Because the important moments in life just don’t fit in a status update! I started this blog when I was training for my first ½ Ironman, (70.3 miles) to record what I hoped would be growth and progress but ended up being a huge learning experience. Although fitness is one of the key ingredients to a happy life, it certainly isn't the only ingredient. My blog has evolved to document growth, progress and setbacks in other areas too. From my surprise proposal in Rome and wedding in the fall of 2013, to Mom's devastating stage IV cancer diagnosis and death 2 weeks after I found out I was pregnant. Who knows what shape it will take, but thanks for being along for the ride.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

One Year Ago: Mom's Diagnosis

Today is an anniversary and milestone of sorts. One year ago, Nathan and I were at his parent's home in Oregon when I got the call that Mom had a brain tumor and needed emergency surgery.

Mom, a regular Curves client, was healthier than she had been in years. A few years prior, she had high blood pressure and was pre-diabetic. Her doctor wanted to put her on medication but Mom refused and instead, said she would change her lifestyle. I'm sure doctors hear that a lot, knowing people rarely follow through, but Mom really did. She started following the Forks Over Knives diet, lost quite a bit of weight, and no longer needed medication. But lately she had developed bouts of nausea and dizziness following "the worst headache of my life." A headache so severe that she could not even get to a phone to call anyone. Not wanting to worry me, and hoping it would pass, she didn't tell me about any of these symptoms for a week or two. By that time, we were in Oregon, and I pleaded with her to go to the emergency room.

Mom didn't want to go to the ER because she had already seen her primary care doctor, who didn't seem too concerned. This "doctor" told Mom she may have a slow brain bleed, and ordered an outpatient MRI, a procedure that would have taken weeks. Not feeling any better, Mom finally acquiesced and agreed to be seen. I remember that day in Oregon, waiting for the call.

Sitting around all day and waiting was killing me, and so I decided to go on a three mile walk. I went down to the frontage road and back by myself while everyone was preparing dinner. Their property in Oregon doesn't have cell coverage, something I really love. As I was walking back, I remember the strong feeling that these could be the few last normal moments before everything in our lives changed. Somehow, I knew.

I was numb when Dad told me that an MRI showed a tumor in Mom's cerebellum and that she would need brain surgery as soon as possible. That's all we knew. We didn't yet know that it was cancer, and had spread from somewhere else, though that fear was surely in the back of all of our minds. As he spoke, I wrote what he said down, while Nathan looked on. Nathan nodded to me and began checking flights.

What you remember the most in the moments following devastating news is the kindness of others. It is paramount, and means so much more than it would on an ordinary day. I remember his brother, Thaddeus, researching what hospital to transfer Mom to, something I never would have thought of. You have choices, even when it feels like you have none. Rebecca, TJ's girlfriend (and now fiancĂ©e), expressing genuine kindness and concern in the kitchen and hugging me. His Mom and sister Brittany, taking turns being with me as alternated between blankly staring at the wall and crying, making sure I wouldn't have to be alone.

His Mom opened up and shared her personal stories about her loved one's care. She began preparing me to advocate for the best care for Mom. Brittany and Pat, agreeing to take my dog Trevi with them on the long drive back to California. His brother Ben, who knew something was wrong and was sad right along with me. Uncle Don, visiting from Pennsylvania who slipped Nathan $50, knowing the cost of last minute flights. And his father, who woke up before dawn and drove us to Portland to catch an early flight. Lastly, and most importantly, Nathan, who is my rock. He sprung into action, yet remained calm and sweet toward me in the face of all this, and held me that night while I cried myself to sleep.

I also remember the kindness of strangers. On the plane, I realized I was really thirsty. I was barely holding it together as I asked the flight attendant if I could buy a bottle of water, like the one she was holding in her hand. She abruptly told me they weren't for sale, and that she could only give me a cup. I was curled up in my seat, and didn't want to put the tray down or hold a small cup of water. I didn't say anything except a weak never mind. Somehow, she read my body language. After she had attended to everyone in her section, she came back with a new bottle and a smile, giving it to me free of charge. I was so touched by her simple gesture that I turned to Nathan and began to cry. She didn't notice, but still to this day, that small act means so much. When I got off the plane and walked past her, I thanked her. With tears in my eyes, I told her it meant so much more to me than she knew.

