Driving to the hospital three days ago, all I kept thinking was, “I can’t wait ’til this surgery is behind me.” Well, now it is. The surgery is over; we know what we are dealing with; and we’re now headed home for the holiday. AND we have a chemo date….the 18-week eradication process begins Thursday, January 5th.

Onward!

Fucking cancer – the verb form, not the adjective intensifier – takes a lot out of a girl.

To be more specific, undergoing chemotherapy – one really good and proven way to fuck over many kinds of cancer – can be quite difficult.

Some of those who have ridden the chemo train, either personally or alongside someone they love, may have shaken their heads ruefully upon reading my upbeat account of how the first and second days immediately following the first two chemo sessions weren’t so bad. They may have been thinking, “‘just you wait, you poor girl…that train is going to hit”.

Well, for those of you who were thinking this, you were right. It did hit.

To recap: I had my first chemotherapy treatment, intraveneously, last Thursday. I then had my second chemotherapy treatment, via the interperineal port in my abdomen, last Friday. The IP infusion was the big daddy of treatments and took all day. What I know now but didn’t know then is that only about four out of every ten patients are physically able to complete six cycles of IP chemo infusion….sometimes the body just won’t cooperate. It’s heavy duty shit, and it takes a heavy toll.

The train hit on Monday, Day 5 of treatment, and didn’t leave until Wednesday. It wasn’t a high speed rail, mind you, like the Eurostar or that crazy train in China that goes 300 miles per hour. Fortunately, it was more like the tame old (I said tame, not lame) Opryland Railroad that leisurely circled the famed theme park back in the day. (Yes, I am proud to say I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. And I’ve just shown my age.) But I was still slowed and a more than a little bit humbled by the effects of the treatment.

I’ll spare the details, but suffice it to say that I wasn’t up to doing much other than taking careful care of our little one and finally learning what all of the hype was about Downton Abbey. I never got sick, but I did feel like I had the flu, and was very dizzy and weak at times. It made me realize that I’ll likely need to have help on the “down” days following treatment, if only to make sure I don’t pass out and drop our girl on her head. And we’re very blessed to already have options for such help in the cue.

Cut to yesterday, Wednesday, Day 7. I was feeling pretty good by comparison. I was able to be productive, and my husband and I were actually able to have our first night out with (or without) the baby since her birth. We had dinner at one of our favorite little local places with two of our favorite people in the world, and it was quite nice. Normal, even. (And the Magpie kicked ass at being out in public, by the way….one would have thought she had been doing it for ages.)

I felt so good, in fact, in the wake of my relatively normal day and evening, that I started to get that old dread feeling in my stomach around midnight last night…the pit. At first I thought I was starting to feel sick, as though I might have overdone it; then I realized that what I was feeling was anxiety. I was just starting to feel good. I didn’t want to go back today, Day 8, and have more IP chemotherapy. I didn’t want to feel like shit again; to be non-productive; to need help.

This is where that old phrase “be careful what you wish for” comes into play.

Long story short – medical details can be so tedious – due to a (hopefully short-lived) complication relating to the prior IP treatment I received, I was not able to have my third session of chemotherapy today to complete my first cycle. And I – the girl who wasn’t looking forward to chemo – was not happy. I was pissed. At my body, mostly, because it was no one’s fault. And as my oncologist pointed out, I am not my cancer. I am a person. And every person is different. Every person reacts differently to treatment. And they are treating me, not my cancer.

That’s all well and good, but, dammit, I did not want to wait another two weeks to try again. I did not want to have to have a seventh round tacked on to the end of my treatment, thereby extending my 18 weeks to 21 weeks (assuming my body can withstand it). I wanted to stick with the original plan, but my body just wasn’t cooperating.

This reminded me of two things. First, my wise younger brother lovingly pointing out to me a few weeks ago my penchant for setting expectations. And we’ve seen where that has gotten me in the past.

