Fertility Clinic Surprise*

 One year after chemotherapy and I’m back at the fertility doctor. This is because I pressed my oncologist for the referral, though he insists – absolutely insists – that I wait at least two years with my hormone therapy before doing anything in regards to having a baby. If I can have a baby. . .

Let me catch you up, real quick: Before chemotherapy I was given the option to freeze an embryo. I said no, because my tumour was estrogen loving, and goodness knows IVF involves a lotta estrogen. Therefore, we took a chance on Zolodex. For the five or six months that was chemotherapy, I had the Zolodex pill (and that GIANT needle) inserted in my belly each month which repressed my ovaries and stopped all periods. But then after the chemo and Zolodex were over, I still hadn’t gotten my period. Waiting, waiting, nothing . .. doctor orders an AMH test, the results of which are very bad – i.e. low. Nurse tells me on the phone that I don’t qualify for IVF, I realize my eggs are super low, and extreme panic ensues because – what the heck? Do they mean I can’t get pregnant? And then, a few months later, my period returns. I am confused.

Fertility becomes so stupidly confusing after having had chemotherapy. We’re all told it can strip our eggs, throw us into early menopause (now that I’ve had  my taste of menopause, I’m in no hurry to revisit that hot-flashing experience again, though it is inevitable.) and just make things difficult. Alternatively, it might not. But if you are like me and want a family one day (or want to grow your family), there are questions that need to be answered.

So we go to the fertility clinic in Ottawa. This place is located at the back of a business park complex, and it’s a freaking miracle that we found it. Zsolt and I were working from a map when we pulled into a random parking lot (I almost freaked out without my GPS, but Zsolt is actually quite competent with a map) . . . we pull into this parking lot and stare at all the ‘you must have a blue pass’ signs for parking, and we’re about to turn back out onto the main road when I figure, ‘Hey, let’s just drive around this place and then loop back . .. what’s the building number again?’ Zsolt digs out the address number and reads it aloud as we’re passing through the back of that labyrinth lot and – hello!—there is the building, and –look!—there’s a parking spot for visitors.

How perfect is that?

We park. We go in. It’s not like the hospital with narrow halls and florescent lighting. Instead there’s an indoor rainforest, and the fertility clinic is carpeted, with curved reception desks and a sofa-filled waiting room. (The waiting room is huge, by the way, like three little rooms divided by Ikea bookshelves, and I wonder how many people do they normally expect? At that moment, it’s just Zsolt and I waiting.) We sit down, ready to wait the standard 1 hour. In England, we always waited approximately 1 hour. But instead the doctor comes out and calls my name immediately – I haven’t even finished filling my form!

Another good sign.

We follow her into her office. She has one of those giant screen computers that I’d like to eventually purchase myself. This Doctor is quite young (or at least, young looking) and I like her calmness. She has us sit down, and begins to ask questions . . . you know, all those personal things you need to divulge to every new doctor at any initial visit.  And once the history and physical stuff is filled out on her computerized form, we start to talk about babies.

[This is approximately the conversation. I can’t remember the actual words spoken, so if you’d like real medical advice for fertility, definitely go and speak to a real doctor.]

“So you want to meet today, but not actually do anything for about 2 years?” she asks.

“That’s right,” I answer.

I’ve told her about my previous AMH test in England, and the terrible result. I’ve also told her I’m getting regular menstruation every thirty days. (And now you know too!)

“Well the AMH is more a test to see if IVF would be an option for you. With results like yours, it may not be, but something is likely there if you are menstrating. Basically you could still get pregnant naturally, even if we’d have trouble with the IVF.”

“WHAT THE HECK?!”

I don’t really say that, but I feel it. All the freaking time I think I’m eggless – even having my period didn’t convince me to anything different . . . girls can get their period without ovulating . . . but . . .they still have eggs, don’t they? Hmm.

So I’m all – what the heck, how come no doctor ever mentioned this? (Well, my mother who is a naturopath and chiropractor mentioned it, as did my acupuncturist in England, but not once did I hear it from one of my medical doctors until this wonderful lady.)

