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A Light at the End of the Tunnel

Patient Q&A with Mary

Why do you want to share your story?

I survived a breast cancer diagnosis as a new mother, then lost my precious two-year-old son far too soon to glioblastoma (cancerous brain tumor), and after that, I was in a deep dark hole. Every May brought Mother’s Day, a devastating reminder of what we lost, and afterward we grieve every May 21st, the day we lost our son. After all of that pain, I can tell you that I have found the light again with my beautiful baby girl. While our grief and sadness will never go away, the happiness that our daughter has brought us is immeasurable.

Can you tell us more about what happened?

When I was seven months pregnant, I found a lump in my breast. I was told by several doctors that it was nothing to worry about, 75% of women have cysts in their breasts. An ultrasound determined the cyst to be benign. In October 2013, our son was born. He was healthy and perfect, and weighed 7 lbs. 13 oz. Several months after I stopped breastfeeding, the lump in my breast remained and I continued to ask different doctors for an evaluation. When my son was seven months old, I asked for another opinion from my OB and she said it seemed too big to be in my body, then sent me to a specialist. When my son was nine months old, I learned that I had breast cancer.

I had a double mastectomy and reconstruction, then started a year-long journey of chemo and lost all of my hair. By mid-January of 2015 my major chemotherapies were complete, things were calm, and I was starting to feel like myself again. Later that year around Thanksgiving, we noticed that Elliott, now two years old, wasn’t acting like himself. He would be energetic and coordinated one minute, then falling and experiencing arm shaking the next. We took him to the pediatrician one Friday afternoon and she ran blood work. Everything came back normal.

By Monday, he couldn’t stand. We took him to the ER and after a cat scan and MRI, they found a brain tumor that occupied one-third of his brain. It was inoperable, if they had removed it he would have been in a vegetative state. He was diagnosed with stage four glioblastoma, an aggressive cancer, and it had spread to his spine. 

We moved to Memphis so he could be treated at St. Jude Children’s Hospital so he could access the best care. He endured four months of high dose chemo and while the tumor growth did slow at first, his scans later revealed that the chemo could no longer control the tumor’s rapid growth. Glioblastoma is one of the fastest growing brain tumors. We knew he couldn’t continue to endure the aggressive treatments. We decided to move home to Chicago and the next day, he had a seizure. After a trip to Lurie Children’s Hospital, he was put in hospice. He left us three weeks later on May 21, 2016.

What led you to Fertility Centers of Illinois and why did you trust us?

We knew we wanted to have another child. When I was in remission, we looked into donor egg and surrogacy options. We met with a third-party reproduction agency and learned about Fertility Centers of Illinois. We did a lot of research and knew we wanted the best of the best, so we made an appointment with Dr. Kaplan.  

What was the infertility diagnosis?

I hadn’t frozen my eggs before chemo and I was approaching my mid-thirties, so we weren’t sure how many eggs I would have and what the quality would be. I was also on Tamoxifen, a cancer drug for those in remission, and pregnancy is not allowed on that medication. We thought gestational carrier and donor egg were our only options.

How would you describe your experience with your physician(s)?

Dr. Kaplan has changed our lives so much. The life we led before our daughter was born was unimaginable. He is the one who changed all of that. He was always very honest, yet optimistic. I am not a trusting person but I trusted him completely, and we are so incredibly grateful.

What infertility treatment(s) did you undergo?

I met with my oncologist to ask if it was possible to use my eggs rather than a donor’s. I assumed her answer would be no, but she said she would allow me to go off of Tamoxifen to freeze my eggs. Our first egg freezing cycle resulted in 3 embryos, all of which were not suitable for transfer. I was devastated and felt defeated. I scheduled a phone consultation with Dr. Kaplan and he was optimistic that a second round would result in better results.

I was determined to make this successful, as I knew this was my last and final shot. I modified some of my lifestyle by giving up dairy and going to acupuncture a few times a week. Our second round gave us five eggs, four of which fertilized and recommended for transfer. I was elated! I asked my oncologist if it would be an option to carry the baby since I was already off Tamoxifen, and she said yes. We were overjoyed! We did a frozen embryo transfer and became pregnant with our baby girl.

What helped you through treatment physically and/or emotionally?

Maintaining a positive attitude, keeping my mind occupied, social gatherings, and exercising. While going through the process, I kept it to myself because I didn’t want people to ask me every day what was going on. Going through IVF is a rollercoaster and things are not always moving uphill. For that reason, I wanted to keep it to myself and I felt it helped. Also I immersed myself in work to keep my mind busy.

Do you have any words of wisdom for others?

After we lost my son, I lost my identity and purpose in life. Our daughter has brought us purpose again. I can tell you there is light after the darkness. If you want a child, don’t give up! I promise you there are better days ahead.

Tell us about your little miracle!

On Nov 11, 2019, our daughter was born healthy at 39 weeks. Our lives have done a complete 180 and we are so happy and in love! We know her brother hand-picked her just for us.