Second, it reminded me of a quote by author Marie Stilkind:

“Today I know that I cannot control the ocean tides. I can only go with the flow. When I struggle and try to organize the Atlantic to my specifications, I sink. If I flail and thrash and growl and grumble, I go under. But if I let go and float, I am borne aloft”.

I know this. I’ve been given this lesson countless times in the past. I own the t-shirt (but apparently keep misplacing it).

So, here’s yet another reminder. The best way to make the universe laugh is to make plans. And all I can do is remain determined to follow the best medical advice I am given; to stay strong so that I can see this motherfucker through; and to take it one damn day at a time in the meantime.

And there’s still plenty of silver lining. I had the pure joy of hearing our daughter laugh out loud in her sleep this week. And she’s going to have a killer laugh, I can tell. A dear friend in London, who actually had a darling baby boy the same day we had our darling baby girl, recently experienced the same phenomenon, and said that she believed she then knew how angels must sound. She wasn’t kidding.

And my concern about our child and animals not wanting to be around me once I had been filled with toxic chemicals? Unwarranted. They are as sweet and snuggly and attentive as ever, probably even more so now. (When our Australian Shepherd can be pried away from our baby, that is…he has apparently imprinted on her like some werewolf in the Eclipse series….)

However, perhaps the most gratifying news of the week stemmed from a conversation I had with my obstetrician…my long-time physician who saw me through my high risk pregnancy and delivered our little girl 41 days ago. I contacted her to let her know how very grateful I was that the cancer wasn’t discovered at any point during the pregnancy, which allowed us to fully enjoy the experience and not have to make any difficult decisions. I also wanted her to know how glad I was that we did not receive the lab results until five days after our baby was born, giving us five days of bliss during which we were oblivious of the cancer that had invaded my body.

During our conversation, she told me that she had gone back and looked at the numerous ultrasounds that had been taken during the pregnancy and confirmed that there was no sign of the cancer. She also told me that there was no good explanation for how I was able to get pregnant and carry a healthy, perfect baby to term, given the extent of the cancer. By the time Miss Magnolia Grace came along, both Fallopian tubes were totally shot, consumed with cancer, and it had metastasized to both ovaries, the uterus and beyond. Yet here she is, laying across my lap as I type these words. This little girl was clearly meant to be here with us.

So, again, onward. Today was a minor setback, but I’ve come to believe that there are no accidents. I am right where I am supposed to be. And I’m going to enjoy the hell out of my husband, daughter and life every day that I can….especially during this two-week hiatus from treatment.

Love and gratitude,
Jo

IMG_0344Well, that certainly didn’t turn out the way I thought it would. Not at all.

I didn’t realize it until after the fact, but, like my husband, I had been telling myself a certain story about how all of this cancer business was going to go down. Because it wasn’t known whether the “questionable” spots on the CT scan were malignant or benign, I chose to assume they were benign. And because it wasn’t known whether more cancer existed inside me beyond the mass that was found on my fallopian tube, I chose to assume that none did. I also told myself that once the doc got inside and took a look around, she would realize that an IP port wasn’t necessary…that I likely wouldn’t need chemo to be hosed directly into my abdomen.

We had been telling ourselves these stories, my husband and I, unbeknownst to each other. And apparently our close friends and family had been telling themselves similar stories as well. This was certainly a living example of the phrase, “expectations are premeditated disappointments.” If we had kept our expectations in check, the outcome of the procedure would not have been nearly as jarring.

This wasn’t like me, this erring on the side of optimism. I’m the girl who, in the past, would wonder if her headache wasn’t a brain tumor, or who would speculate that the mystery ache or pain was cancer of the whatever. But, for some reason, with this cancer diagnosis, I was telling myself that surely it wasn’t as bad as all that…that surely this was a “mild” case of cancer that would be easily treated and stomped into submission. It was quite sobering to find out that I was wrong.

