“It all started back in 2010 when I met my now-husband through mutual friends. Very early on in our relationship, we knew we not only wanted to spend the rest of our lives together, but we also wanted to start a family. This was one of the first things we discussed as we both had such a deep desire to become parents. Obviously, at the ripe age of 21, we weren’t ready but we could see it in our future, or so we thought. After years of unsuccessful attempts and a PCOS diagnosis at a young age, we finally came to terms that we may need help but we would wait until after we were married.
In 2018, John proposed to me on my 30th birthday surrounded by our closest family and friends. Being the planner that I am, I booked wedding venues the very next day. I was so eager and so anxious to marry John as we had spent almost a decade together. I was determined to marry within a year so we could miraculously start our family. I had it in my head that God didn’t want me to have a child out of wedlock and that’s why we never got pregnant. So with that mindset, I thought for sure we’d have success on our wedding night, however, I had my doubts, so I thought why not get checked out.
On May 5th, 2019, I went into my first appointment with a fertility specialist. Little did I know this date was the start of my worst nightmare. After telling her my medical history and explaining my infertility story she immediately ordered tests and sent me on my way. I walked out of there super hopeful because she told me she would get me pregnant and to not lose sight of becoming a mom no matter how hard it may get.
Fast forward to the following week when my internal ultrasound was being performed. The room was dark and there were a few students in the room that I allowed in. The doctor was explaining my anatomy when she all of a sudden got silent and moved closer to the screen. She asked: ‘Are you having any pain?’ I replied ‘no.’ She then continued to move the probe, focusing on my left side. That is when she turned the screen around and pointed to a large ‘cyst’ on my left ovary that could be the PCOS or a dermoid cyst, which was common. I thought: ‘No big deal, this is normal considering a cyst on your ovary isn’t unheard of.’ So off I went with a script to get a CT scan done to confirm what type of cyst it was. The results came back suspicious, prompting my fertility doctor to order an MRI for further diagnostic evaluation.
On July 25th, I got a call from my doctor stating the MRI identified a large solid mass on my left ovary and that I needed to get to a gynecological oncologist as soon as possible. John, my mom, and I met with my oncologist several weeks later who explained the only way we could tell if it was cancer was to go in and find out. I remember for the first time since May feeling overwhelmed and not understanding what came out of her mouth next besides ‘hysterectomy.’ Once those words came out of her mouth, I immediately turned back in. No way was I going to let this take away my opportunity of carrying my own child. I immediately said no. She could go in there and test whatever she wanted to but I was not getting a hysterectomy at the age of 30! What? How? How was this even possible? Next thing I knew I was scheduled for surgery on August 26th, 2019, just 2 days after I got back from my bachelorette. I thought to myself: ‘I am having one last moment of a cancer-free life before my life takes a turn for the worst.’
The morning of my surgery I can remember the sunlight beaming through the blinds, the smell of the summer air, the feeling of my freshly washed sheets. Looking back I can remember being scared but thinking: ‘There is no way it is cancer, I haven’t had any symptoms.’ So I went into the hospital expecting to come right back out and keep on going with life. I mean, I did have a wedding to get ready for in just 3 short months… I didn’t have time for that.
My oncologist told me if everything went well the surgery would only be 1.5 hours. When I woke up I felt like I couldn’t breathe and all I wanted was someone to tell me what time it was. I looked around frantically trying to find a clock on the wall when finally I heard a soft voice say, ‘It’s 3:26 p.m.,’ and that is when I knew. I knew it was cancer without the doctor even telling me. I knew it when they wheeled me into my hospital room where my entire teary-eyed family waited for me. That’s when she came in and sat down next to me and reached over and grabbed my hand: ‘I’m sorry, it’s cancer.’ WHAT?! How could this be? I was supposed to be getting married, how was my veil going to stay on a bald head? Am I going to die? Do I need chemo? Did you take all my lady parts? A million and one things went through my mind but all I could worry about was the devastation my family felt when they got the news. I kept saying, ‘I’m going to be okay, don’t worry about me.’ I had always been the strong one in our family, the one everyone went to when they had problems… and now I was the problem. I couldn’t let anyone see my fear as I didn’t want anyone worrying about me.
On September 6th, the pathology report came back diagnosing me with 1C2 Endometrioid Ovarian Cancer just 3 days before my 31st birthday. Thankfully, my doctor followed my wishes and did not perform a hysterectomy but recommended I have one done because there were also precancerous cells found in my uterus that would eventually turn to cancer. It was recommended I started 3 rounds of chemo immediately but I was adamant about seeing a fertility specialist first to save any chances of having our own biological child we had left.
