My Road to Pregnancy…A Childhood Cancer Success Story

I have known my whole life that I wanted to have kids when I grew up.  Thus, my road towards having kids began.  It was not yet known at the time how children would come into my life, but we know now. 🙂

My road towards pregnancy started out different from some people’s.  I say “some” because, did you know, according to statistics:

In 2014, it is estimated that 15,780 children and adolescents ages 0 to 19 years will be diagnosed with cancer and 1,960 will die of the disease in the United States.”

“About one in 300 boys and one in 333 girls will develop cancer before their 20th birthday.”


 

This is how my road started.
After being diagnosed with stage IV terminal cancer, and therefore signing on to become a guinea pig for scientists at Duke University in North Carolina, I underwent chemotherapy treatments with the highest dosages of cytoxan any child had ever received at any Children’s Hospital at that time.
Side note:  I just googled, “late effects of chemotherapy for those with childhood cancer,” and “infertility for childhood cancer patients,” so that I could learn more about it to shed some more light on the subject.  After only a few minutes of reading, I felt myself tearing up and becoming downright DEPRESSED, and I don’t like to subject myself to that!  If you would like to know more about the facts, look it up yourself! Haha!
So what I do know is anyone who has had the full-body-destroying chemo as I had is at an increased risk of infertility.  Unfortunately, given a higher dose than anyone else, they weren’t yet exactly sure what my chances were.  Furthermore, genetics always play a role in these things, and my own mother struggled to get pregnant with me for a year, and then had to have a hysterectomy.  But, there’s always a bright side, right?  My bright side was that I received all my chemo before puberty.  My doctor told me this meant I still had hope.  He has pretty much been telling me my whole life that I would have trouble getting pregnant, but that he would never completely discount something; I still had hope.
But, after about 15 years of my pediatric oncologist (I still see him every year in the long-term clinic) telling me these things, I had long since accepted adoption as my path in life to have children.  I have 3 wonderful adopted cousins, and cousins who are now wonderful parents to beautiful and great kids thanks to the adoption process.  They are my inspiration.  I had actually grown quite fond of the idea of adoption.  I mean, besides saving kids, I also had cancer.  I had the thought, “Can my genes really be that great anyway?”

My favorite nurse, Robbie, and me after she found out I was pregnant.  She was ecstatic 🙂
Dr. B and Me.  I said, “Did you ever think I’d be sitting here pregnant.”  He said, “No.”
So then, I met D.  After meeting the man of my dreams, who was everything I thought a person should be and more, I just wanted to know if I at least had the chance to replicate him into tiny humans.  It was something I thought about the whole time we dated, and I told him upfront about my potential fertility issues.  He continued to pursue me anyway! 🙂

We got engaged 2-4-12, and when I finally graduated and moved to Cali in 2012 to be with him again, I began my search for an OBGYN based on ones who were close in proximity, highly rated, and also specialized in fertility.  I found a WONDERFUL female OBGYN in Mt. View, who I was sure was going to help me through this process…eventually.  D and I weren’t even married yet, but I was thinking about our future. 🙂  Once D and I were married on 10-11-12, my mind immediately came back to the subject of my possible infertility, and I decided to make an appointment with my doctor to be tested for fertility.  I wanted to know if D and I had a window for having a child ourselves, and of course, what exactly that window looked like.

When my test results came back, D came with me to the appointment, and she was able to tell us two things:
1. Half of my egg supply had been wiped out by the chemo.
2.  Every month, a woman usually has about 16 eggs that go through the selection process until 1 egg is selected for possible fertilization.  I have about 2-3 eggs going through this process every month.

At that point she looked at us, and said, “My advice?  Don’t wait.  If you want to have kids, don’t wait.”

Despite expecting this my whole life, we were shocked.  (Much like learning later that there were actually TWO babies growing inside me!)  We were living 2500 miles away from most of our friends and all of our families in a 4 bedroom house with 3 of our best friends.  We had only been married for a couple of months.  We had not yet had our big wedding celebration in Tahoe with all our friends and family.  We knew we wanted a family, but like all our other friends our age, we wanted to wait about 5 years and get a head start on our life goals before children, so that when we had children we could truly focus all our attention on them. 

“Uhhhhh,” my husband finally managed to get out.  “When you say, ‘don’t wait,’ do you mean like another day or another year?”
       

The doctor encouraged us that based on the results, it was not in our best interest to wait at all, but we begged her for an actual time frame.  She took my age (25) into consideration, and said if we were not pregnant within a year, we should come back to begin fertility treatments.  

We needed time to process and discuss.  With having 3 roommates at our house at the time, we went to a Chinese buffet with paper and pen and laid it all out on the table.  We made a list of our goals in life.  Then we looked at the list differently for the first time, and decided whether or not we could accomplish those things with kids in our life.  We decided there was nothing on the list that we could truly be held back from by having kids.   It was an exciting and scary moment at the same time.  
 