I feel sorry for my poor husband, as he ended up having to be the one to deliver the news to me. It seems that I was so out of it after surgery that I did not remember my oncologist or primary care physician repeatedly telling me the results of the surgery.  Apparently, I asked them several times what had been found, and they told me, but I was too drugged to process the information or retain it. When I was finally lucid enough to take in the information, Mark and I were alone in our room at the hospital and it was the middle of the night. I began peppering him with questions, which he patiently answered for what was actually the umpeenth time. My reaction this time, however, was different, because I was actually able to understand and absorb what I was being told, which was this:

The cancer had spread to other areas. The “questionable” spots were definitely cancer, and there were other cancerous areas too. There was a particularly large cancerous tumor on my omentum (area of the abdomen) that had not even shown up on my CT scan. It was not necessary to wait for the pathology reports….the cancer was visible to the naked eye, nothing questionable about it. Because of the nature of the spread, the cancer was graded as a Stage III-C, one step below a Stage IV. And there is no Stage V in cancer world. An inter-perineal port had been installed so that the chemo could be administered directly into my abdomen, as well as intravenously.

Fuck. This was the real deal.

The first day post-op was basically spent trying to get pain under control and get me physically comfortable, which we did. The incision wasn’t as bad as I had imagined, although it was still a bit gnarly to look down and see railroad tracks of surgical staples marching down my abdomen and around my belly button and beyond. Plus, that ominous port-thing at the top of my rib cage. Adjusting to these physical differences was the goal of Day One.

Getting up and down was a bitch. Still is, although I’m much better today. Today, Day Two, I woke up with a new attitude, determined to do whatever I could to heal as quickly as possible so that I could get on with the next phase of treatment. I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say that I successfully met all goals today. As I result, I’ve been cleared to go home in the morning. I think I even impressed my uber hardcore oncologist, whom I happened to pass as I was power walking through the halls on my floor. After seeing me in action, she had no choice but to give me the all clear for discharge. A small victory. Plus, we’ll get to be home in time for Christmas.

Physically, I’m ahead of the recovery game. Wrapping my head around the new information about my diagnosis is another issue. I’m doing much better today on that front as well, but it still seems quite surreal.

Right now, my primary goal is to heal as quickly as possible from the surgery so that I can start chemotherapy the second week of January. I’ll do six rounds of chemo, with the drugs being administered on the first, second and eighth days of each three week cycle. The chemo will be administered directly into my abdomen as well as intravenously…aggressive therapy for an aggressive cancer. At this point, I just want to do whatever it takes to ensure that the disease is eradicated altogether. So that’s what we’re going to do.

My perspective today is very different than it was 72 hours ago. And I’ve learned a valuable lesson about setting expectations. My goal today is to try to take this, all of this, a step at a time. Next steps…go home with my husband and baby; celebrate the holiday together with our families; then focus on getting as strong and healthy as possible before starting treatment. And continue to enjoy every minute of the process.

My doctor is encouraged by all of the motivators I have in my life, my husband and daughter being at the top of the list. And he’s right. I have so much to live for, so many reasons to get this behind me and get on with living. I have to admit it was a bit eerie this week to find us in the same configuration we had been just a few weeks ago…me in a hospital bed, Mark on an uncomfortable pull out chair/bed next to me and our little daughter in a hospital bassinet between us ….with the circumstances so incredibly different this go-round. But the point was, we were all still together.

threeAs one of my best friends reminded me today…three is a magic number for our family. So, Stage 3? We’ve got this.

Thanks to all of you for the support, prayers and positive energy. We have felt so surrounded by love and optimism. We know that we are not alone in this journey.

Love and gratitude,
The Montgomery Three

Greetings from Vanderbilt Hospital.  We are now on the other side of phase one of what we hope to be a four phase process with Joanna’s unwanted adventure.  The last 24 hours have been very up and down, and I’ll say for me, have taught me (more) about unrealistic expectations.  I think perhaps Joanna has also learned a bit about more that walking through this.

