High 5 to that!

Eli turns FIVE today…OMG!

Five years ago today I gave birth to little Eli James. He arrived during a major ice storm here in Pennsylvania, so the drive to the hospital while in labor felt like an eternity, and actually it really was.  But at around 3:50pm he arrived, after a fairly short labor and no complications.  The minute I saw him I saw my father. It was something about his eyes. And so his middle name would be James. In an instant he became my “sunshine angel boy”. 

You see, Eli was that little baby I wasn't sure I’d ever have. After receiving my breast cancer diagnosis at age 33 thoughts about my future and all of my dreams were put on hold. I suddenly realized that I wasn’t sure what my future would look like. I wasn’t married yet and hadn’t yet even thought about starting a family. But now, all of that was on the back burner. My main goal became beating breast cancer, which soon became focused on the magical number 5.

What’s the big deal about the number 5? 

Well, for those diagnosed with breast cancer (and many cancers actually) reaching 5 years of being cancer-free is a major milestone from a medical perspective. In my case, 5 years would also mark the end of taking the drug Tamoxifen, which was the last step of my treatment. Yes the number 5 became magical but yet felt oh so far away. I hoped desperately that I would reach that milestone, knowing that my prognosis made it likely that I would but I was also acutely aware that nothing was guaranteed.

And so, I began navigating through those next 5 years and my life went through pretty many major changes. I started the Feel Your Boobies Foundation, got my hair back, took a risk and left my comfy corporate job in NYC to run the Foundation, and I got married. Throughout these years, I experienced many ups and downs emotionally as I learned how to make sense of my life after cancer. Knowing that I needed to simplify things while also learning how to manage my overachiever personality that was always looking for the next big challenge. I gained insight about how life is a work in progress and a juggling act and my journey through breast cancer was a constant reminder to focus on what was important rather than getting bogged down in things that can weigh you down.

So back to little Eli. When I started chemotherapy at age 34, my oncologist informed me that it would be possible that I would enter early menopause. This of course would mean no babies. At the time, I was focused on that “life or death” thing so first thing was first, but looming in the back of my mind was the harsh understanding that this was a possibility. And if I’m honest, the idea that the choice to have kids could be taken away from me made me angry. I wanted the choice to have a family to be MY choice, NOT cancer’s choice. 

In time, I learned that I did NOT enter early menopause which was a good thing. So now the waiting game was all about completing the 5 year regimen of Tamoxifen that followed. That would make me 39 before I could even try to have kids. So then, it would be more of a biological matter than anything. And there were no guarantees.

So on April 7, 2009 I reached my 5 year mark of being cancer-free and a few months later I completed the 5 year regimen of Tamoxifen. Around this time, at the suggestion of my doctors, I did a bone scan, CT scan, and breast MRI just to confirm all was clear before trying to get pregnant.  When I went to pick up the Ativan I requested to “take the edge off” for these scans, I remember the pharmacist asking me if I was taking a trip or flying somewhere exotic and just needed something to calm my nerves. Puh…not quite. I spared her the details.

If you say “Advanced Maternal Age” one more time I’m going to flip out!

At long last, I got the green light.  I hit the magic number 5 with a clean bill of health and it was time to make the babies! Well, honestly, I’m not sure I ever really thought I would get pregnant so I didn’t focus on it too much. I just figured if it was meant to happen it would.  And it did, sometime in the spring of 2010 I found out I was pregnant.  I was considered a high-risk pregnancy because of my age mostly (for those of you who are older moms you can appreciate that lovely label they give you — “Advanced Maternal Age”. I’m so sure I can think of something better, but that’s a campaign for another lifetime).

And on February 1, 2011 my sunshine angel boy appeared (or as Eli says “popped out”). I was 40 and now officially a mom. Not too much later, at age 42, I went on to have little Leo Thomas. My heart was full and a whole new journey into motherhood began. (Lessons learned on this journey are definitely material for many other blogs…good lord did I have a lot to learn).

So, today, as I celebrate Eli’s 5th birthday and I near my own 12th anniversary of being cancer-free, I realize just how quickly time passes. I’m still learning how to let time do its thing, and I’m getting better at it. It’s such a valuable lesson in peace and living for the moment. And so rather than thinking about what my life or Eli’s life might look like 5 years from now, I think I will just reflect on just how fortunate I am for today and for all the days that have landed me right here in this very minute.

Can I get a high five to that?