They say that having cancer changes you. Not just in the obvious visible ways—but fundamentally, as a person and on the deepest of levels. Since my initial breast cancer diagnosis in 2010 I’ve probably been transformed in a thousand ways but none greater than in my relationship with my dreams and the downright rabid determination I now have for making them come true.
Long before I had cancer, like most people, I had a bucket list. “Go to Burning Man”, “hitch a ride in a private jet”, “visit the Louvre”— the list was as long as my arm and I was lazily complacent about handling it. Because there was time. Plenty of time . . .Today, I don’t mess around with wasting time. And my bucket list? It’s done.
As it happened, the “have a baby” line item on this infamous list ended up being a real stickler. Turning this dream into a reality had me heartbreakingly stumped. All my life I’d dreamed of one day becoming a mother, but things weren’t looking too good. After the devastation of several miscarriages I had just been handed the diagnosis of hormone-receptive cancer—a twist that made gestating my own offspring a life-threatening proposition. For various personal reasons, adoption was off the table as well. That left me with just one choice: surrogacy. Wait? What? Was that even a choice? Do regular people do this? In my mind, the whole idea seemed a strange cross between the dystopia of A Handmaid’s Tale and the decadence of an episode of The Real Housewives, but my new pitbull-like determination to live each day of my life to the fullest meant that it was an option that I was going to explore, like it or not.
I found a local agency and after mental health screening and the depositing of some money (O.K., a lot of money) into an escrow account, I was allowed access to a database of potential candidates. I braced for the worst and told myself that it didn’t matter who physically carted this baby into the world, as long as a healthy, bouncing bundle somehow made it into my arms at the finish line. The American media depicts a distorted, exploitative view of both gestational surrogates and the families who work with them. In our made-for-cable movies, surrogates are desperately poor or “Octomom”-like compulsive baby-makers while the wealthy and vain women who hire them strap on fake baby bumps to conceal their shameful, secret barrenness. As I began to scroll through photos and read the personal essays written by real-life surrogate candidates, the truth began to dawn on me — these were very average women fuelled by the most extraordinary motivation imaginable: to aid another woman in her quest to become a mother.
The first time I saw her face, I had a hunch she was the one. I read her personal story and I knew beyond a doubt she was. True, we had found each other—you’d think that would be the hard part, but you’d be wrong. Our journey together has now covered several years and an equal number of crushing blows. Babies really are miracles, after all. Time marches on and sadly, sometimes cancer does too. She knows that my disease has advanced and yet she has never once faltered in her faith in her body, or mine. “We’ve come too far to give up.” She said. “One last try.” I said.
Today, she is 16-weeks pregnant. In one month, I will fly to San Francisco and find out if it is a boy, or a girl. She sends me text messages when the baby is “dancing” and baffling ultrasounds. “That’s its leg? Are you sure?” I stare hard at those photos during my infusions. She holds this tiny being safely for me while I concentrate on kicking this cancer’s ass.
So far, no one’s come right out and had the audacity to ask just what the hell I think I’m doing bringing a child into this world when I can’t be certain how long I will be here, myself. If they did though, I would simply ask them the same thing. None of us know how long we have here. I’m pretty sure if I were to disappear tomorrow, my husband would do a bang-up job raising our little one on his own. And if I leave only one thing of lasting value behind for my child, it’ll be that old bucket list of mine; the one with each and every item scratched off. That, along with the idea that with determination, team work and love, there is literally no dream that is beyond reach.
Read Laurel’s blog Cancer Is The New Black