In a nutshell, here is a variation of story I was telling myself:

The doc walks in post surgery to give the family the update, and says “we’ve made a horrible mistake, Joanna didn’t have cancer, when we got in there, we discovered that there was just the one tumor, and everything else was benign.  She’s recovering, and once she wakes up, she’s free to go.  And, she doesn’t need chemo… have a great rest of your life.”

Unfortunately, that was not the message Dr. Crispins delivered.

Joanna has stage 3C Fallopian cancer. As I understand stages, 1-2 is very confined to a localized area, stage 3 is when the cancer has moved beyond a local area, and the A-C classification is based on the size of additional tumors.  They found on large tumor (4cm) in her omentum, along with some extraneous smaller cells in the general area. All of this is the bad news.

The good news is that we caught this early (thanks to Maggie Grace), and there was much less visible cancer in and around the abdominal area than in many cases.  The doctor removed nearly all of the visible cancer (leaving behind less than a half a cm trace – a process called debulking) and what remains will be dealt with in phase three.   Along with all that, Joanna is young, strong (and I’ll add feisty has hell), and has a lot positive going on in her life today.

Phase two is simple.  Recover from the surgery. Recovery in the physical sense will be fairly easy, assuming there are no complications.  Crispins is a rockstar in the field (actually, I called her a badass, which clearly was a compliment she had never been paid before, based on her reaction to it…think I’m going to get cards printed with that in her title…) and the folks at Vandy have been unbelievable to us…including letting Maggie and I stay with Joanna during her recovery time in the hospital.  Home is a great place to continue that recovery.  We have built a sanctuary, and along with the physical space, both my family and Jo’s family will be on hand to help us as we need it.

Phase three is also straightforward.  Chemotherapy, both intraperitoneal and intravenous.  Agressive cancer calls for agressive chemo.  This part will suck ass, what’s that line “sometimes the cure is worse than the disease”?  In this case, I think I’d take chemo over dying.  Jo will lose her hair (gonna shave my head bald in solidarity) and her particular reaction to the chemo remains to be seen.

Phase four; survival, remission, cure, get on with your life, wow – my priorities are way different (for both of us), motherhood, enjoying the moment, good friends, music, sunsets, life!

This is a marathon.  Persistence and attitude is paramount.  We will do everything in our power to beat this thing’s ass (fuck cancer is the new house mantra), and recognize that the footwork is our business, the results are God’s.

We are blown away by the offers of help, prayers, support, “I’ll do anything”, from our individual & joint circles – and beyond – total strangers… certainly not what we’d expected.  Gratitude is not a good descriptor of how we feel at this outpouring.  It’s truly amazing.

I’d expect that Joanna will be back on the keys from here forward.  While I’d really prefer to not have this particular life experience, I have already learned from it, and look forward to the lessons yet to come.

Peace, M.

(do me a favor, hug your wife – husband – mate; call your Mom and tell her you love her; do something nice just because you can… savor your relationships, they are all we have in the end.)

 

 

From my wonderful, ass-kicking Aunt Lynda in Arizona:   “I would be honored to have my butt on your blog. That damn cancer can just kiss my big white ass.”

Sharing genes with this lady can only bode well for me and poorly for the cancer.

So, tomorrow is a big day in our little world. I’ll be going in for surgery to remove all of my reproductive organs, plus the three questionable places that turned up on CT scan. While she’s in there, my surgeon will do a thorough casing of the joint, taking some lymph nodes and sample tissue in order to determine just how much at home this cancer has made itself.

Of course, we’re hoping for the best news one can receive in these circumstances…. that the cancer is pretty well contained and that they were able to successfully remove it all. I’ll still have to undergo chemotherapy, but it’d be nice if that process was more precautionary than defensive.