And the kindness of friends. We were all also buoyed by the financial support from those near and far that allowed us to move Mom and Dad out from their home in Yucaipa to an apartment less than 2 miles from our home. While she was still in the hospital, I would daily check her Go Fund Me page that my dear friend Delia created. We were - and still are - all amazed and humbled by what people donated. A few people I had never met contributed, and others gave anonymously. Amazingly, we raised $4,950. Without this, the move would not have happened for awhile, if at all. Our savings had already been put down on deposits for our wedding, which was 4 months away.

So much has changed in the past year. Somehow, I found a strength and resiliency that I never knew I had, or was even capable of having. Now, I rarely get upset about Mom's condition, and can't tell you the last time I cried. But back then, I could barely hold it together long enough to go to the store. When I went for a run, I cried. During a concert at the Hollywood Bowl, I cried. If you had told me that I would come to a place of calm acceptance and actually feel thankful for the time we have, I probably wouldn't have believed you. Even putting these thoughts down takes me back to that fragile time and I can't believe how far we've come. I find myself wondering how it changed, and unable to put my finger on it.

I wish I knew and could give you my secret, but I haven't "done" anything to shift my perspective. It has just been shaped by time. Physiologically, most people just cannot remain in a state of despair and stress for too long. If your natural, basic temperament is one of happiness and optimism, you will naturally progress back to that state no matter what life throws your way. Like water seeking the lowest ground. I have had the help of many friends who listened and made Mom feel special, like inviting her to our get-togethers. I made it a point to get sleep, exercise and take care of myself, but aside from that, I haven't done anything to reach this new perspective. Somehow, it just happened.

Yesterday, at Mom's intrathecal chemo. appt. She re-told the story of the bishop who stopped the processional in high mass, stepped over others kneeling to pray, touched her head and prayed over her. It was Christ the King church, the church they were to be married at years later, in Reading just outside of London. Her Mom, my grandmother Lilly, told her it meant that she had a cross to bear, and he was giving her strength.


Today, we all talked and collectively made the decision to skip the chemo she was scheduled for today. She has lost 16 pounds in 2 weeks, and is very weak. She has the Roar and Snore on Friday, several nights in San Diego, their 45th wedding anniversary, a yard sale, a move into our home and an overnight trip to Catalina Island, all in the next two weeks. We all want her to be able to enjoy it. It's a decision we all feel good about. Back then, I could barely absorb or retain what the doctor's said, let alone formulate thoughtful responses or questions and make these types of decisions.

I guess my point is this: if I can be happy and function normally in spite of all this, anyone can, in due time. Whatever your greatest fear in life is (this has long been mine), if and when it comes to you, I promise you that will find the tools to handle it, and it won't be quite as bad as you have imagined. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

I'm Blogging for Fertility Authority

We Are All Made of Stars started out as a training blog and has evolved into something much more. First, with Mom's cancer diagnosis, and then with the fertility treatments, blogging has helped me do something positive and constructive with my thoughts, feelings and fears. Connecting with others on a similar path has brought me strength and joy amidst the emotional roller-coaster that comes with both of these life-changing events. 

And who knew there were others going through the exact same thing as me? Just last week I received this comment on one of my posts:

Wow Megan. Stumbled upon your blog by accident. My husband and I were engaged in Jan 2013. My mom was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer with mets in her brain and lungs in August. We were married in September and started exploring IVF immediately (our only fertility option as my husband lost both testes to cancer 5 years ago). Moved in February to live closer to mom. Things were put on hold for a while as I was taking care of my mom full time but she's stabilized a bit and we are doing egg retrieval for IVF cycle 1 on Monday. I want so much for this to succeed... my mom may not be here when I have a baby but just seeing me pregnant will make her so happy. Sound familiar? Good luck with this cycle I'll be praying for you guys! (and your mom).

Pretty incredible, right? We have since started emailing each other, and I look forward to following her journey. I definitely wouldn't have connected with her in the Newlywed-also-undergoing-fertility-treatment-while-facing-Mom's-stage-IV-cancer-diagnosis forum.

Blogging also serves to document small joys and experiences with Mom, and the type of growth and progress that you just can't see when you're in the thick of it. I've already found myself reading some things I wrote right after her diagnosis and realized okay, I guess I have made some progress. I've probably developed more resiliency in the past year through these trials than in the pervious decade.

Since I'm always looking to increase readership and find others on a similar path, I started following blogs on Fertility Authority.

FertilityAuthority is a comprehensive, interactive online network for women — and men — seeking fertility and infertility information, advice, referrals and appointments.

