubt in my mind. M had always known he wanted to be a dad, it was a sure thing. But... should we?

Every young person with cancer has been through this. Recovery isn't black and white. Recovery is forever. Every year that you live, the likelihood that the cancer is coming back is diminished, but not gone. Never gone. It's something that you'll have on your radar for the rest of your life, and it never ends.

Remission feels inevitable. You don't let it run your life, but every time something feels even the slightest bit off, you wonder, Is this it?

So, when you're 25 and in love, newly married, should you have kids?

Mike and I decided to. We decided that if you don't know how long you have, why waste time not doing the things that you know will give you the most joy? We decided to get pregnant immediately, because not knowing how long he had didn't mean he had no time at all. If he had 10 years, he would have 10 years with children who could grow up knowing him, loving him and understanding him. If he died in 20 years, he would get to coach softball and chaperone middle school dances and go on college visits. If he died in five years, at least he would have experienced the happiness of holding his children in his arms while they slept.

During Mike's last round of chemotherapy, I was already pregnant.

And here we are, four and a half years later, three children on and he's still with us. We celebrated his 31st birthday this week.

We're not alone in our choice. We have known many young people to fight cancer, and beat it. And we have also known those who lost.

I've watched my friend holding his infant daughter after his wife succumbed to the cancer that infiltrated her bones during her pregnancy. It rocked my soul, left me shattered and weeping, imagining what was and what could be. I stared at her photograph, with her husband and daughter by her bedside, her eyes filled with longing and love as she gazed at the child who would never know her.

There is no right answer. There is no wrong answer. There is only knowing what will make you happy. What will give your life meaning.

For us, it was parenthood. It isn't for everyone.

And every year that passes is another gift, another promise. We try never to take them for granted.

We would all do well to remember that.

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The post was originally published at Becoming SuperMommy

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