It’s a weird feeling, knowing that at this time tomorrow I’ll have an incision from one end to the other and will be lighter a few organs. I’ll never be the same again. I looked at myself in the mirror for a long time today….looking at the smooth, unscarred skin of my torso. I’ve also spent some time trying to imagine myself with no hair, as I’ve been told that there’s no way I won’t lose it. I think of all of the times I’ve complained about my hair, or my stomach for that matter, and wish I had been more grateful for being healthy and disease-free. I do not think I’ll take my health for granted in the future. If you catch me doing it, I hope you’ll give me a good smack.

I’m trying not to get too schmaltzy or melodramatic on the cusp of this procedure. I’m trying to think of it as a positive thing, because it is. After all, I’m having a highly trained expert come in and extricate unwanted invaders from my body. Then we’re going to fumigate the place to make sure they never come back. That’s got to be a good thing, right? Certainly better than the alternative. I’m looking forward to waking up with these things out of me. To walking around and not thinking, “I have cancer inside me right now.”

I’m scared and nervous and emotional and anxious. But I’m also feeling surrounded with the love of my family, friends old and new, and even those of you I haven’t met but who have sent well wishes and messages of strength and encouragement. I feel like I am going into this surgery enveloped in love and light and good energy. For that, I am so very grateful.

See you on the other side…!

With love,
Jo

So, it’s only been a dozen or so days since my diagnosis – with much of that time spent holed up in the little sanctuary we call our home – and I’ve already become familiar with the phenomenon I’ll call Cancer Face. Even my husband, who is thankfully cancer free, has already been the recipient of Cancer Face, also known as “the Look”.

For someone with a serious illness, the Look is the expression of pity, sadness and concern bestowed upon you by someone who Knows (about your diagnosis, or your spouse’s diagnosis) and is seeing you for the first time since hearing the news. (At least I hope it’s just the first time…) An added bonus (or not) is when the eyes of the bestower of the Look actually well up with tears as soon as they are laid upon you.

Don’t get me wrong. I have been touched beyond belief by how many people care about what’s going on with my health, and are truly concerned for us and the outcome of all of this. I still haven’t quite wrapped my mind around it, actually…the sheer volume of people who have reached out to us during this time. I feel loved, honored, grateful (and more than a little unworthy of all the attention, but that’s my stuff).

The flip side of being the recipient of these strong reactions is the feeling that maybe this diagnosis is worse than I thought. Given the fact that I still look and feel the same (not having yet been sliced open or pumped full of poisonous chemicals), it’s a little surreal to watch friends, family and strangers freak out over the news. It’s like it’s happening to someone else. I mean, people I do not know are running marathons in my name. There is a “community quilt” being made in our honor. Meal calendars are being established to provide food for our family. I’m receiving cards, gifts and e-mails from strangers all over the country. Crazy. Very, very nice, but still crazy.

I feel very detached from all of the hoopla, at least so far. My inner voice is saying that all of this energy shouldn’t be spent on me. After all, I’m going to be just fine. Maybe it’s denial, but right now it’s hard for me to imagine that I might be incapacitated for a period of time at some point. And there are way better causes out there, those with far greater needs. Plus, accepting help is something with which I’ve always had difficulty. It’s clear that my higher power has some lessons in store for me in that arena, among others.

The other thing that has evoked strange emotions (foreign, at least, to me) are the offers to “take” or “keep” my brand new baby girl. She’s just two weeks old – technically not even yet full term – and you’re talking about me farming her out? Hell no. I hate being away from her for even a couple of hours right now. The thought of being away from her for a longer period of time – or for strangers to be taking care of her so early on in her life – is inconceivable to me. This was supposed to be our time to bond as a new little family, and I don’t want to lose a minute of that experience.

I was feeling something I’ve never felt before in the wake of these offers…something on which I couldn’t quite put my finger. Then I realized: this my newly awakened, inner “mama bear” coming out. In all of my 44 years, I’ve never felt anything quite like it. But, all at once, there it was…this feeling of wanting to protect and shield my child, to hold her close and never let her go.

