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I am honored to share with you our Cancer Today cover story!
Over a year ago, Senior Editor Marci Landsmann read my surrogacy blog post, and contacted me about telling our story. She wanted to focus on our quest for fertility throughout our cancer journey, and after a few interviews, said she’d be in touch for an update once our future children were born.
Shortly after Maggie and Hope arrived, Marci reached out again, and talking with her was like catching up with an old friend. I am extremely grateful for the candid, beautiful, poignant way she told our story. I’ll admit she made me cry…several times. This story will forever be cherished by our entire family, but it will also provide courage and hope to cancer patients as they struggle to realize dreams of their own families. Thank you, Marci.
Also a big shout-out to the photographer, Dawn Bowery. This lady is a rockstar. She and her assistant, Marion, made the shoot so fun, dealt with 2 squirmy three-month-olds, and managed to capture some gorgeous photos of our family. Thank you, Dawn.
I am continually amazed where this journey has taken us. Thank you to Cancer Today for making this moment possible!
xoxo – EmBen
Today is our Freeziversary! Four years ago, after undergoing fertility treatment while waiting to begin cancer treatment, I had the egg retrieval that led to the creation of our 9 embryos.
We were so fearful of what was ahead of us when it came to cancer – but so hopeful that those embryos would be waiting for us in better days. I’ve said it a million times: knowing we had our embryos was a beacon of hope during all the difficult days. They helped me push myself beyond what I ever thought I could endure.
I cannot believe the journey that has led us here, and I cannot believe how lucky we are to have our two amazing daughters, Hope and Maggie. There’s so much I could write about that’s happened since they were born on April 20, 2016, but I think I can sum it all up in one word: GRATEFUL.
Miles wrote this post a few days ago as he flew into Lexington. Now, we are sitting in the hospital, as Angela is being admitted (she had some abnormal bloodwork numbers yesterday, and they thought it best we come in). Since the girls are strong and healthy, if anything is off with Angela, it’s go time. We want to make sure our angel Angela is healthy as well!
“Write down where you see yourself in 10 years,” our professor instructed.
I was a sophomore in college. Even though I had no idea how I was going to pay for beer that weekend, I had no trouble quickly jotting down my answer.
Classmates were divided and asked to share their goals with one another. The first kid in my group confidently told us that he would be a partner at a Big 4 accounting firm. Next, my college roommate shared that in 10 years he would like to be a CEO of a Fortune 100 company. And then it was my turn, so I read my sheet. “I see myself as a dad of two kids.”
Clearly, I lacked the corporate drive my professor was probably intending with the exercise. But it was the truth. I’ve always known what I wanted to be: a Dad.
When EmBen and I started dating, having children was not a priority in her life. In retrospect, it was quite understandable. She was only 20 years old and focused on securing a job post graduation. Yet, it baffled me. How could there be anything more fulfilling than having a family? What else could you possibly want in life?
I learned in June of 2012 that what I wanted most in my life was to have a healthy Emily. Upon her diagnosis, my priorities were no longer fixated on whimsical visions of a future family, but solely focused on her immediate survival.
When EmBen informed me she wanted to save embryos, I was very apprehensive. I did not want to weaken her body before chemotherapy treatment. And most of all, I did not want to delay her cancer treatment. I remember coming to the realization that foregoing embryo preservation would mean we would most likely never have children. For me, it was an easy decision. Giving up on a lifelong dream was easy in comparison to the threat of losing your life partner.
However, like most disagreements, EmBen won, convincing me that undergoing fertility treatment would assist her emotionally in the fight against cancer. Our nine embryos were frozen in July of 2012, and remained so as she underwent her vast array of treatments.
Although EmBen always remained positive about children in our future, I was honestly doubtful. With surgery typically not an option for Stage IV lung cancer, it appeared that chronic, lifelong treatment would be our best-case scenario. Beyond that, clearance from doctors to have babies would most likely never come. Even after her surgery, I remained pessimistic, believing children would be too taxing and too damaging to her health. But like always, EmBen proved all doubts wrong.
