When I was originally diagnosed at the age of 27 I was told my only option was a hysterectomy. I did my research and found that there was a gynecologic oncologist in Indianapolis who could potentially perform a trachelectomy, if I was a viable candidate, which could theoretically preserve my fertility. This was the path of my original diagnosis. I had my surgery November 2012 and I tried to put cancer in my past. In May 2013 Wylee and I moved to Indianapolis to live with my, now, husband JR. While on vacation in Las Vegas, JR proposed in June 2013. Everything seemed to be on track. I was cancer free, engaged, fertile, and living life. I was winning at life. Wylee would ask if we could have a baby. He wanted a younger brother and/or sister. I told him "after the wedding" we could have a baby. I had no idea what was in store for my family. Two months before our wedding came the news in April 2014 that the cancer had returned with a vengeance. This time there was no surgical option and we had to start treatment immediately. I had the conversation with JR that this meant no more children. He told me that no treatment meant no more me. So, we moved forward immediately with treatment. The idea of another child died at that moment. On a day during the summer after the wedding Wylee asked me when we could have a baby. I can vividly remember sitting there bald and sick from treatments and explaining to my five year old why his mommy couldn't have any more children. Explaining that because of the type of cancer I had, I had treatments which meant I couldn't give him the younger brother and/or sister he had once asked for. It was devastating for our family to have to have that conversation. I felt like I failed him.
Monday of this week I heard those three words, directed at me. "Are you pregnant?" Due to this question, I was able to teach a sixth grade student a life lesson. You should never, ever, ask a woman if she is pregnant if you have not been told directly, by her, that she is pregnant or you are attending her baby shower. When this student asked if I was pregnant I simply said no and went on with working with another student. At the conclusion of class I called the student over so we could have a conversation one-on-one about why it isn't an appropriate question to ask and how someone younger or more easily offended might have reacted to such a question. We also discussed that, as he knew, I have cancer and I'm unable to have any more children. We talked about how you don't know what someone is going through and it isn't something to ask someone. I hope that he remembers the lesson I taught today.
Now, this question led to me reflecting a little about my cancer battle. When I was diagnosed with cancer for the second time a fellow staff member found out I would be out of the building. They, innocently, asked if I was pregnant. I was newly diagnosed the my recurrence and reacted with the response of "no, actually the opposite I have cervical cancer again and I'm losing my fertility." That pretty quickly ended the conversation.
I have yet another example where someone has asked me this. I was at a bar we enjoy visiting, owned by friends of ours, having lunch and watching football last Sunday. A person who knows me by sight, but not name, came up to me and asked "how is the baby?" I told him our son was six. I assumed that would stop the conversation. It did not, he asked again saying he thought I had a baby last summer. I just reassured him that our son was six and I didn't have a baby last summer. I planned to leave it at that, I don't know this person really and I was enjoying a day out with my friends so I just wanted to stop engaging in conversation. He then went to my husband and asked again. Really? Did he think I was lying to him? My husband let him know that we did not, in fact, have a baby last year. My husband then went on to let him know that I have been in a continuous battle with cervical cancer and couldn't have any more children. I am hoping that person learned a life lesson that day too. You really don't know what someone is going through, if they don't engage in conversation about a particular topic you should probably drop it.
I picked the picture for today's blog purposefully. Although I obviously am not a super fit and slim woman I am proud of my body and do not feel that I appear to be pregnant (even if I did appear to be pregnant, it is not okay to ask). My body tells a story, it shows my scars, and I am proud of it. It tells a story about motherhood, obesity and weight loss, as well as multiple battles with cancer. You can look forward to an upcoming blog post about scars.
I absolutely believe none of the people I mentioned today were attempting to be malicious. I think the question of "are you pregnant" is just something people inquire about and for some reason they think is totally appropriate. However, it isn't a question like "did you get a haircut?" It is a really personal question. You never know what someone is going through.
I, personally, have never been brought to tears by this question. I try to not dwell on it. However, it was weighing enough on my mind that I needed to write this. It is weighing enough on my mind that when I took off the dress I was wearing when I was asked that question I seriously considered getting rid of it.
As I think about this question, it is much more than just about me. I think about my friends who have been devastated to find out that they can no longer have children due to cervical cancer treatments. I think about my husband who I can't give another child to, due to my cancer recurrences and subsequent treatments. I think about my son, who desperately wants a younger sister and/or brother. The loss of fertility is another thing which makes cervical cancer treatments devastating. In fact, there are multiple women on Cervivor who have opened up about how the loss of fertility has really impacted each of them.
I really hope that you take the time to visit Cervivor and see the stories of the women who have opened up about how the loss of fertility can really have an impact. You can now filter stories on Cervivor based on area of interest. It is really a fabulous feature.
Number one take away - never, ever, ask a woman if she is pregnant unless you see she is literally having the baby. You never know what she is going through and how that question might impact her.