Yesterday brought with it a strong dose of reality and reminders of what is to come. I spent the morning doing all of my pre-surgery appointments and tests at Vanderbilt – EKG, chest x-rays, meetings with the anesthesia team, going through the pre-admissions process. It became clear that I am now in “the system”, a member of a club I never wanted to join. It also became a tiny bit easier each time I had to tell the story of why I was there. Writing about it helps too.

One thing I don’t understand – why do people who work in a cancer treatment center greet new patients with the standard, “how are you?”. I have to admit that many potential answers to that question crossed my mind the first few times it was asked, but I was the polite Southern girl and just said “I’m okay, how are you?”. After all, it’s not their fault that I have cancer. And at least they’re treating me normally. It’s better than the pitying, teary eyed, Lifetime-movie-of-the-week look that I’m already coming to recognize.

So, I got through that process emotionally unscathed for the most part; then – this is the silver lining part – went home to gather up our little girl so that my husband and I could take her to a newborn photo shoot we had scheduled months earlier with the amazing Brooke Kelly. For the few hours that we were in her studio, I was able to forget all about the diagnosis and upcoming treatment and just focus on our amazing little girl. She was so patient and willing and warm and squishy…I feel like time stands still when I watch her. I seriously think I could just stare at her for hours. And have.

And since everyone loves a cute baby photo, here are a couple of previews from the shoot.


Maggie peed on Mark’s mini Maton guitar right after Brooke got this shot. And it is a testament to dad’s feelings about his new little girl that he didn’t mind even a little a bit.


(Photo credit: Brooke Kelly Photography)

Look at this shit. Seriously. I still can’t believe she’s ours. Sheer perfection.

Magnolia Grace has already become our teacher, motivator and guide. We are so very grateful; so very blessed.

And speaking of gratitude and being blessed, thanks so much for all of the wonderfully moving and supportive messages.


The Montgomery Three

So how in the hell did I get here? Let me bring you up to speed.

Just this summer, I was doing this:

(Photo credit: Generation Domination)

Marrying my beautiful and brilliant husband, Mark Montgomery….a man with whom I fall more deeply in love every single day. I still cannot believe my good fortune/good karma in having his path cross with mine. (It’s a good story, too…ask me about it sometime and I’ll tell you.) He challenges me, inspires me, makes my laugh my ass off, keeps my life interesting, and is at the top of every gratitude list I make. He was worth waiting for, no doubt about it.

Cut to a few months later. We’re looking at this, on ultrasound:

A gorgeous baby girl with my nose and Mark’s cleft chin. This to the two self-proclaimed DINKs who never thought they’d have children. Amazing.

And even though the pregnancy had its challenges, due in no small part to my “advanced maternal age” (my doctor told us that my cervix was more like the door to an “older, historic home” rather than like a door one would find in a new apartment….thanks, doc) it was and is still the coolest, most amazing thing I’ve ever done. I wouldn’t change a minute of it.

(Photo credit: Brooke Kelly Photography)

Then came December 1, 2011, a little over three weeks before our baby’s projected Christmas Eve due date. I awakened to sharp pain in my left lower abdomen, which continued to increase rather than decrease throughout the day. By early afternoon, I knew something was wrong… something beyond ligament or nerve pain. I called my husband, who immediately came to get me to drive me to the emergency room.

After a high speed ride worthy of an action movie, we arrived at Centennial Women’s Hospital where I was admitted. I was hooked up to fetal monitors and my doctor was summoned. Something didn’t add up – my pain was severe, yet it was clear that I was not in labor. These weren’t contractions. My doctor ordered an ultrasound, which showed a partial placental abruption. The placenta, which had been providing nourishment to our daughter for the past 37 weeks, was starting to separate from the uterine wall. This was not good. They would have to take the baby immediately.

Things started happening very quickly at this point. I was rushed into the OR and prepped for surgery. As all of my plans for natural childbirth and self hypnosis for pain management flew out the window, I was given a spinal block and laid out on an operating table like a frog in high school biology class. Same pose, seriously. Except I was wide awake and scared shitless.

Mark was wonderful throughout the entire procedure, which seemed to take very little time given the magnitude of what was happening. After extricating our daughter from my uterus and handing her off to nurses so that fluid could be removed from her lungs, my doctor started looking around. She found a mass on my left Fallopian tube, clearly the source of my pain. She showed it to Mark, who amazingly was able to look over the curtain and peer into the guts of his bride without vomiting or passing out.

The doctor said that she didn’t think the mass looked like anything serious…rather, it just appeared that the tube had twisted and torqued on itself, causing it to balloon out and become discolored. (Mark said that it was black and about the size of a baseball.) Because my doctor wasn’t concerned, we weren’t concerned either. Our focus was on our beautiful daughter. We could not believe that she was actually here, with us, and that she was all ours. We actually made this perfect, miraculous being! Who would have ever thought? Neither of us, that’s for sure.

Here’s her first ever photo, courtesy of Mark’s iPhone:


She was born at 6:55p on Thursday, December 1, 2011. She weighed 7 lbs, 9 oz and was 20″ in length. Aside from a tiny bit of jaundice, she was perfectly healthy. We named her Magnolia Grace Montgomery. We call her Maggie. Or Mags. Or Maggie Moo. Or simply the Moo.


The next few days were spent in a totally blissed out bubble, with Maggie staying in our room with us during the duration of our stay in the hospital. This baby was (and still is) a dream baby. She sleeps soundly for hours….we actually have to wake her for diaper changes and feedings. (This is likely partially due to the fact that she was born prematurely…preemies sleep a lot at first, we’re told.) She rarely fusses. She loves to snuggle. She isn’t bothered by loud noises. She doesn’t freak out over wet or dirty diapers. She doesn’t mind being held by new people. She’s a totally chilled out baby. How two semi-neurotic, Type A personalities were able to produce such a laid back kid is a mystery. Maybe we canceled out each other. However it happened, we are very grateful. Again, we still can’t believe our good fortune.

