“I am 20 years old and expecting my first baby. To some people this age might sound super young, but to me, I never thought I’d ever see an age where I’d be carrying my own child naturally. When I was 18 years old I was diagnosed with a blood cancer called Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Although a now more curable cancer, it takes a lot of chemotherapy and radiation to kill all the cancer cells which results in many side effects, one being infertility.
At 18, it was very traumatic to be told I most likely was not going to be able to carry my child on my own. Before starting treatment I was stage 2. I was told I could wait a month to start treatment but risk being a stage further along to give me time to start the process of freezing my eggs, which would give me the blessing of having my own kids. It was a hard decision to make, but being a mother was too important to me to not take the risk, so I did it. I gave myself seven shots a day and went to the hospital every day to measure my eggs to see when they could go in to retrieve them. Because of my age, I was able to retrieve 35 eggs, which is a lot. It was very hard to go to sleep every night during the process of freezing my eggs. Knowing cancer cells were multiplying by the minute in my body was a helpless feeling, but I knew God had a plan for me. Thankfully when I did my next PET scan before starting chemotherapy, it showed I was still just stage 2. Freezing my eggs and knowing I had them gave me a peace of mind as I started treatment, knowing that side effect wouldn’t affect me as much.
Chemotherapy was hard to go through, I remember after my second treatment I woke up with chunks of hair on my pillow. Instead of watching my hair slowly fall out, I decided to not allow cancer to take away my hair and I was going to do it myself. So, I took a shaver and buzzed my head along with my dear brother and some of his friends who supported me. In that moment I never felt more beautiful and strong. There’s something powerful about showing your fight through your bald head. In that moment I became a warrior, and I knew I had to keep a strong mindset or else this thing could take over really quickly.
I was in pain from my Neulasta shots which forced your bones to create white blood cells to help prevent sickness, I was nauseous all the time, and soon my body transformed from the girl I remembered to a fighter. It took a while to be able to look in the mirror and see my naked face with no eyelashes, no eyebrows, no hair, and dark circles around my eyes that now seemed to be yellow all the time instead of white.
Looking back at pictures now makes me so emotional because I don’t know how we all did it. How we all stayed so strong and acted like this was our new ‘normal.’ My mom knew every trick in the book to make me feel better. She was truly my rock, and she quit her job to make sure I was well taken care of. She and my dad and brother were there and saw it all, and always reminded me in dark times that there will be a silver lining and I will be better. But sometimes I wondered if I’d ever feel better. There were times I forgot what it felt like to not be in constant pain, and to be able to feel good enough to just stand in the shower, or be able to walk around my neighborhood without feeling like I was running a marathon. The Holy Spirit inside me always directed my eyes to Jesus who knew my heart and knew my battles and heard my cries. Sure enough, after my second round of chemo (halfway through) I got a call that all my tumors were gone.
I remember that being one of the best feelings in the world knowing that treatment was working and I was going to beat this thing. Although I still had to finish my treatment, it made things easier knowing it was working. Soon enough, chemotherapy was behind me. I made so many friends that I cherish in my heart. I shared my story on social media which was something I wasn’t sure of doing, but I felt a pull to do it. I am so glad I did because social media alone connected me with some of the most amazing people I could ever meet. I was able to encourage people who also were fighting with me.
After chemotherapy, I shared my recovery and it was so hard to see that some of my friends did not recover as well as I did. Today, being a year out of treatment, I’ve known a lot of amazing people who have passed and some who have gotten their cancer back. It breaks my heart and I pray for them every day along with all the other fighters out there. Life after cancer is not easy. I wake up feeling grateful every single day, however, just because your treatment is done, doesn’t mean that’s it. No, you’re still monitored monthly, get scans regularly, and the fear of recurrence is always lurking in the back of your head. What would have been a normal headache before cancer is all of a sudden a symptom of a tumor, a sneeze means your counts are low again, and a cough means your chest is filled with tumors again. Of course all of these in most cases end up being false, but little things become scary things to a survivor. Things like certain smells can also trigger flashbacks from what you went through. It’s crazy how our minds are in fighter mode during treatment and sometimes we aren’t aware of all that’s going on because to the fighter, it’s life or death, and you have to do whatever it is your doctors tell you.
Then afterwards, it all hits you like a train and you sit there and literally think to yourself, ‘What the heck did I just go through and how in the world did we do it?’ Not to mention, every time you see a friend who isn’t doing well or passes or gets their cancer back, a feeling of guilt rushes over you wondering why did you beat this but they didn’t? It’s so hard mentally afterward.
A huge blessing came to as I hit my half way mark of being cancer free. I met him first in the 8th grade when I lived in Texas, and you can say we had a huge crush on each other. We of course were those two little kids who texted each other until midnight talking about God knows what and saying ‘I love you’ at 13 years old. Well, all throughout high school we stayed connected until our lives both got crazy and we got separated through it all. However, he got stationed here in Camp Pendleton and our paths brought us back together.
After our first time seeing each other again, it was like magic. We fell back in love very fast (as if we never fell out of love in the first place). Travis showed me how to live, to be adventurous and to live without fear of the future. He took my mind and placed it in the present and gave me feelings I’ve been searching for my whole life. He found me when I was broken, and he slowly put the pieces back together but made them even more beautiful than before. He didn’t care I wore a wig in the beginning, he wasn’t scared or intimidated by my illness, and he definitely wasn’t afraid to fall in love with me.
A week after reconnecting I was his girlfriend, and a month later I was back in Texas to meet his whole family. Travis and I said goodbye to each other when we were 13 at a park the day before my family and I moved back to California. At the park we almost kissed, but we both were too scared. Well, fast forward seven years later, Travis took me to the same park and told me how he forever regretted not kissing me and he kissed me. To this day, that’s one of my favorite memories with him.
After we got home from a magical time in Texas, Travis asked my dad for my hand in marriage. But, before he popped the question he had a suspicion I was pregnant. I was a little frustrated with him because doctors told me I was infertile. I had 35 eggs frozen and I had already accepted that was just how I was going to have kids. But after eating a pita chip with guacamole and peanut butter (lol), Travis took me to CVS and bought a pregnancy test. Sure enough to our surprise, we got two pink lines and we were pregnant. We of course went to CVS again and bought 10 more tests because you can never be too sure right? We ended up having 12 positive pregnancy tests.
I called my fertility doctor and he wasn’t too convinced I was pregnant until we got there and sure enough on the ultrasound screen there was a cute little embryo barely hanging on. The doctor prescribed me progesterone to keep the baby there and it worked!
I was seen every week because I was considered high risk and after 12 weeks our baby girl graduated from being high risk and she was perfect. We did blood work and she was a completely normal, healthy baby!
Travis and I got married not too long after that and we are so happy together. I am now halfway through my pregnancy and she is a perfectly healthy baby and I couldn’t be more blessed.
Travis and I are so beyond thrilled to welcome our baby girl to this world. She is a fighter already just like her momma, she is our miracle baby, and we already love her so much. I thank God every day for her and for my recovery and story. God is so good, and he really means it when he says, ‘I will fulfill all my promises to her.’”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Courtney Espen, 20, of California. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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