This week the #MLLCommunity theme is How Has Cancer Changed Your Family?
Marcia Donziger, Founder and Chief Mission Officer of MyLifeLine.org , shares how cancer showed her family the way. Thank you Marcia for opening your heart and sharing your journey with us.
Cancer changed my family in both horrible and beautiful ways. First let me clear one thing up. “Change” is too pathetic a word – it doesn’t come close to adequately describing what happened. I was 27 years old, newly married and ready to start a family. Then, of the blue, like a 10-point earthquake, cancer violently shook my world around, and my family’s world, with no mercy.
Diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer, the most devastating side effect was infertility due to an emergency hysterectomy necessary to remove the tumors. The aftershocks of this earthquake kept coming – surgery, chemotherapy, emotional distress. My fertility was looted along with my lifelong dreams of starting a family in the way I’d expected.
Cancer affected not just the family who stood by to help me through this turbulent time, but also affected my future family – children I’d imagined having one day, but not anymore.
Suddenly I found myself mourning instead of anticipating the future I’d wanted. I was depressed, anxious, and crying everyday. While I was going to chemotherapy treatments, my friends were getting married and having babies. Every baby shower invitation I received was like a knife to the heart.
Fortunately, my doctor referred me to an oncology social worker, Susan. She taught me how to handle this type of grief. She guided me to visualize exactly how I thought my babies would look. I imagined every detail of those babies – curly dark hair, little faces – and I mourned knowing I would never hold or care for them. While dealing with six months of chemotherapy, I trusted this grieving process and gradually let go of those old dreams to make room for new ones.
Now you may be asking, why would I put myself through this exercise? Because it was necessary! Even though I could not create children in my own body, I knew I would become a mom one day. Whether through adoption or surrogacy, I didn’t know yet. The important thing was I needed to properly grieve the loss first before entering into parenthood, so that my heart would be 100% open to my future children.
That exercise was painful, but it really did prepare for me for the next step. Admittedly there were many days I preferred to avoid rather than deal with reality, but I didn’t have that luxury. This issue needed to be addressed the right away.
In 2005, I became the proud mom of twin boys born via a surrogate with donor eggs. Although the surrogate mom, Katrese, and I met through a surrogate agency, I know our meeting was divine intervention. She allowed me to come to every doctor appointment during pregnancy, and we became close friends. In fact, she is more like a sister to me. She has become my family. My boys call her Aunt Katrese – and our families have really adopted each other.
Katrese not only gave birth to my boys, she was a founding board member of MyLifeLine.org Cancer Foundation, helping to birth what I consider my third baby. How lucky am I?
Yes, cancer changes family in different ways. Struggle is a natural part of life, better embraced than resisted. Everyday, I embrace that struggle and feel grateful for that earthquake that eventually turned my life from upside-down to right-side up. For reasons I may never understand, this life was my destiny. And cancer – horribly, yet beautifully – showed my family the way.
How has your journey with cancer affected your family?