Sunday, August 28, 2011

First Comes Cancer, Then Comes Single Motherhood

I  was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was young and fit. I desperately wanted to live, but I also had a burning question:  If I were lucky enough to get to post-treatment status, would I be able to have children? 

My doctors were optimistic. They said I would get through cancer and its brutal treatments first. Then I could eventually try to conceive a child. My oncologist told me that my particular chemotherapy regimen rarely caused infertility -- in fact only one percent of women taking the same chemical cocktail became infertile.

So despite all the sorrow of a cancer diagnosis, my dreams of bearing children remained intact.

Until I discovered I was in that one percent of women whose cancer treatment rendered them infertile. To make matters worse, my marriage ended. 

Cancer didn't kill me, but being launched into early onset menopause killed my dreams of birthing and nursing a child. I'm not a jealous person by nature, but I admit envying other women's maternal milestones.  While they were sick from pregnancy, I reminded myself, I had been sick from cancer treatment. While they experienced birth pangs, I felt the deep pangs of loss and grief. And while they nursed their babies, I was nursing my breast wounds. 

Cancer had stolen motherhood from me, I reflected.

My hopes for a baby were gone. Yet, I was gracious at all those never-ending baby showers. Putting my jealousy aside, I did wish the best for the expectant mothers. I knew how lucky I was to be alive. And I was grateful and calm, and peaceful, coming to accept that being childless was not the end of the world. 

There were worse things in life. Like having cancer.

Then, one day, an acquaintance told me about how she adopted a baby as a single person.

And I knew this, too, was my destiny. At the time, China was allowing single women to adopt its children. It was supposed to take only a year to get a baby from application to adoption. I applied instantly and was accepted. I was euphoric. I would only have to wait a year.

But the one-year wait turned into a four-year wait. 

Some couples withdrew from the China adoption process, but I refused to withdraw. I had faced cancer, so waiting longer for a child didn't faze me. But halfway through my wait, I got scary news: an MRI detected something in the same breast that had had cancer years before. 

Although it turned out to be scar tissue, I was taking no chances. I wanted to live and be healthy for my future daughter. So my first act of love toward the child who hadn't even been born yet was to get a preventive double mastectomy with reconstruction.

In July 2009, along with my travel group, I went to China and held my daughter in my arms. We were strangers to each other, but we slowly adjusted to our lives as mother and daughter.

Now my three-year-old and I have a joyous relationship. She is everything to me. And I adore her wicked sense of humor, her kindness, her eagerness to learn, and her smile -- which lights up any room and lightens my heart.

It's amazing that it took cancer and a trip to China to realize -- and appreciate -- my becoming a mom. Often I hear parents whining about the difficulty of parenthood and their lives. While I also find parenthood difficult and life to be less than stellar at times, I don't whine about my life. 

Instead, I revel in it.  

My miracle child

I'm writing a book titled Calling the Shots: Coaching Your Way Through the Medical System. Please feel free to subscribe to this blog by clicking the orange subscribe button. I am a professional writer and have published numerous academic and magazine articles, as well as an essay on my breast cancer experience in the anthology Voices of Breast Cancer by LaChance Publishing. I can be contacted at and


  1. Thanks for sharing this story, Beth. She's so adorable and I can see she helps keep you young!

  2. Thanks, Cynthia, for your kind words! Yes, she does help keep me young and happy. :-)

  3. Beautiful post, Beth. I admire your tenacity. Your daughter is beautiful and clearly very loved.

  4. Beth,
    This is a beautiful story. I'm thrilled for both of you.

  5. What a happy ending! How wonderful. Wishing the best of everything to you and your daughter! ;-)

  6. Beth, I had no idea you went through this adoption process. You are truly a remarkable woman, and you and your daughter are incredibly lucky to have found each other. I had an abiding respect and warm affection for you before this, but now, I think you izz simply dah cat's derriere!!

    xxoo, Kathi

  7. Beth you are amazing. Your story is remarkable and I have absolutely no doubt that you will set and achieve many goals in your lifetime.
    My love to you, and your beautiful daughter, as you go about learning from each other.

  8. Jody, thank you for the kind words! Every once in awhile I try to convey a nice upbeat story, difficult to do against the backdrop of cancer.

  9. Renn,

    Thanks for your comment. I was lucky to have this opportunity....I'm glad I fought so hard to adopt a child, but I do think of those many women who aren't so lucky.

    It seems like a new beginning for me nonetheless.