We were able to take her home on Monday, December 5, 2011.


Our first night home was incredible. Maggie was unfazed by our brood of animals (two cats and two dogs)…she likely got to know them by their sounds while in the womb. She patiently endured lots of sniffs and licks and even some barks. We lit candles, put on Norah Jones, and just chilled out with this amazing little girl, who instantly seemed right at home. We were already goners, head over heels in love. And how could we not be? Look at this face…


100% pure love.

So our bubble of bliss lasted about five days. Then, mid-morning on our first day home, I received a call that would forever change our lives. (Okay, that sounded awfully dramatic, but it’s totally true. It did.) My obstetrician called and said that she needed to see us – my husband and me – immediately. That she had something to discuss with us in person. She wanted to know if we could come in at the end of the day. I got Mark in the room and we put the doc on speaker. I told her to just tell us on the phone, that we didn’t want to wait. “It’s cancer,” she said, “I’m so sorry.”

The following days were a blur of tests and consultations, along with a wide range of emotions…disbelief, fear, anger, sadness, and everything in between. I alternated between crying in fear over possible outcomes and all I have to lose, and crying with joy and gratitude as I gazed at our incredible little girl and her amazing father.


On our daughter’s one week birthday, we spent several hours meeting with the woman who would become my new oncologist, Dr. Marta Crispens at Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center. After answering our questions, she talked with us about next steps.

On December 20th, I’ll undergo major surgery to remove all of my reproductive organs, plus three other questionable spots that showed up on CT in surrounding areas, as well as some exploratory surgery and biopsies. At the same time, they will likely install an intraperitoneal port so that the chemotherapy I’ll receive after the surgery can go directly into my abdomen. The surgery is pretty significant, in that the doctor will be making a vertical incision from stem to stern, enabling her to get a good view of everything she needs to see. The hope is that I’ll be sufficiently recovered in 2-4 weeks so that I can then begin six rounds of chemotherapy that will last 18 weeks. Without question, the next six months are going to be hard…not exactly how I planned to enjoy my maternity leave.

If I said I wasn’t scared, I’d be lying.

Right now, that’s all we really know. The doctor will know a lot more once she performs the surgery and the lab has a chance to analyze all of the samples.

To say that we’ve been stunned by this turn of events would be an understatement. For myself, I’ve been feeling the urge to hunker down during these last days before the surgery and treasure every minute I can spend with Mark and our daughter. I can’t imagine that I won’t be able to be there for every minute of Maggie’s first days, weeks and months. I’m sure I’ll be wrapping my mind around this slowly as reality sets in. It is what it is, and all we can do is deal with each thing as it comes, one day at a time. And enjoy every moment we can. Like the first bathtub bath:

I’ve put a rubber band around my wrist that I can snap when my thoughts start to go in the negative direction. One of my mantras is “savor, don’t grieve”, when I feel myself getting all maudlin about things that I might miss in the future. After all, I don’t want to miss any part of the amazing present because I’m lost in fear over what might happen down the road. Easier said than done, of course. And some days are better than others.

We are very fortunate in that my family lives close by and Mark’s parents are just a direct flight away. We also have a large support network in our immediate area. Mark’s mother will be flying in to stay with us for awhile once I come home from the hospital, and my mom will stay with Maggie while I’m actually in surgery. Also, we’ve obtained permission for Mark and Maggie to stay with me in my room at Vanderbilt as I recover from the surgery. This should make being in the hospital during this time much more bearable. The thought of being away from our daughter for a day much less a week is inconceivable to me right now.

How could anyone be separated from this, especially so soon?

So….that’s where we are today. It sucks. But if I think about the positive aspects of this – the doctors finding the cancer as early as they did, and all of the pieces that had to fall into place for that to happen; our beautiful and amazing daughter arriving healthy and perfect; our wide support network of friends and family; and the fact that we have each other – I know I can beat this. I just don’t believe that I was brought this far only to have everything taken away. I’m ready to fight.

Our theory is that Magnolia Grace chose us as her parents for a reason. She is a little girl with a mission. If it weren’t for her, they may not have found the cancer inside me until it had progressed much further. It may just turn out that she saved my life.

The theme for our wedding earlier this year was “Three is a Magic Number”, a reference to our three years together at that point, plus the anticipated addition of a third member of the family (with a little nod to Schoolhouse Rock). I feel like three may very well prove to be the magic number. I think that the between the three of us, there’s nothing we can’t overcome together. At least that’s my hope and my prayer to the universe.

So, that’s the story in a nutshell. (And I promise that my posts will not be nearly this long in the future…)  In the short time since my diagnosis, we have been blown away by just how many friends we have in our circle. We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support we have received in the past several days. And because so many have asked to be kept updated, we thought that a blog would be the best way to keep those who want to be informed in the loop, through some vehicle other than long and boring mass e-mails. You can subscribe to the blog so that you’re e-mailed whenever there’s an update, or just stop by when the thought crosses your mind.

Mark will be able to post updates as well, when I’m either unconscious from surgery or crabby from treatment. And feel free to post comments and messages to us….we’d love to hear from you. One request: save the stories about your loved one who died of something similar or who has the same thing and it’s come back four times. While I’m very sorry for those with these outcomes, it’s not what I want to hear about right now. But uplifting stories of remission and triumph…bring ’em on.

Thanks and love,

Jo, Mark and the Moo