Highly Unexpected

c-section Cancer cesarian IVF New York City Premature

Because every woman has her own journey.

My partner and I have been together for 10 years when we decided to take our relationship to the next level. Marriage had never been top priority for us; we didn’t need a government-issued certificate to solidify our love for each other. Our next level: babies! Our wish was to have two little ones to complete our family.

            Autumn came around, and I was promoted to Director, Global Editorial & Copy at the fashion house I worked for. This was just what I needed to further secure our finances as we embarked on the parental journey. My partner has worked at his grandpa’s restaurant for as long as I’ve known him. Business has slowed down recently, so there’s that. Shortly after, the ‘trying’ began. I was 32 at the time, and one of five children. Mom had zero issues with conceiving, and my sister, and all my cousins have large families. Yet for some reason, the first six months of carefully planned sex flew by and no luck. That’s fine – all in due time. Six months rapidly turns into one year. One year turns into two years. Two years turn into three.

            Close family and friends never really pried on our efforts to start a family. This is mostly because we weren’t married, and they assumed we are just going with the flow and will cross that bridge when we get to it. I’m a firm believer in letting life happen as it is meant to, so seeking medical assistance early on wasn’t really my preference. Shortly after, we gave in and booked an appointment one quick subway ride away: off to Extend Fertility NYC we went. During our initial IVF consultation, blood was drawn.

I was pregnant.

What? NO WAY. Are you serious?!

I hadn’t even missed my period yet. We were thrilled. Even that was an understatement. The idea of spending thousands of dollars on something that typically comes for free was already a rough bridge for us to cross. That was all out the window now. Hallelujah to the best day ever.

            We moved out of our Crown Heights studio, and into dazzling Brooklyn Heights 2-bedroom rental. Pregnancy was quite tough. My work hours were getting longer, my back was dead, and I never really got over the first trimester fatigue. At this point, I’m 20 weeks pregnant, expecting a baby girl. Halfway there and cannot wait for the #twinning adventures to begin. At my next check-in, my doctor notices an odd lump on my left breast and orders a biopsy. My mom, sister, and grandma reassured me that cancer never ran in our family, so I felt a massive weight lifted. Besides, stress during pregnancy is a big NO NO.

My doctor had me come in, but at the time I was so sure it was nothing that I asked my partner not to take the day off work. About a week after feeling baby’s first kick, life took a very dark turn. I received the news all by myself. I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. I was broken. Entirely and completely broken.

            I was a few days shy of 22 weeks, and all I could think about was my baby girl. Was she going to be fine? Will she have cancer? I was too far along for the doctor to suggest a termination, so I was required to receive a mastectomy and lymph node clearance. Losing a breast was harder than I had ever imagined. It was one of my finest physical assets. Nevertheless, that feeling was so short-lived. I needed to be cancer-free and eventually, a healthy mom. After surgery, I wept my eyes out. It was both a feeling of sadness and joy; my new era was just beginning. A few days later, we sat with the doctor who informed us that a 6.1cm tumor was removed; it was aggressive and growing much faster than estimated.

            My first chemotherapy cycle began. This was tough-- very, very tough. After the second cycle, doctors planned a cesarian section at 35 weeks gestation. Our baby was smaller than average, so the initial plan of 34 weeks shifted to 35. On Christmas Day, our sweet angel Nefeli was born. She spent 10 days in special care, and required cures for respiratory distress, feeding, and hypoglycemia. When she came home with us, we felt overwhelming anxiety, yet it was such a precious time. Breastfeeding never happened for me, but that was the least of my concerns amidst the insanity.

            I went on to finish chemotherapy, begin radiation therapy, and now in hormone therapy- which will last many years to come. Cancer is an incredibly difficult diagnosis. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoy watching our beautiful daughter grow. I cherish every moment with my life partner, and look forward to growing very, very old together. I never imagined this would be my story, but it is. Nefeli is my miracle baby – my strength, and I couldn’t possibly be more thankful.

Olivia, Brooklyn, New York

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