"I was a senior in high school, and getting pregnant was not something I had planned. But, when it happened I knew with every fiber of my being, I was pregnant for a reason I didn't know at the time, but felt sure one day I would. That day came for me some short 23 months later. The temperatures were perfect that day in April, 1992, warm enough to wear my new blue and white gingham dress.
I drove my daughters to Mount Vernon, singing on the way. For some reason, I decided to place my hand on my throat to feel my voice box vibrate as I sang and that is when I felt it. There was something similar to a golf ball perched right above my collar bone. It was like it just appeared overnight, I thought. And then I thought, it must be a swollen sweat gland because I have been waking up in a pool of water every night. Not a normal kind of sweat, but a change the sheets, kind of flood sweat.
Certain it would disappear the same way it appeared, I agreed to a compromise with my mom. If it is still there in a week, I will find a doctor and have it looked at. It was in fact still there. So I made an appointment to have this looked at. The doctor asked a few simple questions: "Have you been tired lately?" Well, I have twin babies and I'm going to college full time so I lack a little energy I suppose. "Have you been sick? Running a fever?" No. "Have you lost weight in the past year?" Yes, I have twin babies and the baby weight has fallen off nicely And then this one: "Have you noticed you are sweating at night? Not a normal sweat, but the kind that feels like you are in a pool of water?" Yes, bingo! I knew it I thought, it's a sweat gland! His response wasn't the same. He said, "I think you have Hodgkin's Disease and unfortunately night sweats are only in the final stages. I want to get you in with a surgeon right away and have this removed for testing."
I was scheduled for surgery two days later. My doctor sat with my parents after he looked at the more cantaloupe-sized tumor. He was able to take a little piece of it but, my chest was also full of tumors. The doctor didn't see much hope in survival, with maybe 3 more months to live. His suggestion was to make some memories and appreciate what time I had left.
The next few weeks were full of more tests and the search for an oncologist that could see some life still in my situation. We found him, Dr. Charles Morgan. He gently explained to me I would almost die each week from the massive amounts of chemo. My entire body was full of cancer. He explained my attitude and desire to live was really what would determine if I did or not. He understood the mind body connection and would show me my scans every week before chemo. He would always say something like, "So, have you had a hard week? Feeling a little sorry for yourself, where is hope for you?" Or, "Looks like it was a good week. Your progress continues to amaze me." And then he would show me my scans. Inevitably on bad weeks the tumors would grow or at best stay the same. On those good weeks, the tumors shrank. It was empowering to see. It was also a lot of responsibility.
I really was determining for myself if I would live or die, and on a hot day in July I would find out exactly the reason for that unplanned pregnancy when I was 18. Through prayer and journaling I had come to accept that I wasn't suppose to live. My fate, my life plan was to let this cancer take me. I felt like it all made sense, so much so that I took this new path to Dr. Morgan. He listened while I explained to him why I thought quitting was the right thing for me to do, then made me a deal. He told me to spend four weeks away, focused only on me and survival. If after that I still wanted to quit, then he would go along with my plan and tell my family the treatments aren't working. I felt a heavy load of frustration and confusion as I had worked this plan out for some time and had gotten comfortable with it.
So as my girls sat shoulder to shoulder watching Winnie The Pooh, I prayed. I didn't typically pray in this manner but I was irritated. I just said 'Look God give me a sign. A really BIG sign. Stop wasting my time with soft voices. Give me direction. I'm kinda out here alone trying to decide what to do and I need you to tell me once and for all, am I supposed to keep fighting this fight or is it time to just give in? TELL ME WHAT TO DO AND BE CLEAR!' At that moment, without so much as a sound, simultaneously my twins turned to me and looked straight into my soul. They didn't hesitate, they didn't speak, they just both stared me down. I heard the message, it was perfectly silent and extremely loud. I knew why I got pregnant. It all came together for me. I knew they were sent here to save my life. I knew I couldn't leave them without fighting all the way. So I did it. I did exactly what he asked me to do.
What I would you say to someone going through something similar: FIND YOUR HOPE and hang onto it, whatever IT is - whatever makes you happy and feeds your spirit. Don’t focus on whatever struggle you have but what is going to get to you to the other side. You have to feed your spirit every day. It is not easy but it gets easier every day.
One of my greatest gifts was that experience, that worst best year of my life. I don't consider the survival a gift because I have come to understand it was given to me, I chose to embrace it. Learning to live and to truly accept and love myself, was an opportunity born out of a terminal diagnosis. The cancer itself, to me, was a gift. It forced me, if you will, to look at myself, not at the color of my eyes, the hair on my head, the body I've never been satisfied with, but to look at my soul. Over the next few weeks, I read the book You Can Heal Your Life and I learned to love myself. I learned that I have value and purpose. I embraced things in ways I hadn't before. I began to live. To feel what it feels like to actually be alive. I danced. I did chemo every Thursday and danced every Thursday night. The lesson that has stuck with me the most is that your attitude and desire to live will determine whether you live or die.
I gave my twins birth, and they gave me life.