And she’s all – hey, that’s how it works. You may get pregnant naturally, I’ve seen it happen.

While I’m doing a happy dance in my head, and we can assume Zsolt was too, she begins to discuss egg donation. Get these numbers:

If you find a donor here in Canada, because there is no egg bank, the process costs ~ 15,000 dollars.

If you go to the USA, where women get paid for their eggs, and therefore candidates are plentiful, the process involves six tries and costs ~ 34,000 dollars – money back guarantee if you don’t have a baby. (Money back guarantee! I thought that sort of thing only happened in retail.)

If we adopt, she thinks it costs about 20,000 dollars and can take several years.

With egg donation they’d have the donor take the IVF hormones but I’d also have to take hormones . . . I’d be taking estrogen and progesterone to sync my period to that of the woman who is donating. (Why can’t we just share tea and bond? We’d sync up naturally.) Meaning I’m still exposed to that excess estrogen. Alternatively they could create embryos and then freeze those little guys to be de-thawed when my uterus is ready. . . that’s one way to avoid the extra hormones, but not all embryos can withstand the freezing, and I could possibly have less chances of success.  The final alternative would be to have a surrogate, but I’m not hot on that.

And there are my options. Now come the tests.  (MORE TESTS)  Two blood tests to see if I’m ovulating, another shot at the AMH, plus . . . wait for it . . . a sperm test. Zsolt is about to become involved. Apparently he’s to stay out of hot tubs beforehand, since they slow the boys.

Okay, this is a long post. All this to say, really, that I might get pregnant naturally – so that’s something I’ll definitely try doing in another year or so when I’m still totally healthy and cancer free and have been on Tamoxifen for 2 years. Assuming I am still menstruating regularly, we can give that a shot and see what happens. If nothing happens, then I’ll likely go back on the Tamoxifen and wait for the 5 years to finish. After that we can break our piggy bank (if necessary – fingers crossed we get preggers naturally) and go to the USA, or something.

So, if you’ve been through chemo and want to know your options . . . why not ask? At the very least they can paint you a picture, and for me, though I expected anxiety, it’s actually left me optimistic.

First a great parking spot in front of the building, and then not waiting for the doctor – good signs, I think. So who knows what else might be possible?

(Plus I’m working with some alternative health doctors to help with my fertility and ovulation, much like I’m also working on staying HEALTHY. These are good things, and I pray pray pray it all amounts to me going on to live a long, happy, successful and most certainly family-filled life.)

 *No, this is not a type of cassarole.

Aunt flow pays a visit

Whew – touchdown. We’re finally back from the graduate weekend. Zsolt is officially Dr Zsolt and we now turn, to borrow a phrase from Terri, to a fresh chapter in our lives. He is no longer a student, instead, he is officially unemployed. Ha! I am joking. At the moment our status is “we’re on vacation so leave us alone.” Employment can wait a little longer (though not too much longer).

Oh, big surprise this weekend. With the steady decline of my hot flashes (essentially disappearing with the heat wave some weeks ago) followed by a bout of cramps and what I could have sworn was ‘Ovulation Catherine’ – you know that woman, Ovulation Cindy, Ovulation Grace, Ovulation Anna, Ovulation anyone who is ovulating, craves chocolate, feels emotional and is above all horny. Following these signs (plus a week of absolutely no signs, except perhaps a tender abdomen), last Sunday after a particularly happy weekend where I visited so many friends and had such a good time, well – there she was in the morning: Aunt Flow.

She arrived promptly in the AM with bagfuls of luggage. Heavy luggage. More luggage than I’d ever seen in my life, which frankly was worrying, because after a year of no luggage, to have so much suddenly was quite a shock. I was off to the pharmacy every two minutes buying bulkier and bulkier supplies to deal with the onslaught. It was a very interesting day.

All the while (as we tour the Isle of Wight with Zsolt’s parents, who kindly never asked why the heck I kept disappearing) I’m wondering to myself: “is this normal? Is it menstruation or a sign of ovulary cancer? Am I about to bleed to death?” But then I looked at the obvious: flow with no dizziness, pain or fatigue . . . everything was normal.

