You ready for this?
When you clicked on this link to read about my cancer experience, you probably weren’t expecting for someone tell you a love story. But something you should know about me is that I love big, and I love hard. So a love story is what you’re getting.
I met my husband, Chad, when I was 19 years old. The night we met, he asked for my phone number, but the screen on his flip phone was cracked, so he asked me to write it down on a piece of paper he pulled out of his wallet. The piece of paper had two other girls’ names and phone numbers on it, so I threw it in the trash, wrote my name and number on a paper towel, and said something really smooth about how it was the only number he would ever need. That night, I knew two things: 1) neither one of us had any game, and 2) I was in love. That second thing took some more convincing on his part. (Probably because I do things like tell embarrassing stories to strangers.) But eventually I did, and we were married in June 2007. I was 24 years old.
Shortly after our wedding, we bought our first house in a suburb of Tulsa, Oklahoma, where we were both born and raised. We were so excited and couldn’t wait to entertain in our new home. At the beginning of November 2007, we threw a big housewarming party and invited all of our friends into our new home. We had so much fun…maybe a little too much fun. The next morning, I had a terrible headache, but I assumed it was from all that fun I mentioned before. But it didn’t go away. For several days, every day, I had a headache. And not just your typical, “I can take some Aspirin” type of headache, because believe me, I tried that. It was debilitating. It was hard to focus; it made me nauseous; I could barely make it through the day at work. But like so many of us have done before, I tried to power through, thinking it would get better. Finally, on a day off from work, I decided to go to the doctor. He asked very few questions and determined that I was having migraines. Made sense to me, so I took that answer, filled the prescription, and felt satisfied that I would wake up the next day feeling better. But I didn’t. In fact, the headaches got worse, and I was nauseous all the time. I would somehow make it through the day at work, come home, and immediately go to bed. Not a great way to spend our first few months of marriage.
I would call the doctor’s office almost every day, and I would get comments about how the medicine takes time to work, and if I didn’t feel better in 6-8 weeks, I could come back to explore other options. One day, I couldn’t handle it anymore, so I walked in the doors of my doctor’s office with no appointment, determined to get answers. I was told that my doctor was not in, but the Physician’s Assistant would be able to see me if I was okay to wait for a bit. It didn’t take long before I was in an exam room speaking with a nurse and eventually the PA. We went through my symptoms, and I finally felt like someone was listening. And then she asked, “Have we done a pregnancy test?” My first reaction was to laugh, but I said, “Oh no, I’m on birth control, and we just got married. I’m not pregnant.” (Apparently I slept through middle school biology with that answer.) Thankfully she persisted with having me take a test, “just in case.” A few short minutes later, she came in the room, smiling, “Congratulations!” But she must have seen the look of confusion, or fear, or whatever, on my face, because her smile faded. She told me that my test was positive, and I was pregnant. Of course Chad and I had planned to have children, just not this quick. But my bigger concern was the effect the migraine medicine might have had on this surprise of ours. Thankfully, the doctor shared my concern, spoke to my OBGYN, and was able to get me an appointment the following day.
At this time, Chad was working the night shift at work, so his days were spent catching up on sleep. After my appointment, I drove straight home and didn’t think twice about waking him up from his precious sleep. If I was going to be freaked out, he was along for the ride! I woke him up, and he listened to me and watched me cry through his groggy eyes. Always the calmer side of our relationship, he assured me that everything would be fine, and we would get some answers the following day.
We went to the doctor the next afternoon, and I was immediately taken to an ultrasound room with a tech. I will never forget this sweet girl’s face as she searched that small little screen for some good news to share. At the time, I didn’t know a thing about ultrasounds, but I knew her silence meant something was wrong. She said that I could go ahead and get dressed, and I would want to get my husband from the waiting room and meet her, and the doctor, in an exam room.
Chad and I waited in that room for what seemed like an eternity. When the doctor entered the room, her normal positive and upbeat demeanor seemed to have been left in the hall. The conversation that followed was, and still is, a blur. “You were pregnant, but you’re not, but we need to do surgery, and HcG levels, but chemo, but not, and 1 in 3 million women, but everything will be okay.” My head was spinning, but I was able to determine that my positive pregnancy test was caused by a tumor that had formed in my uterus, and I needed to have surgery the following morning to remove it. I made the necessary arrangements to have the day off from work, and I told them I would be back the following Monday morning.
The next morning, I had the surgery, everything went well, I went home to sleep it off, and I was back at work on Monday. The doctor did tell me that I would need to have bloodwork done every week for 4 weeks to ensure they “got it all.” I didn’t really know what that meant, but I knew I needed to do it. So I did. First week, fine. Second week, fine. Third week, I got the call.
I remember that I was sitting in the back room at work, eating my lunch, and I saw an incoming call from my doctor’s office. (By this time, it was the most recognizable number in my phonebook.) Honestly, I couldn’t really tell you what the nurse said. I didn’t understand anything she was saying. At the same time, my call waiting was beeping in my ear repeatedly, so I asked the nurse to please hold on. When I answered, the woman identified herself as calling from Cancer Care Associates and that she was needing to set up my treatment schedule. HUH? I asked if I could call her back, explaining that I was on another call. I went back to the original nurse, trying to get some clarity. Not understanding, I said, “Well I can’t do that, I have to work.” And her response was a statement that changed my entire life: “Molly, I don’t think you understand, you have cancer.”
The feeling in that moment, and in the 8 months that followed, can only be summed up with the word confusion. Through the pills, the injections, the PICC line, the infusions, the doctor’s appointments, the tests, the hair loss…confusion. I just went through the motions, arrived when and where I was supposed to, and prayed for an end. By the end of my treatment, I was going to the treatment center every single morning before work, receiving two hours of chemotherapy, and then driving straight to work to work a full day. The nights and weekends were hard. I was tired. I was sick. I was sad. I went through the unique experience of having my husband shave my head in the kitchen of that brand new home, which not really something I wish on any couple. But I also got to shave his head in an act of solidarity, and that was awesome! When we got married, I didn’t think I could love Chad any more than I did in that moment, but this experience proved me wrong. He cleaned my PICC line every single night, he attended every doctor’s appointment, he held my hand during every treatment that he could attend, he brought me a molten chocolate cake from Chili’s every single time I asked, because it was literally the only thing I wanted to eat. We celebrated his birthday, my birthday, and our 1-year wedding anniversary while holding hands in a chemo chair.
But I got better. After 8 months of treatment, I got another call, a nurse telling me that my tumor was gone! I would have to complete a couple of additional weeks of treatment and return periodically for bloodwork, but the end was near.
My life changed because of this experience. It sounds really trite, and it wasn’t instant, but it did. That change intensifies every day, and I am truly a different person because of that experience. I have experienced a lot of mixed emotion. I was angry for a while, trying to get back the time I lost. I felt guilty, so many suffering or losing their battle while I was cured. And ultimately, I’ve landed here. Grateful. Convicted. Faithful. Strong.
I could share many more love stories with you, but I would be remiss if I did not leave you with one more. Although my treatment was completed many years ago, and I celebrated my 10-year anniversary of being cancer free on July 7, 2018, my journey did leave me with one lasting effect: the inability to conceive a child. Chad and I always knew that we wanted to adopt, so when we learned that we would not be able to conceive a child, we knew this was our direction. That led to us to adopting our son, Jack, one of the greatest love stories of my life.
I’ve told this story a lot of times, but I’ve never written it. There are so many additional nuances. Maybe I’ll go back and add them. Maybe I’ll leave it raw. It felt good to write this. To let out some tears and emotion. And to let you in on the story.