We picked some things off the lists that seemed would indeed be easier to accomplish without kids, and we began working on them immediately.  We figured the road ahead towards getting pregnant would probably be a long one, so we had time anyway.  D got to work becoming the co-founder of a company, and I began training for my first full mountain marathon, The Big Sur Trail Marathon.  I signed up and paid to run it on September 28th, 2013.  I got really into the training.  I recruited for myself multiple unofficial running coaches, bought new marathon training tools,  recruited multiple running partners at work and at home, and made sure everything about my body was running smoothly.  Good nutrition, ample sleep, and lots of scheduled and calculated training.  I was in the best shape of my life, and the healthiest I have ever been.  About halfway through the “marathon” training, on a normal after-work run one day, I noticed myself feel extremely sick and almost like fainting after only the first mile on a flat surface.  Low and behold, I had been training for a different marathon all along.
This was taken about 10 days before my 1st pregnancy journey ended. 🙂

 

But, do you know what?  4 days after the birth of our sons, the gaming company D has been working on (Not Robot) was *officially* founded, and they will be releasing their first mobile game (Wave Crash) soon!  Additionally, 9 months after their birth, D and I completed our first half-marathon with their double jogging stroller in tow!  Are we going to go on to pursue our first full right now?  Who knows?  But, we have a good start. 🙂

My AMAZING husband ran hundreds of miles pushing this thing…and I ran a few. 🙂
This Half Marathon was the ‘Monster Dash,’ and had a costume theme.  Meet The Justice Family of America.

Our lives have gone on just as they were going before, but so. much. better. now.  We have much clearer priorities, direction, and motivation to accomplish the goals we set before ourselves.  (Not to mention the abundant giggles, love, and heart-melting. 🙂 )

  
P.S.  The title of this post should really be “My Guided Path Towards Pregnancy,” because I know God laid the whole thing out for us, and as you can see, he has been with me the whole time, guiding me, and holding the light during the times of darkness.

Why To Run/How To Enjoy Yourself While Running

Here we have some standard jokes often seen on Facebook, imgur, or Pinterest concerning running.

I also often hear people ask the question, “Who actually LIKES running?!”  But I would like to ask the question, why is running such a horrifying hobby?  There are tons of blog posts already written and prepared for you about “How to Run” or “How to train for a 5k, 10k, Half-Marathon, or Marathon.”  This blog post is going to be about, Why to run,” and hopefully you can also glean from it some tips on “How To Enjoy Yourself While Running.”

 Why I Enjoy Running So Much

For my entire life running has been nothing but an enjoyable experience for me, and I guess I should be grateful that it has been.  As mentioned in the previous blog post, one of my earliest memories involves racing my dad and brother around our house.  My dad got my brother and me started with sprinting short distances and racing each other basically as soon as we could walk.  In addition, our grandpa started us on long-distance running very early in life.

My grandpa Monnin was a marathon runner.  As a side tangent, he has won more races than anyone I know.  He won 1st place in his age group for the Columbus marathon when he qualified for the Boston marathon.  If you should ever find yourself at his house, and it is your 1st time there (or 2nd, and then 3rd, like D), he will undoubtedly gesture towards the basement, and mutter, “Come on, I have somethin’ to show ya.”  He will then bring you downstairs into his trophy room and dazzle you with more trophies and medals than you have ever seen.  The truly amazing thing is he could sit there and tell you a story to go with every single medal and trophy; he remembers.  Seeing the trophy room has been an initiation for all significant others who have had the pleasure of coming over to Gma and Gpa’s house.

My cousins, dad, brother, and me running Grandpa’s very last Turkey Trot with him, when he was 81.  He placed 1st in his age group. 🙂

So, when I was about 6, making my brother about 9, my grandpa Monnin started training him for a 1 mile fun-run in Piqua, which all my cousins and I also ran for our very first race.  It was a sort of rite of passage with Gpa.  To help my brother train for this race Gpa came over to our house, drove 1/2 mile down the road, grabbed a gallon of orange paint, dumped a glob on the road, and told my brother to run to there and back.  I love when he does crazy things like that.  That glob of orange paint stayed on the road for a long time, and I remember also using it as a run marker.