In 2012 I remember writing, after the San Francisco Gala, that the ALCF (Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation) had provided us hope. There was a huge mountain in front of us to clear, but the ALCF had started us on the upward climb. We’ve been on the ascent for the past three years. And although the climb never stops with cancer, I can’t help but reflect that I am now on a plane descending into Kentucky to meet our two baby girls.
Thanks to EmBen’s courage, determination, and endless fight, I will be a dad. And although she’s all I need, she is giving me the gift of a lifetime.
The babies are almost here!
On March 30th, I flew to Kentucky to spend the final weeks of the pregnancy with Angela and her family. Miles drove me to the airport, and we confirmed his plans to join me when it appears the birth is imminent.
I’ve been in Lexington over a week, spending the first few days at Angela and Aaron’s home. My time has been filled playing games with their three sweet boys, and of course spending as much time as possible with Angela and the “bump.” Feeling the girls kicking and hiccuping and moving has been absolutely surreal.
My mom has come from Memphis, and we’ve settled into a nearby rental. The waiting game has begun! In the meantime, we’ve been making meals so Angela doesn’t need to cook, tagging along to preschool pick-ups and soccer games, and helping Angela get as much bed rest as possible by binge watching Gilmore Girls. Only 136 more episodes to go. Thanks, Netflix!
So far we’ve had several doctors appointments, and all news has been spectacular. The girls are developing well, and it looks like Angela will be able to carry them a few more weeks to put on the finishing touches.
I am not a person who gets overly stressed in difficult situations (see: me sleeping soundly every night since my diagnosis). But, I think somewhere, deep inside, I have been worried about these girls. I was worried early on we might lose one, or worse, both. I was scared they might have a genetic abnormality. I was terrified they’d come far too early, and our first few months would be NICU visits and constant fear.
But being here with Angela and seeing all she has sacrificed for us, and how well she’s been caring for herself and for these babies, just shows me that as far as she was concerned, I had no reason to be worried at all. On top of running her household, and caring for her three (active!) boys, I am in awe of the grace she shows in carrying our precious cargo. She never seems to tire, and she always has a smile on her face. She has treated this pregnancy with the same tenderness and love I know she gave to her own children, and that is a gift we can never repay. The gratitude Miles and I feel towards her knows no bounds, and we couldn’t have asked for a sweeter, more perfect person to share this experience with, and to bring our girls into the world.
Babies: Stay in there and bake those chubby little Buddha bellies as long as you possibly can. But know that I’m out here, just on the other side of Angela’s [amazingly-small-for-twins-and-incredibly-un-stretch-marked!] belly, feeling your beautiful movements, and just aching with excitement to see you.
Mommy loves you!!!
When I met my husband, Miles, in college, I was independent, carefree, strong-willed. I wanted a career, and I wasn’t sure marriage or children fit into that. But Miles – he made me laugh like I’d never laughed before. And that’s all it took. His desire for a whole basketball team of kids running around was infectious, and within weeks of dating I knew he was The One. I was lucky that he felt the same, and am so grateful this streak of luck continues all these years later.
After college, we moved in together, and I got that business-suit-wearing career I’d always dreamed of. Throughout our 20s we worked hard and played hard, enjoying our “kid-free” time. We got married at 26, and agreed to take a few years to soak up married life, getting in as much travel and adventure as possible.
When we were 28, “the plunge” was something we were both ready for. Sure, it wasn’t easy giving up the idea of our carefree life, but together, we were ready for the change and responsibilities that a family involved.
Instead, we got cancer. I say “we” because when I was diagnosed with Stage IV non-smokers lung cancer, I never once felt like I was on my own. This diagnosis affected both of us, and every step was made together. Sure, I was the one with the chemo IV in my arm – but Miles was the one lugging half our house into infusions in order to make me more comfortable: a laptop for movies, earphone splitter so we could laugh at comedies together, pillows and blankets for comfort, water and snacks.
Miles allowed me to focus on my treatments, and on beating this beast, while he took care of literally everything else. He continued to work, but cut back his hours so he could be at every appointment, furiously taking notes and asking questions. He stayed up long after he’d tucked me in – where he guided me through meditation to ask my body to kill the cancer – and would research obscure medical journals from around the globe in search of new treatment options for me.
