I moved to California when I was just 23 years old. I thought I was an adult then; how ironic that since having breast cancer I feel more like a child now than a grown-up. Sometimes, I even hear my voice sounding light and whimsical, much like a young girl untainted by broken hearts and life traumas.
I had all kinds of "grown-up" problems last year. My health crisis led to a financial crisis that settled ever so nicely into an identity crisis. When I summarize last year so succinctly, it seems to couch the intensity and enormity of each turbulent phase. If it hadn't been ME living through 2008, I wouldn't have believed that each crisis occurred in only a nine-month span.
That's all a woman needs to have a child. My nine months from last year certainly birthed a new life, just not the life I was picturing. I live with uncertainty about whether I'll be physically able to actualize the vision I have of myself as a pregnant woman.
You see chemo damages ovarian DNA, throwing 50% of all women of reproductive age into premature menopause. A woman in early twenties who is treated with aggressive chemo can age her ovaries by 20 years or destroy some of her egg supply, a supply we are born with that ages as we age. Those that find themselves pregnant naturally can and do endure multiple miscarriages. Still others have no fertility problems whatsoever. Chemo, and its effects on a woman's reproductive health, is almost as unpredictable as who cancer chooses to afflict.
My oncologist and fertility specialist recommended an experimental technique called Ovarian Suppression to hopefully preserve my fertility. Essentially we have turned off my ovaries with a monthly injection of a drug called Lupron. This injection prevents my ovaries from producing estrogen, the food my cancer loved most.
I've been receiving the injections since before chemo, throwing my body into "mimicked menopause" as opposed to real menopause. Sure, I have the same symptoms as a menopausal woman in her 50's; in some cases I have stronger side effects since the "change" was so drastic and unexpected. I have mood swings (well more mood swings than before), lowered libido (guess that's ok until I get reconstructed nipples), hair in unwanted places (such a drag) and a few other unpleasantries "down there" (but that's probably too much information for you).
No more periods. No more PMS. No more cancer. Maybe, no more eggs.
I will be 37 years old when I am done with treatment and could attempt to get pregnant. In addition to Lupron, I take a daily pill called tamoxifen that is 100% harmful to a fetus. It will be years before I know if my body will be fertile again.
As bad and scary as that sounds, menopause at 32 years old isn't worse than chemo.
Sure, I've interrupted meetings, dates and even meditation class by taking off layers of clothes and fanning myself wildly as I tried to get my face to stop burning, the sweat pulling around my forehead, upper lip and the back of my neck from hot flashes. But, at least I don't have to buy tampons for a while. Coupled with lower gas prices, I may be able to afford haircuts, now that I need them.
My nine months went by in a flash, like a movie on super fast forward, where pictures are hazy and dialogue choppy. I know it all happened: the pain from surgery, the swollen, bruised, aching mounds they were calling breasts, the chemo hell that pained me worse than every injury I've ever had combined, the meltdowns that, like a tsunami, knocked me on my ass until I couldn't breathe, rocking myself into melodic sobs, feeling, thinking, wanting my world to end.
My cells remember it. My heart remembers it. My mind wants to forget it. I moved away from the healing house in Redondo Beach that turned from a refuge into a toxic holding cell as every corner bore a cancer experience or a Doug experience, my ex-boyfriend that was always more friend than boy.
And I wanted to move on. I wanted to let go. I had to. My life depended on it.
I moved to Malibu, 40 miles away from where cancer and Doug happened. Where I both hurt and healed. Where I laughed and cried. Where I succeeded and failed. Everyone kept saying "Now you can get on with your life" and "You get to reinvent yourself, how exciting!" Obviously, none of these people had a medical, financial and identity crisis in one year. What life was I to get on with? I just lost my boobs, my hair, my boyfriend, my money and my company. Why did I need to reinvent myself?
Because I didn't know how good life could be. And because I didn't know I deserved to be happy. And I didn't know who I was without cancer.
Nine months ago, I was debuting My Vision and preparing for a bilateral mastectomy. Nine months from now, Christina Applegate, The Entertainment Industry Foundation and My Vision will hold the first major fundraising event for Right Action for Women, Christina's foundation that is addressing the breast cancer continuum for women of reproductive age.
In some ways, I am very much still a child. But, I am also already a mother, one who incubates life every day.