Normal! After a year of menopausal mayhem in my twenties, suddenly something normal was happening. It felt weird.

So bye-bye menopause. Except, of course, for yesterday in the plane ride back from England where I was riding successive hot flashs as the plane descended for landing. “Zsolt, is it warm in here or am I having a hot flash?” Apparently my body in currently in limbo between menstruation and menopause.

So – babies, anyone? This is absolutely confusing now. If I have my period, then it must mean something ovulated. Whether it’s a usable egg is unknown . . . actually, the entire thing confuses me, which is why I’ve decided to rely on the words Zsolt’s lovely friend said to me the other day (as we sat on Margaret Island and watched the fountain rise and fall with the Mozart soundtrack). This is what she said, and I found it incredibly touching: “Catherine, you don’t have to worry about having children, because I pray for you everyday.”

Very touching.

And so, for now, I’ve decided not to worry. Her confidence is reassuring, and while everything can be so confusing (test results, my body, menopause, menstruation) I prefer to take refuge in faith . . . even if it isn’t always my own.

So I try not to worry as my body switches and questions come soaring into my mind. It is a constant struggle to stop the anxiety, but then I remember her kind words and suddenly life becomes calm.

Calm like the glassy turquoise ocean round the Isle of Wight, gently peaking with tips of froth and deep in that ‘swim in me now’ color. And I listen as the waves lap against the shore, and a lone seagull in the sky – calling – dives away from sight.

Calm like a moment in the sunlight, with nothing but horizon and quiet and blue.

Calm.

I love me a little Calm.

And so, my body tumbles forward, changing toward the normal. It’s a good thing.

(And as you can see, gets me going rather lyrically. I can’t help it – really, I can’t. Writing taps into my heart, and my heart is abundantly sentimental. I cannot help the tone. It’s a little cheesy, but then, I do love a strong slice of cheese.)

Packing through panic

Packing update (still no time for pictures):

The boxes are slowly filling. One after another, I’m stuffing them with clothing, books, computer games and cooking hardware. Attempts to sell the mattress have failed. Such is life. We’ll be shipping it to Canada. Time is running out since the movers arrive tomorrow to collect our goods, which means tonight will likely involve last minute quick-fixes – tape and cardboard flying. Went shopping yesterday in attempted retail therapy. Bought amazing dress (Sales Lady said it looked, ‘striking’ then commented how she remembered me from the last time I’d tried it on. That essentially sold the dress. Not sure why – but the word striking suited me perfectly. I’d like to be striking, particularly after this past year of being a Vaseline smear of myself in the mirror).  Soon to leave for Hungary with a European road trip in the works. Not planning this trip, instead leaving everything up to my husband and his family. I’ll just be the tired girl in the backseat, typing away on her laptop.  Article writing is coming along, but I’m suffering from ‘cheese’ symdrom. It’s like when attractive people suddenly appear ugly in front of the camera. As soon as a spot light is turned on my writing it freezes up – fills with formality and tension – thus resulting in a lost voice. But life is a learning process, problem has been identified – now must rise above. Shake off those nerves.

And that is my situation in the form of facebook status lingo, or twitter tweeting. Many nouns are lost in the process, but too bad so sad. I’m too busy for nouns today.  Essentially things are ticking along, but I’m finding it overwhelming. Also, throughout the madness of moving, there is this lurking sadness that keeps swooping down and resting heavily on my mind. It’s funny – when I found out gluten was a bad thing, that really pissed me off. Finding out that my eggs are so low . . . I’m not at the point where I can be pissed off, instead I’m just well-deep sad.

Chances are I should be writing more. It’s such a relief for these feelings, but because of the move there’s no time. So! I’ve snuck in a pinch of typing this morning for Bumpyboobs, thankfully, but now should be off to eat some breakfast. Early morning writing is good for the soul. Helps to lighten my mood (because I shove all my worries on this electronic page, ‘worry distribution’  so that they’re free from my head).

Okay, now it’s really time to go. Zsolt is awake and getting dressed.

Soon this madness will be over and I’ll be floating in spa waters. Almost there, Catherine, you’re almost there.