I think there’s also something else at play here – a place to which I can’t and won’t fully allow myself to go at this point – and that’s the urge to spend as much time as absolutely possible with this little girl while I can. I’m feeling something very close to the the same thing about my husband as well. I just want to swallow them up right now. I can’t get enough of either of them.

These feelings made me feel kind of selfish/kind of bitchy until I processed them out loud with a couple of trusted friends and also ran them by my doctor. And what I now realize is that I can give myself permission to be selfish with my time with my husband and baby right now. Also that this little girl, and my fervent desire to be here to watch her grow up, is going to be key to my recovery.

This is a hell of a motivator:

And if you’ve never held a baby skin to skin, you’re missing out on some good medicine indeed (just ask my husband). It’s good for both of your souls.

So right now, that’s my focus….all of the wonderful things in my life that make this fight worth fighting even more. That, and staying as strong as possible so that I can take care of my child and be present for her first few months.

As for getting Cancer Face, I have to realize that this isn’t just happening to me. It’s happening to my husband, daughter, parents, brother, friends and family. And to all of you too. We all process fear and grief differently. My way so far is to just pretend to be strong so that I don’t slip into the territory of wallowing in the “what ifs”. And my discomfort at your tears is very likely because my tears are very close to the surface too.

But we’re going to get through this, all of us, each in our own way. Whether you’re walking through this with me personally, or you’re engaged directly or indirectly in your own battle with cancer or [insert shitty situation here].

Love and gratitude,

Joanna

First, I’ve been totally and completely blown away by the support of so many people – friends and strangers alike – in the wake of our news. The stories of triumph over this disease and the words of encouragement have shored us up in a way we never dreamed possible just a few days ago when we were in a collective puddle on the floor. The more we learn about how many of you and yours have beaten cancer, the more we believe we can do it too.

Second, I’ve heard from more than a few of you that cancer was the best thing that ever happened to you. I’ve heard it said that cancer helped some of you grow up, show up, pay attention, adjust your priorities, and appreciate all that you have. And I totally get that, although I’m not be quite there yet. Right now, I’m still in the process of processing this curveball that has been thrown our way. I’m spending a lot of time bouncing between joy and determination and fear and grief. But I get it. Already I can see how this diagnosis has adjusted my priorities. The things I was worried about 10 days ago seem plain silly now. The list of things that are truly important just got real short, real quick. And that’s not a bad thing.

However, it has been pointed out to me by several of you that I may actually owe a thank you to the cancer that has set up shop inside me. We knew that our little Magnolia Grace was to thank for allowing the doctors to find the cancer when they did. But it seems that we can also thank the cancer for saving Magnolia’s life. If it weren’t for the mass on my Fallopian tube, I would not have ended up in the emergency room on December 1st with pain that I could no longer ignore. And if I hadn’t ended up in the ER, the doctors likely wouldn’t have discovered the placental abruption before it was too late. Maggie would have lost her source of nourishment, and very possibly her life.

So, even though we hate this cancer – really, really hate it – I guess we also have to thank it. Because without it, we very well could have lost our daughter. And already we can’t imagine our lives without her. Me having to fight cancer is a very small price to pay for her presence in our lives and on this planet.

Talk about an amazing chain of events. When I think of all of the elements that had to fall into place for us to have this beautiful being and for my condition to be discovered in the process, it is clear that the universe has a plan in place that is far greater than anything we can imagine. There are no accidents. I just have to have faith and trust the process. And I’m working on that, a little more each day.

Some friends posted this sign today and I have adopted it as my motto, at least for today.

Photo11

That, and fuck you, cancer. You’ve served your purpose and I’m grateful, but now it’s time for you to go. Love and thanks,

Jo

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.

Maggie6

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.

Maggie7

(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.

Love,

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:

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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