“Have you ever felt a moment of your life when you think: I am the happiest I could ever have dreamed of…happier than anything my heart could have imagined! It was at that time in my life when I was suddenly thrust into the depths of the darkest moments.
I was 15 years old when I first battled the demon that is cancer. My first years of high school were filled with doctors’ appointments, missed school days, chemo, and radiation, which consisted of a shy teenage girl having to lie shirtless on a table in front of men.
It was horrifying, but after six months, I was declared in remission! I always say this was more of a battle my parents fought. Although I endured it, they were the ones most harmed by the hardest moments and thoughts of my mortality.
My life moved on as I graduated from high school and college. I was relieved I could kind of reinvent myself as a normal girl and not the cancer kid who came back to school after months away and had no one to sit with at lunch.
At the age of 25, I met the most amazing, wonderful, and kind man and married him in 2006 on the hottest day of July at a church whose air conditioning system broke down the night prior to the wedding. It was a memorable ceremony, that’s for sure.
After we purchased our first home, I began to ask if we were ready for children. You see, I had dreamed and dreamed of the day I would become a mom. I was eagerly anticipating this moment. After my previous cancer treatments, the likelihood of us conceiving seemed to be in jeopardy. But we got pregnant the first month of trying and welcomed our dashingly handsome blue-eyed, dark-haired baby boy in the winter of 2008.
Life was perfect! But in the back of my mind, I knew I had to be on the lookout for the late-term effects of childhood cancer treatments. I read the studies and was knowledgeable about the risks. One study pointed out childhood cancer survivors who had received radiation treatment to the chest area had a much higher risk of developing breast cancer around 15 years later. I was 15 when I had mantle radiation, and I was now 30 years old. Still, I didn’t think I was in danger.
For some reason, when I saw on the news Christina Applegate had been diagnosed with breast cancer, it stirred something in me to take the steps to protect myself and assess my risk. After an MRI revealed a suspicious finding, I was sent for a breast biopsy. The biopsy revealed nothing sinister, but I asked for the suspicious area to be removed, which is how I was first diagnosed with breast cancer.
I was a textbook case of breast cancer caused by prior radiation treatment to the chest during adolescence. I shaved my head while my baby boy was in his pack-n-play in my bedroom. I counted down the chemo treatments and documented them with photos and social media updates. And again, I was declared in remission.
Part of my suggested regimen after chemotherapy and bilateral mastectomy was 5 years of tamoxifen, a drug used to prevent recurrence. The emotional recovery from this journey was much more difficult than when I was a teenager. Now that I was a mother, I knew I had to be here on this earth for my family. I suffered through 5 years of a drug that made me feel like I was much older, with aches and pains and an anxiety about recurrence I would not wish on my worst enemy.
After those 5 years, my compassionate, amazing oncologist said I had done all I could have done and more…and I was free to move on with my life, including having another child if God decided to bless me with one. Again, we tried and were incredibly shocked to find out we conceived another child in a short amount of time. When the nurses called with the chromosomal test results, I could barely speak when they said it was a girl. I had prayed and prayed for a little best friend to take for pedicures and braid her hair.
I turned 39 years old on Cinco de Mayo, and on a daytime date with my husband, I asked him to take some photos of me at a tulip farm near our home. To this day, when I see that photo, I see a different version of myself. I see a person I used to be…someone fearless.
Around 30 weeks pregnant, I noticed a small bump along my mastectomy scar. But still, I wasn’t overly concerned. I contacted my oncologist, and he sent me for an ultrasound which revealed nothing suspicious. But there was a nagging feeling in my heart that I needed to take it further.
My oncologist sent me to a breast surgeon who again ultrasounded the spot but took it upon himself to look at the lymph nodes under my arm. I can still remember how his face changed when that round spot appeared on the screen. He put down the wand, took me into his office, and began to talk about a recurrence. I remember staring at the front of his desk in disbelief. This had to be a scare. This had to be nothing. I called my husband, and he came immediately.
During the first chemotherapy treatment while pregnant, I had to be taken to a private room because I was sobbing uncontrollably. This was all just too much. I could handle it, but I would not be OK with subjecting my baby to this too.
Treatment number 3 put me in the critical care unit with pneumonia. Those 8 days were my rock bottom. I was ready to give up. My ribs were broken, I couldn’t eat, and my spirits were lower than ever. On day 6, my husband told them to unhook me from all the tubes; he then took me to the shower, washed my bald head and pregnant belly, and brought my son to bring me back to life.
The OB nurses would come up, sometimes in the darkness of the night, to monitor the baby and give me a glimpse of her hair floating in the amniotic fluid. I had angel visitors in the form of praying nurses who brought gifts of love and remain in my life to this day.
A few weeks later, the most precious and prayed-for girl entered this world with blue eyes and dark hair just like her brother, completely healthy yet tiny, which was the one side effect of treatment that is known. I felt immediate relief, not only to see her thriving but to have her separated from the rest of the treatment I had to go through to achieve remission again.
She visited me when I had 12 weekly chemotherapies and accompanied me during the 5 weeks of 5-days-a-week radiation. She, and my son, and my husband cheered me on as I completed all treatments yet again.
My ‘chemo baby,’ Carolina, will turn 6 years old on July 23. She is a force. She is fierce yet reserved. She is loving and kind. She was awarded the Christian Character award at Kindergarten graduation.
My son, Cole, is a handsome, perfectly nerdy, kind teenager who still holds my hand. My husband has been my biggest fan, best supporter, and nurturing caretaker since the first day we met. My family expresses their admiration for my strength and perseverance.
The shock of going from the highest point in my life to the lowest without warning resulted in trauma I wasn’t sure I could recover from. After years of debilitating anxiety, I finally took the steps to try medication to help me deal with everyday life. My anxiety had been telling me I couldn’t be the mom I wished to be. It made me afraid to be alone with my kids for fear of something happening. I couldn’t picture myself growing old with my husband. I mean, who gets struck by lightning three times and actually survives?
I am now well on my way to healing, although there are moments when I am reminded of how quickly my life could have turned out differently. I discovered a passion for writing and photography. I try to cherish every single moment with my children.
I feel pressure to live life to the fullest and value every day. I feel pressure to inspire others and to give back. I became involved with a local charity, the Sweet Julia Grace Foundation, to help kids dealing with cancer and other medical issues. It helps me to connect with others who understand a new life philosophy that comes along with a scary diagnosis.
I feel pressure to show God he kept me here for a reason. I just have to figure out what that reason is. Maybe it isn’t me though. Maybe one of my blue-eyed babies will change the world because of me. I can’t wait to see how.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Christine Craddock from Haymarket, Virginia. You can follow her journey on Facebook and her website. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more stories like this:
‘You have cancer. I wasn’t expecting to give this news.’ I felt my stomach. My baby is still there. Still with me.’: Woman diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant fears for her and her baby’s lives, ‘I just want someone to tell me I’m okay.’
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