I was diagnosed with breast cancer in August of 2008.
I was a warrior that year. A fighter. I had an army of supporters behind me and cheers to move me forward. I would wear my flat chest, my leather fingerless gloves (to cover the lymphedema wraps) and my bald head with fierce pride. I’ve often referred to that year as one of the best years in my life. My cancer was curable! My community was available, present, adoring and strong. Those close to me took up the reigns and pulled with me.
The physical effects of treatment were real and, at times, heavy, but my emotional and social experience was so positive that it really didn’t matter. You’ll find that part of my experience in the oldest sections of my blog here.
The period after treatment ended was a lot harder. I’m supposed to be done with cancer, normal. I had severe memory issues, I had panic attacks that awoke me in the night and left me with insomnia. My assessment of my own professional worth went from being A employee to a C employee. I carried around an image in my head of a house that looks fine on the outside, but has been totally destroyed on the inside.
That period of “between” is important and intrense and not blogged here, because of radical shift in my life meant I could no longer write about myself without writing about others. These others were children.
The story starts before I was diagnosed with cancer.
In the Fall of 2005, when my sister-in-law was dying of breast cancer, my own breast was bleeding intermittedly and my own son was approaching his first birhday, I learned that there were families who had benefited from our choice to donate sperm during our graduate school years (1993-1998). These families had conceived children with our donation and were looking for others who had done the same.
I reached out and connected with Anne, the first woman to post on the website http://siblingregistry.com, and the mother of Matt, who was 5 at the time, and born a mere month after my own daughter’s birth.
When I saw Matt’s picture, I was overcome with love. I loved him not because of his genetic connection to me (there was and is none) but because of how closely he resembled people I love (my husband and my children). There is something profoundly inspiring in the knowledge that we love based on our previous loves and not based on any genetic desire for self-replication. Love multiplies geometrically.
But in 2005, my husband and I didn’t have a sense of what a relationship with these families would look like. We were afraid of what we did not know. So I Anne and I stopped corresponding.
Fast forward to January 2009. I have had my double-masectomy and am in the middle of chemo to treat my stage IIB breast cancer. I receive an email from Anne telling me that she had found this blog and that she now had Stage IV ovarian cancer. She asks if we might be more open for a relationshiop now.
Cancer had changed us. We were more open. We met Anne and her son Matt. We met Janis and Medora and their daughter Nancy and son James. We met Lara and eventually met her daughter Chase. We learned of twins living nearby. Anne died that Fall and Matt eventually ended up with moving away. Janis and Medora’s family have become our chosen family. We do holidays and vacations together. We spend almost every Sunday afternoon together. The rest of us keep up on Facebook. Our lives have become incredibly enriched.
I am so grateful that cancer allowed me to know these people. These new chosen members of my family have transformed me and everyone around me. And I would love to write about that experience now that the kids are older.
If you have any questions about any of that in-between time, I would love to answer you. You can reach me by commenting here or you can email me at email@example.com
Here’s a video Anne made for the Rivkin Foundation. I’m posting a link to it here in her memory.