  10. Kathi, I've never been called a cat's derrier, but being a cat lover, I take that as a compliment!! Thank you always for your support!

  11. Cheryl, thanks for your sweet words. Nobody knows what the future holds; all we can do is to live one day at a time, which I'm trying to do with my daughter.

  12. Beth, thanks for visiting my blog. I was here yesterday and did not leave a comment but I want you to know that this is a wonderful thing to love a daughter! (Aw, you already know that. lol) Bless you.

  13. Beth,
    Great post, this is often overlooked in young breast cancer patients. You obviously were meant to be a mommy, what a lucky little girl. She is so pretty, I hope you enjoy every second with her :) I always find it odd to know that some of the best parents are not able to have biological children, go figure. Looks like you needed her and she needed you too!
    Also check out this post I wrote about MBC after last night's tweetchat.
    Lastly, here is a UCSF study about chemo and fertility too.
    Your friend,

  14. Heather,

    Thank you for reading and commenting on my posting! And thanks for your compliments on my daughter.

    I'm definitely going to read your links soon.

  15. This is beautiful, Beth, just beautiful. I am so happy for you and your daughter both. I think you must be an amazing mom!

    Keep on reveling in motherhood. It gets better and better.

  16. Thank you, Nancy. As you well know, motherhood is no easy trek, but it's got more ups than downs!! Sometimes I look at her and can't believe I have her....

  17. Oh Beth...I remember when I first found your blog, I was aware of your beautiful daughter, but in all the time that has passed since, I had forgotten about your adoption story. I was devastated when cancer stole my fertility and put me into an early menopause, this was by far the worst thing that happened to me - losing my hair, the gruelling treatment - nothing hurt as much as infertility. I have struggled hugely with coming to terms with this aspect of being diagnosed with breast cancer as a young woman of 34 and I cried reading your post as your pain is my pain. I am sorry that your marriage broke up, but so happy that you have such a beautiful child to call your own, despite all that you have been through. May you be a comfort and source of joy to each other all your lives long. Blessings to you both xxxx

  18. Marie,

    Your comment blew me away and had me in tears. We can so relate to each other. The loss of fertility is a huge blow, isn't it? When I found out I was infertile, that was so horrific -- as you well know, the grief and depth of despair is immeasurable.

    Thank you, as always, for your support.

  19. Now I'm crying at Marie's comment and your story Beth - just discovered your blog thanks to Marie's weekly round up and so glad I did - what a great post!

  20. Thank you for reading my posting and commenting -- and your encouraging words! It was a difficult, emotional post to write.

    Thank you so much for visiting!

  21. Wonderful post Beth !!!
    I felt myself thinking I hope she posted a picture of this much wanted and loved child.
    She's ADORABLE !!!!
    You are blessed ~

  22. Hi Debbi,

    Thank you very much! Yes, I figured I couldn't post a blog about motherhood without a picture of my sweet girl.

    I appreciate your taking the time to read my posting and comment.

  23. Beth,

    I am so happy to have found you through Marie's Weekly Round Up last week and your story of falling in love with your daughter is an inspiring one to me. As a 32 year old breast cancer survivor, I face a lot of pressure to get my ovaries removed because of my BRCA gene mutation. I struggle every day with wondering about my future fertility and am currently single and not sure what the future holds for me in terms of marriage and kids the traditional way.

    Recently I spent ten weeks in Africa and for six of those weeks I volunteered at an underfunded daycare in the Townships (slums) outside of Cape Town. I fell head over heels in love with a 2 year old boy and would have happily brought him home and raised him on my own, but I couldn't (he had a 16 year old mother). My heart still hurts when I think about him but it taught me that adoption is a wonderful option and motherhood (in whatever fashion it happens for me) will be an incredible gift.

    Big hugs!

  24. Beth, this is so beautiful! I wish you a lifetime of joy together. Thanks for sharing this part of your life with us - and LOVE the pic!

  25. Terri,

    Thank you for your words of encouragement and for sharing your personal story. Getting cancer young definitely does a number on one's chances of fertility.

    The work you have done in Africa sounds so gratifying! Hearing about your falling in love with that two-year-old boy brought tears to my eyes.

    Perhaps adoption might be a good option for you some day? I am parenting in a way I never thought: as a single mom of an Asian girl. After cancer I got divorced and decided motherhood was still calling.

    Thank you for visiting my blog!!

  26. Julie,

    Thank you for reading and commenting. It's my pleasure to share this part of my life with others.

    -- Beth