The complicated questions that come with cancer don't get any easier the second time around | Pittsburgh City Paper

The complicated questions that come with cancer don't get any easier the second time around

At my husband’s appointment last week, his doctor turned to us and said, “Do you plan on having any more kids?”

We both kind of stumbled. The fact of the matter is that while we haven’t planned on having more kids, we also hadn’t ruled it out. Despite the fact that I am in my early 40s, the idea of permanently foreclosing the possibility feels big. But unlike many people, we couldn’t just let that option hang in the air — we were being pushed to answer more definitively. 

The reason for this pressure is that, just hours before the appointment, we found out that my husband’s cancer is back and that in a matter of days, he'll be undergoing chemotherapy that will poison his sperm and quite possibly cause lasting damage. His doctor wanted to know if we wanted to bank his sperm before starting chemo, and we had to answer swiftly.

This is the not the first time we were faced with this decision; in fact, the entire experience felt a little like déjà vu. When he was first diagnosed with testicular cancer more than four years ago, we sat in a similar room and were asked if we wanted to bank sperm before the surgery he would undergo to remove one of his testicles ... in three days. 

I was pregnant at that time and we decided that this was too much pressure, and that we should just feel grateful for the baby I was carrying. Several weeks post-surgery he painfully stumbled his way into an ultrasound with me to check on the health of our baby, only to find out the baby didn’t make it; it was the second one we lost that year. 

After two pregnancy losses and cancer we had all but given up hope. Or, more accurately, we were grief-stricken. During this time, we worked to relearn each other’s bodies: his while it was recovering from surgery and adjusting to changes in hormone levels, and mine as it was surviving from the emotional and physical trauma of two failed pregnancies. In the dark we would slowly, quietly, and often sadly have sex, holding out hope that moving through these motions would push us into feeling like ourselves again. 

And to our surprise, within a few weeks of that early recovery I found out I was pregnant again. I didn’t trust this and spent close to the first half of the pregnancy expecting the worst. But the reality was actually the best: our son was so big and strong (10.5 pounds when he was born 10 days early), that we assumed he was determined to survive out of the wreckage of the last year of our lives. We affectionately called him our “big, stubborn baby.”  

Our son is now nearing three years old and we find ourselves again trying to decide what to do with my husband’s sperm before he undergoes major medical interventions. We made the same decision as last time; we have made no plans to bank. 

We are in a different place in our life now than we were four years ago, and I am not sure that we would even hope for a similar outcome. And yet, being forced to confront the very real possibility of closing the door to more kids also pushes me to confront the seriousness of my husband’s disease and, in a more banal sense, the reality of aging. This happens to us all, I just didn’t anticipate it happening so soon.