From my desk at work I sit nearby four other women. I often listen as they discuss their lives, their new homes, their dog that ate something it shouldn’t have, their distant family and the hope of having children someday. This particular day (yesterday) I found myself in silence. The music in my headphones could not be loud enough to silence the conversation, nor quiet the jealousy in my heart.
The very things I once longed for seem so trivial to me now. My list of hopes, my list of dreams are simply compiled to a list of medical wishes. Wishes that read, I will not leave the doctor dizzy today. That insurance will cover acupuncture for when I start chemotherapy. That chemo doesn’t wreak havoc on my ovaries. That I am kept away from illness while my white blood cell count drops low. That the large scars across the center of my breasts heal beautifully. That the ache in my stomach from mondays procedure, and nausea will seize. That my four eggs will be enough. That I will be enough in all of this.
My daily routine now that I am back to work consists of many interruptions. I leave for the doctors office and come back to work (sometimes more than once). Some coworkers notice and ask how it went. As of late I am not up for sharing much. It is easier to leave my emotions at the doorstep, sit in my desk, place my earbuds in and dive into my job.
The news I received yesterday is nothing short of disappointing. I met with the fertility doctor to understand more of what happened on Monday and why I was only able to retrieve four eggs…. My doctor, a woman who I have great respect, given the profession shes works in, sat me down and asked what she could answer for me. I began to speak with courage, trying to suppress my tears explaining my obvious disappointment.
She looked me in the eyes and said, “I was disappointed for you too.”
A sigh of relief came over. My feelings are valid, someone felt the same way. Someone who is a professional. To hear her empathize with me was such a gift. Over the next hour we began to discuss what she learned about my ovarian health the past week. With a blood test every day for ten days, a vaginal ultrasound (9 in total) they are able to learn a lot of information about me.
Before I started on medication I began with a diagnostic exam, to test my baseline ovarian health. One of the tests conducted was for my AMH level. AMH stands for the Anti-Mullerian Hormone. This number is one of the strongest indicators of ovarian health. This hormone is secreted by the cells that are developing follicles (eggs). So the higher the number science has attributed to better ovarian health. This number vastly decreases as women get older, so science has created benchmarks for the average AMH level based on age.
My AMH level was 1.37. The level at which someone 27 years old is expected to have is 3.7. My ovarian health looked that of someone aged 34-35 years old.
The next number was my resting number of follicles. I had 13. The doctor shared that while this number was not terrible, she would have liked to see more like 15-20 eggs for someone my age.
These two starting points helped explain why the outcome was as it was. She also explained that the 13 eggs really did not start responding to medicine until the end of the medicine cycle. She would have liked to see them start popping up and growing sooner. Saturday morning (two days before the procedure) I had four tracking to full maturity. The trigger shot Saturday evening, she had hoped would boost the others that were not quite mature yet, but they unfortunately did not reach appropriate size. The four that showed on Saturday, were the ones they were able to retrieve.
The rest of the appointment we discussed what next steps look like for me. In tears I nearly pleaded with her that the hardest part of this, is that we are discussing something that seems so far away. That I struggle to believe that I get tomorrow and this process invites me to ponder my future potential family.
As you can imagine I nor had peace or resolution leaving her office. The chemotherapy regime I am placed on, she advised has a 50-80% chance of making me sterile. With such staggering numbers, and so much uncertainty I am left with only one choice.
I am left to trust and believe that what feels like a bad story is still ultimately a really good one. That I have no reason to be jealous of or envious of my coworkers because a beautiful story is being written for me, that has included all of this. That the future although it may seem distant and like a fog is certain to be something good, even if what is in front of me seems bad.
Kara Tippets a fellow breast cancer fighter says it best:
“It takes courage, humiliating courage, to step aside from your own sovereignty and imagined control and begin looking for that gift that comes unmerited. Yes, Im talking about grace. Grace by definition is the gift that comes unearned. In a world of unbelievably able bodies, where new diets are fashioned every day to keep my brand of story away, it is hard to realize you may be living in the middle of the best story ever told. That the story of breast cancer could possibly be a good story? A great story even? It would be easier to shake my fist at the test results and scream that this isn’t the right story, but to receive– humbly receive the story no one would ever want and know there is goodness in the midst of its horror…. is not something I could ever do on my own strength. I simply cannot. That receiving comes from the one who received his own suffering for a much greater purpose than my own.”
May you find that even your story with all its intricacies, heartbreaks and disappointments, is too a really great story.