He refused to believe the dire predictions of my diagnosis, and shielded me from all the scary statistics. He knew I needed mental peace in order to win this battle, and I trusted him enough not to consult “Dr. Google” on my own. He scheduled second and third opinions, held my hair back as I hugged the toilet bowl, and got me triple chocolate protein shakes when his research showed that I needed to gain some weight before starting chemo. He called those extra pounds my “chemo cushion” and believe me, I wasn’t complaining.
If I was sick, Miles forewent his beloved Steelers football Sundays. If the only thing I was craving was English muffins and applesauce, he’d drop whatever he was doing to go to the store. He made sure our beloved pup, Ginny, was always on hand to snuggle with me on those particularly difficult days. Even though it doesn’t come naturally to him, he accepted the help that family and friends were offering, knowing that it would help him be a better caregiver to me. When we found out I was allergic to the flowers friends were sending, he contacted our amazing support network to thank them, and request that any further gifts be non-floral. He carefully taped each and every get-well card I received onto our dining room walls, creating a wallpaper of hope and encouragement.
I owe the past 3 cancer-free years to my loving husband. He scoffs when I say this, as if his role has been minimal simply because I was the one getting poked and prodded and poisoned. But his role was anything but minimal. He found the surgeon who would operate on me when no one else would, giving me the cure we desperately desired. When radiation knocked me for a loop and I couldn’t get off the couch for months on end, he nursed me back to health, cheering me on as I took each small step toward recovery.
Miles decided, each day, to take some part of the burden off my shoulders. He never gave up hope, even when the odds were so stacked against me. He never hesitated, even when we had no idea what the future held, or what life after treatment might look like. He kept his promise that “cancer would never take one day away from us” by never letting me doubt, and always filling me with hope.
And through it all, he continued doing what he does best: he made me laugh. And for me, that’s all it took.
It’s taken a bit longer than we expected, but Miles and I are finally back on track with the life we always imagined. This April, “the plunge” awaits us – as many of you know, we are expecting twin girls via gestational surrogate. I know we are in for a doozie. But, through all the sleepless nights ahead, the midnight feedings, and the new-parent blunders, I have no doubt that Miles will continue doing what he’s always done: he’ll be there, right by my side, for whatever comes our way. And, inevitably, probably even in the middle of an epic double diaper blow-out, he’ll make me laugh. These little girls have no idea how lucky they are – they’ve got the best daddy in the world.
Today marks a special day. Three years ago my loving husband, Miles, chased after Dr. Flores in the ICU to ask him if my surgery had made me “NED – No Evidence of Disease.” I held my breath – trust me, not easy with one lung – as Dr. Flores walked back into the room, and I cried tears of joy when he confirmed that yes, I was NED, and he could no longer see any cancer inside of me. You may remember that I called this “the best day of my life.”
It’s true – up until then, that WAS the best day of my life. Hands down. Now, though (warning, I’m about to get a little philosophical here) every single day after that is my new best day. That surgery paved the way for every day to be better than the last, because it gave me a chance to live the life that was nearly taken away.
I love this anniversary. It reminds me of where Miles and I have been, and how lucky we are to be where we are now. It provides us with a concrete measuring point to look back on that first year mark, and then on the amazing developments that were made possible by turning two years NED.
Yesterday, exactly 3 years after my surgery date, I had an incredible opportunity to reflect on the past three years, as I shared my patient story at the City of Hope Leadership Update summit. City of Hope is so near and dear to my heart, and I’m infinitely grateful for the chance to publicly thank Dr. Karen Reckamp, RN Carrie Christiansen, and the entire City of Hope team.
And finally, just because I can’t resist…the latest picture of our beautiful Angela! She’s doing such a great job growing these little zucchinis! Can’t believe we’ll already be at 27 weeks tomorrow!
Much love. Live in the moment.
Wow – what an incredible thing to wake up to – we’re in PEOPLE Magazine!
Thank you to PEOPLE and to their reporter, Tiare Dunlap, for publishing such an extensive piece about our story. This will hopefully do much to raise awareness about lung cancer. Please share to help us spread the word and to encourage follow-up stories!
ALSO – watch me tomorrow in the ROSE PARADE! I’m incredibly honored to be riding City of Hope’s float. I used to watch the Rose Parade every year with my family, and I cannot wait to fulfill this childhood dream!