On a whim, I decided to send in a writing sample and inquire about becoming a blogger for their site. I wasn't expecting to receive a response from Jennifer Redmond, Co-founder and Editor-In-Chief, asking to schedule a call to "meet" me. Our conversation went really well, and she gave me the go ahead to become a blogger for their site! Surprisingly, there is even compensation based on the number of views my blog receives, up to $500 per month. Realistically, I'll probably earn $75 a month...if I'm lucky. But the prospect of payment for my blog has allowed me to joke with my husband that I am now a paid, professional writer. I have found myself working phrases such as byline and my editor into more than one conversation with him.

Below is a screenshot of my first blog posting over there. My editor (see, it's easy!) said I can only publish original content on their site, so please visit Fertility Authority to read the rest of my post. It summarizes everything leading up to IVF cycle number two, which I am about to start. I have an appointment at HRC on Monday and am hoping to officially enroll in the clinical trial at that time.









Click HERE to finish reading my first blog posting on their site.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

IVF Study - Update

Today warrants an update. I had my initial consultation to be a part of The Ivy Study. Nate and I drove 60 miles (one way) to HRC in Encino, the only fertility center in California participating. After  being subjected to daytime TV and nervously waiting for 45 min., we were called back by Dr. Tourgeman, my would-doctor. Immediately apparent was his warm, welcoming, down-to-earth personality, and even better SART success rate: 50% instead of 17%. With my medical records in hand, and after asking a few questions, he was able to tell us that I meet all of the preliminary requirements. I could not be more excited! I will know for sure after my visit next week, when they will check my antral follicle count. It needs to be 10 or higher, and the few times I've had it counted (for IUI and one IVF) it has been over 15, so I'm fairly confident that I will get in. My ovarian reserves need to also test low enough, and whaddya know? Diminished ovarian reserves are the only fertility-related problem anyone has found! Who knew this would turn into something so positive!?

As for the study, I have zero concerns. I'm just not blinded by the killer deal: $3,500 including anesthesia, medication, surgery center fees and even 1 year of cryopreservation for any extra embryos. I have thoroughly read the consent, and feel comfortable because it comes highly recommended by Nathan's cousins, one of which is a doctor, and both of which are smarter than me. They're also more familiar with clinical trials. They explained that because it is a phase III clinical trial, it is already far along and has already been tested on people. As an official government-sanctioned study, it's no surprise that it comes with a lot of red tape: gaining FDA approval is not easy. Any drugs that are dangerous just never make it even to stage 1, let alone phase II. 

There's a 50% chance I will receive the FDA medication I already took, and a 50% chance I will receive the new one, which is being tested as a generic equivalent. Participation in this study actually helps others by ultimately reducing the cost of the medications once it gains approval. Remember, we paid $4,300 on medications alone last cycle, and could not afford another full-priced round so soon. I like the idea that I'm helping women in the future gain access to something they might not otherwise be able to afford.

The study stipulates that two embryos will be transferred on day three like I did the first time. Waiting until day 5 is not a choice, and neither is transferring three. In the interest of time, it would be tempting to do a frozen embryo transfer (FET) if this transfer doesn't take. But because I'm able to participate up to three times, we have already decided it makes more sense to do the study again, with hopes of "banking" more embabies for future use.

While it took us just over an hour to drive there, it took us 2 hours and 15 min. to get home. Parking was $17.00. When I need to be monitored daily, this is going to add up. Not just financially, but time-wise. I will not be starting the follicle-stimulating hormones until 21 days from my appt. next week, and will be on them for about two weeks before the retrieval and transfer. Unfortunately, this means I will have the bulk of my appointments once I'm back to work. Since they don't open until 8am, and I have to be at work by 7:15am, I'm going to need their latest 4pm appointment. In order to make it there in time, I will need to leave at least by 1:30 and will have horrible traffic on the way home unless I do something to kill time afterwards. But, it is a lot better than needing to travel for reduced-cost IVF: we were previously looking into having it done in the Czech Republic.

Time is more precious than money, and right now time with Mom is at a premium. So it is a very good thing that in one month, right after their 45th anniversary, my Mom and Dad will be moving into our 3 bedroom, 2 1/2 bath. And get this: it was Nathan's idea! I'm not sure many husbands would welcome their new in-laws with such open arms. Having them here will free all of us up a bit financially, because right now their rent now is even higher than their mortgage, because of where we live (Orange County). More details about the big move in a future blog post. Right now, it's time to wind down for bed.