September 10th, 2019 was one of the first days I felt defeated. It was my first appointment with REI post-cancer diagnosis, and I was told it was going to cost over $20,000 to preserve my fertility. How in the world were we going to be able to afford this? I was crushed, simply crushed. Immediately we thought we would cancel the wedding and get back what we could from our vendors to help pay for it. Little did we know that we had friends creating a GoFundMe account that racked up over $20,000 in less than 48 hours. We were overwhelmed with emotions at this point and could not believe our friends, family, and community came together for us. So once the funds transferred into my account we immediately went back to REI and signed up for egg retrieval. From that egg retrieval, they collected 18 eggs from my right ovary (the left was removed during surgery), 9 of which fertilized, and we were able to freeze 3 embryos.
Immediately after my egg retrieval I developed Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome and landed in the hospital just 2 weeks before our wedding. This, however, pushed back my chemo date and I was able to have a full head of hair on my wedding day. Two days after our wedding, you could find us at the cancer center receiving my first chemo treatment for our honeymoon. As we said in our vows: ‘In sickness and in health.’ Apparently, I decided to get the sickness part out of the way so we could enjoy health for the rest of our lives.
I chose to ‘cold cap’ during treatment to avoid losing my hair. Cold capping required me to wear a cap that was – 45 degrees Fahrenheit for 10+ hours for days of infusion. Some asked why I did this and why my hair was so important to me. It wasn’t the hair, it was the control. I did it because I did not want my hair to be a billboard announcing I was sick. Just about everything in my entire life had been completely ripped out from under me and I needed something that was under my control. It was by far one of the hardest things I ever had to do but I stuck with it. After 3 rounds of chemo, we got the news that we needed to go for 3 more rounds. This was the 2nd time I felt defeated after my diagnosis. I felt like I was losing a battle I couldn’t win no matter how hard I tried.
March 17th, 2020, was my 6th and final chemo, and coincidentally it was the day the country shut down because of the pandemic. When I was diagnosed with cancer my world stopped but everything kept moving around me. Once the pandemic hit and I was done with treatment, I felt like the world had stopped around me when I wanted to keep moving!
On May 1st, after my first follow up CT scan and bloodwork since chemo, I got the call from my oncologist that I was finally cancer-free. The first thing that came out of my mouth was: ‘When can I have my babies?’ Little did I know that this question would send me on a roller coaster ride as my oncologists could not agree on the timeline for when they thought my body would be ready. One said 5 years, the other said immediately, so eventually, my case went under board review. On July 24th, 2020 I got the call from my gynecologic oncologist that I was able to proceed with having a baby, but only if we used my frozen embryos because most likely my current eggs were damaged from chemo and needed time to rejuvenate. So back we went to REI to get set up for a frozen embryo transfer.
Our first cycle started on August 5th, 2020 and I was scheduled for the transfer on September 17th. Looking back, I was so naive that I really thought after all I had been through, this was going to be a breeze. Little did I know, infertility after cancer had its own difficult complexity, even more than it did before cancer. My cancer was estrogen receptive so my doctor’s approach was a little different due to the risks that came along with it. After 5 weeks of multiple injections a day, vaginal suppositories, and oral medications, my body was not responding, and we were canceled. I was devastated and felt even more defeated than I had before. I felt like a failure, useless, and so discouraged, but my team was not ready to give up on me. A few weeks later we started our 2nd cycle only to be canceled a few days later because my biopsy they had performed came back inconclusive so I had to have a D&C to get a better specimen to test. The week after this was an absolute nightmare as I had myself convinced the cancer was back and I was going to be scheduled for a hysterectomy. By the grace of God, the report came back non-cancerous and we were ready to get started on my 3rd cycle. This time we would approach it differently as my body did not respond at all to the previous rounds. After almost 2 weeks of this new protocol, I got the phone call that this round was also canceled. My uterine lining was shrinking instead of thickening, and in order to implant the embryo, I needed a thick lining.
At this point, I am still somehow hopeful and I refuse to give up. Wanting to start a family is what started this whole cancer journey and I have gotten this far, so it’s only fair that I keep going until I can’t anymore. Motherhood has been on my radar for as long as I can remember, and it means more to me than I can describe. You see as a woman, I have the nature to nurture, to love, and to become a mother, and although infertility is unpredictable, I am not ready to give up. My husband and I just celebrated our 1 year wedding anniversary and we are hopeful that this year two is the year we will become parents.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Katie Christy Laganosky from Philadelphia, PA. You can follow her journey on Facebook and Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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