My brother and my cousins in their 1st races with Grandpa.  I was too young yet. 🙂

Then in 6th grade, something happened that had a huge impact on why I run today.  Our science teacher, probably my favorite 6th grade teacher, had us playing a game of ‘2 truths and lie.’  As a truth, I threw in that I was running a mile a day with my grandpa.  Our 6th grade science teacher was the high school and junior high cross-country coach.  When my statement was revealed as a truth, he immediately recruited me for his cross-country team.  I figured if this guy could make science fun, he could probably make running pretty fun too.  Plus, I just wanted to be a runner like grandpa.  Though nothing contributive came out of that recruitment for the coach, I am forever grateful I ran cross-country for 6 years.  There were obviously the serious runners and then there were the “social” runners, which was the category in which I immediately and happily placed myself.  Every practice for me was a chance for a great conversation with another one of the more “social” runners.  Anyone who knows me well would understand my feeling of, “how could I not love that?!”  Running with the CC team taught me 3 things: Endurance, pacing, and lastly and most importantly, that running can be an enjoyable experience.  Not only did I have awesome and entertaining teammates, but also an AMAZING coach who made every practice new, fun, and adventurous…for 6 years.

All through college, I used running as a way to make new friends, catch up with friends, and of course attempt to knock off the freshmen 15.  Fast forward eight more years, and now I live in California!  What is different about running in California?  It is always running weather!!!  In Ohio, some might say (except for Grandpa, of course) that running is contingent on weather or treadmill access, but for the past two years I’ve lived in San Jose, it has not yet been too cold, too wet, or too icy to go running!  Granted, the last few weeks of summer have brought rather hot days, where one would prefer to run at night, but it is never nearly as hot as it was when I left Cincinnati.

Another thing different about running in California, for me, are the running trails.  You can usually reach a paved running trail from wherever you live, which is shaded and not cement, so it’s amazing, but occasionally we’ll drive out to do some trail running at a place called, “Rancho San Antonio.”  You basically run up a mountain, and then back down again, but if you have an amazing husband who will agree to push and pull you up the mountain like mine does, then it’s really not that bad. 🙂  Also, when you get to the top, you get to see amazing views of the Bay Area.

Sean took this picture of D and I at the top of Rancho in March of 2012.

This picture marks the beginning of my half-marathon training for the Cincinnati Flying Pig.  My brother told me at Christmastime if I wanted to fun (whoops, Freudian writing) the half, he would run it with me.  Then, D started running ridiculous distances to train for Tough Mudder, and I didn’t want to be left in the dust when I showed up in Cali, so I would try to run however far D told me he ran. Pretty soon into doing so, I realized I might as well keep it up, and start training for the Cincinnati half.  So, I called my brother and took him up on his offer.  Training with my brother was probably one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had running.  Now, I’m usually known to be behind the times, and I had refused for the longest time to listen to music using ear buds because I learned in all my audiology courses how ridiculously terrible ear buds are for your hearing long-term.  But then I discovered early into my half-marathon training that running with music actually changes the entire experience.  Music gives me the power to run twice the distance I was planning to run, in faster times!  Plus, I figured out pretty fast that if you run somewhere where you’re not bothering other people, you can just listen to the music via your phone speakers and not destroy your hearing.  I love listening to music so much that sometimes I find it hard to get out of my car because the radio DJ is doing an incredible job playing my favorite songs back to back.  Well it turns out, if I take those same songs and put them on my phone to listen to while I’m running, I then find myself wanting to run longer and longer just to keep listening to my playlist!  It rocks!  So my brother and I would meet once a week for our long run and listen to running playlists that ranged from Lion King to Disturbed.  The whole time we ran we would be singing and dancing along with the songs.  Not only was it the most fun running ever, but it also had to have improved our lung capacities.

On Sunday May 6th at 6:30am, my brother and I ran the Cincinnati Flying Pig Half Marathon.  There was entertainment at every mile marker, and we could hear music almost the whole way.  Needless to say, it was SO. MUCH. FUN!!!  There were people cheering along the entire course as well.  Talk about encouragement!  They had some really great signs, “You’ve been running longer than Kim Kardashian’s marriage!”  “There’s free beer and lower taxes at the end!”  My brother and I ended up accomplishing our goal of running an average pace in under 10-minute-miles, and thanks to my brothers’ patience, we got to finish together. 🙂

My brother and I after our 13.1 🙂

To summarize “why to run,” I think a good reason to run is because it has the power to be an enjoyable experience, and also provides a good chance to bond with people.  If the word, “run,” is too daunting, then why not walk?  Now “how to enjoy yourself” during this process is to find your best friend, your significant other, or someone you’ve been meaning to catch up with for a long time, and ask them if they might want to go for a run or walk.  Find your favorite music that gets you pumped, and just let loose.  I do not run for the reasons most people assume one would run.  I do not run because I am in some kind of amazing shape that classifies me as “a runner.”  I do NOT have a “runner’s body.”  I was built short and stout.  I run because I always have fun, I always feel incredibly pumped while doing so, and I always get to have the feeling that I accomplished something after every run.

My grandpa, husband, me, dad, and my twins getting to run their 1st and only 5K with their Great-Grandpa! 🙂  🙂